Thursday, March 6, 2014

Going to preschool part-time

"Mommy, is it NOT school day today?" is what my 3.5-year old son asks almost every morning. Henry goes to preschool three times a week (MWF) but he used to go only twice a week at his first preschool when he was 26 months old. Yes, he was probably very confused.

I'm very fortunate to be working from home (although I've reduced my workload considerably to care for Henry) and to be spending "Mommy and Henry" days with my son twice a week. We have a lot of fun together, so naturally he doesn't always want to go to school and listen to his teacher and follow the class curriculum or play with his friends or enjoy being bossed around by his classmates. He prefers to boss mommy around at home.

At his first preschool, the teachers were really impressed with his transition into school. We had a few separation issues, but no biggie (harder for mommy). Then, when he turned 3, the school wanted Henry to move up to the 3-year old class. I told the owner that we were moving in 5 weeks and asked to allow him to stay with the teachers and friends he's known for almost one year. She refused and said, "Oh, he's 3; he'll be fine." He was not fine. For the first four weeks, he cried and threw tantrums before school and I struggled to carry my little angry bird down our stairs, into the car, out of the car, and then up the school stairs and into his classroom!

We then moved to our new house and Henry started preschool #2. He didn't like it there either and his tantrums grew worse. After the Christmas break, I knew I had to take him out and enroll him into another school, which was more stimulating for him. He cried on and off for the first three weeks (and he's had a few whiny mornings), but he no longer throws those terrible tantrums! :D

So, on Monday I thought we had a breakthrough as he never once asked, "Mommy, is it NOT school day today?" and cooperated all morning as we were getting ready for school. However, just seconds after he woke up on Wednesday, he asked the same dreaded question, and as usual, I'd answer with honesty and some redirection: "Yes, it's school day, honey, but it's also iPad day! Mommy has to take care of chores today and I have to go to the dentist for a clean-up, remember?...it's going to be a loooong drive for me...I think it's your turn to see the dentist next month...she's going to be so impressed with your lovely, clean teeth! How is she going to polish your teeth again? That's right... Would you like cold milk or warm milk with your breakfast?" Other days, I remind him that I have to vacuum (he hates the vacuum cleaner), or mop the tiles, or get the car washed (he doesn't care for the car wash), or whatever I have to do that day...as long as I don't mention any toy store or Target!

Below are some ideas, which I personally believe helped and still help alleviate Henry's anxiety over "school days." I sure don't stress over it these days because I know Henry is finally settled and happy (we are so proud of our little man!). Good luck!
  1. Taking pictures of the classroom and/or school facilities
    When Henry first started preschool, I took pictures of Henry with his new teachers, and because the school was new and the class empty I also took several pictures of their circle-time corner, the kitchen area, the birthday wall, the Family Tree, the cubby section, etc. I printed the pictures on a sheet of paper and hung the sheet on the wall or the side of our fridge. When we had the opportunity, we'd talk about the names of the teachers, the activities on the class walls, and discuss what he may be reading, singing, learning and eating that day (the school emailed weekly class curriculum and menu to all parents). At his current preschool, I asked for permission to take pictures of Henry standing inside or outside of each super cool "learning classroom." Again, I printed out the pictures, and together with the class curriculum, we'd talk about the "day's fun things to do at each center" over breakfast.

    Aww, Henry's first classroom (school #1; Oct-2012).
      **** ****
    I also took pictures of Henry's new teachers
    with this picture when he moved to his
    second class (school #1; Aug-2013).
      **** ****
    Again, I took several pictures of the
    teachers and Henry's class (school #2).
      **** ****
    Henry's class (school #3; Jan-2014).
     
  2. Getting involved with school activities
    Whenever there was a school or class event (Halloween party, Valentine's Day party, etc.) at Henry's first preschool, we'd talk about what materials we needed to buy or make for the event and we'd go shopping together, which was always exciting for him. At the new school, they have something going on every Friday, which I love! I "hype" it up all week and we either buy or create stuff together all ready for Friday. (This is the day I rarely have to exhaust all my "school day excuses"!)

    My little pirate at the school's
    Halloween party (2012).
      **** ****
    Henry wore this outfit for a recent event at the school.
      **** ****
    I made this cute hobby horse for "Go Texan Day"
    (will post more pics and resources soon).
     
  3. Using a "Surprise Box"Since Henry had to deal with a lot of new changes when we moved, I started this idea only a few months ago. I used one of his kids' toy storage suitcases and filled it with a bunch of small toys or fun things from Target's $1 to $3 bins. During breakfast on a school day, we'd talk about his Surprise Box and wonder which toy he'd pick after school. I'd also remind him that he can open his Surprise Box only if we have a "good morning" (= "no crying or tantrums before school"). When I'd pick him up from school, I would say, "Did you have a good day? I'm so proud of you! We had a great morning, didn't we? That's right, you didn't cry or hit. I wonder what you're going to get in your Surprise Box? I'm so excited for you!" Coincidentally, he hasn't asked about his Surprise Box in a few weeks until tonight, when I filled it with some new toys.

    Simple decoration on the top of the box
    (this box is approx. 12"W x 8"D x 4"H).
    All $1 to $3 toys. On Fridays he could choose and open
    one "gold packet" which was just a piece of chocolate
    wrapped in gold tissue paper.

  4. Printing and showing vacation pictures to the class
    Before/during/after our short trip to Colorado, I was sweating over his return to school after hanging out with mommy and daddy all day, every day for 5 days. I was sure Henry would have a hard time resuming school duties. So, prior to our trip, we talked about taking pictures of his adventure and showing them to his teacher, Ms. Katherine, upon our return. Once home, I picked out a selection of fun and memorable pictures of Henry and created a simple collage for his teacher. On his first school day back, he was so excited to show our pictures to his teacher and classmates that he practically ran from the school door to his classroom! All the kids gathered around and we oooh'd and arrh'd over the snow! It was a success and I shall be doing the same thing for our 18-day trip to China! (Hope it works!)

    Henry still loves to talk about each one
    of these photos!
  5. Breaking out the iPad
    We've established that "school day = iPad day," which probably helped the most when he was going through his tantrum stage. Henry plays on the iPad after school on MWF for about 1.0-1.5 hours while I prepare dinner (sometimes less when he's distracted)...or, until dinner is served. Now and then, like when he's having a particularly rough day on a Monday morning after a long weekend, we'll talk about "buying" a new app, which will be ready when he comes home from school (I tend to buy free apps until I think they're worth upgrading).

    Henry on the iPad.

  6. Other random "treats"
    • When Henry managed to show "good days" earlier on, we would also reward his good behavior by doing fun stuff on "Mommy and Henry days" such as visiting the mall's play area and carousel, the zoo, etc., and these days, a walk around Lakeshore, Target or Toys R Us! He's totally happy with just walking up and down the aisles, "playing" with some toys and not expecting to buy anything. 
    • Henry also loves to help build different types of obstacle courses at home (made up of sofa cushions and a plethora of foot stools and benches), our favorite since he was 18 months old. It's our "30 minutes of physical activity" on non-school days!
    • Of course, there's TV time on certain days; our favorites are Peppa Pig and Kai-Lan, and sometimes Olivia and Octonauts. All prerecorded.
    • Also:
    When Henry started preschool, we bought him
    this backpack, which he proudly wore
    around the house (Oct-2012)!
      **** ****
    One "mild sunny" day I thought it would be
    fun to pick up Henry from school with
    this wagon. After carting 30+ pounds of weight
    back home, I decided it would be my last time
    (Feb-2013)!
      **** ****
    My sweet sis-in-law bought this awesome book for Henry
    during his days of "I don't want to go to school" -- this book,
    "The Things I Love About School" by Trace Moroney
    has become one of our favorite bedtime stories.

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