How to prepare your child to start nursery, for the very first time – 1/2

Your child is probably very happy to be at home with you, they love to play with you and be involved in the everyday activities of your daily routine, but eventually a place at nursery may help them to develop new skills that will be essential in the future.

To many children, the thought of being separated from their primary carer can be a daunting time, but there are some things that parents can do to prepare them for this new transition and to help them to gain the maximum benefits from attending a nursery setting.

How can I prepare my child for nursery?

  • Open dialogue with your child
  • Familiarise your child with the nursery daily routine
  • Settling-in sessions
  • Introducing your child to their key person
  • Talking openly about nursery

Open dialogue with your child
Talking to your child about what is going to happen is probably one of the most important ways you can help to prepare them. Talk about and look at pictures of the setting – Are there any interesting features that may be appealing to the child? Are they on a farm or can you see trains going past in the distance? If you can link one of the child’s interests to the new setting it can make it become an appealing place and spark a desire in them to find out more.

Familiarise your child with the nursery daily routine
Often the setting can provide you with a copy of the daily routine for the room in which your child will be based. You can then talk about the different events that will happen throughout the day and familiarise your child with the order in which they occur. It can be even more helpful to begin following this routine at home; even if it is loosely. This can be done by giving breakfast at the same time each day, introducing a story and rhyme time at the time the child may have a group time at the nursery and even trying to regulate lunch and sleep times to fit in with the nursery routine.

All of these little tweaks to your daily routine can really help to introduce your child to a glimpse of nursery life, before they even start. Depending on the age of a child, a nursery should always endeavour to meet the needs of the individual child. So, for example, if your child isn’t yet ready to transition from two naps a day to one, this should be discussed and accommodated, to ensure consistency between home and setting.

Settling-in sessions
Visits to the nursery are usually an essential part of preparing a child for the next steps in their journey. This may vary slightly from each setting, however at Apples and Pears a child and their parents would be welcomed into the child’s new room for two half day complimentary visits, to familiarise themselves with the new surroundings, resources, activities and people who will be caring for them. This is also a chance for them to experience the daily routine in short bursts, so as not to overwhelm them too much.

It would usually be normal for the parents to leave after a short while, to give the child the opportunity to play independently. One of the reasons parents are invited into the setting at first is to ensure the child feels secure and can venture off to play at their own leisure when they feel comfortable to do so. The child can also return to the parents when they need support. It gives the child an opportunity to see that the adult is happy in the setting and that there is nothing to be afraid of. However, it is also important that the parent does leave after a short period of time, to enable the child to understand that they won’t always be there with them; that they will leave but most importantly that they will return when they say they will.

Introducing your child to their key person
When a child’s parents leave them for the first time it’s essential that the child is aware of who their key person is, as they will now become the child’s emotional support if they become upset.

Sadly, due to Covid-19, in person visits are not currently possible meaning it is now necessary for nursery introductions to be done virtually. At Apples and Pears we have found a number of ways to try and make this as helpful, and informative, as possible. For example, there are videos available that show the nursery, the rooms inside, the outdoor area and the way to access the child’s nursery room. Before a child starts with us we have been sending photographs of the staff in the room and in particular ensuring a photo of the child’s key person.

A short key person meeting is possible on the child’s first day. This currently being socially distanced and weather dependent may be outside or in an unused room. Before a child attends the setting for the first time, parents will be asked to fill in a form called ‘all about me’, so to help us to understand more about the child and therefore be more able to meet their needs.

Talking openly about nursery
After visits to nursery it’s good to continue to talk to the child about what they liked and enjoyed, and to ask if they have made any new friends? It’s also important to address anything that worries them, so that this can then be ironed out before they next attend the setting.

Read part 2 of How to prepare your child to start nursery for the very first time.