What Can We Learn From Preschool?

Starting preschool is often a huge transition for children - what does it teach us about transitioning to college?

Photo of Margaret Powers
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When children first begin more formal schooling (i.e, preschool), it can be a huge transition. For some children, it is their first real exposure to being with another group of children all day and for others, coming from an early learning center, it might involve a transition to a new building, new teachers, and new structures and processes for learning. A number of resources, recommendations, and practices exist to help prepare young children to successfully make this transition. For example, ZERO TO THREE: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families, suggests the following:

  • Use pretend play to explore the idea of preschool.  Take turns being the parent, child and teacher.  Act out common daily routines, such as saying good-bye to mommy and/or daddy, taking off your coat, singing songs, reading stories, having Circle Time, playing outside, and taking naps.  Reassure your child that preschool is a good place where he will have fun and learn. Answer his questions patiently. This helps children feel more in control which reduces their anxiety. 

  • Read books about preschool. There are many books about going to preschool available from the public library in your area. Choose several to share with your child over the summer before school starts. Talk about the story and how the characters are feeling. Ask how your child is feeling.

  • Make a game out of practicing self-help skills like: unzipping her coat, hanging her coat on a hook, putting on her backpack, fastening her shoes.  For example, you might want to have a "race" with your child to see how quickly she can put on her shoes.  When you play school together, you can give your child the chance to practice taking off her coat, zipping her backpack closed, and sitting “criss-cross applesauce.”  If your child will be bringing lunch, pack it up one day before school starts and have a picnic together.  This will give her the chance to practice unzipping her lunch box and unwrapping her sandwich—important skills for the first day!

  • Play at your new preschool.  Visit your child’s preschool together. Ask when you can tour the school with your child. Play on the school playground a few times before your child starts the program. These visits increase your child’s comfort with and confidence in this new setting.

They also offer suggestions for dealing with the worry a young child might experience making this transition and ideas for how to prepare two weeks, one day before, and the actually day a child starts school.   

What can we learn from these resources as we explore more about the transition that currently exists for students going to college? 

[Optional] Synthesize a little! In one sentence, describe what you learned from your empathy exercises or analogous research. (Ex: Good advisors make a difference.)

College isn't the first transition student's have experienced, let's use successful practices from the early years to inform our new designs.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Cindy Charles

Margaret, I love this connection between transitions to primary school and college!  I am an occupational therapist and often get asked to help consult with a child who is struggling with transitions to and from the classroom or even from task to task in the classroom - the "micro-transitions" of the day.  My experience is that many students who have difficulty with transitions have been struggling from birth. Some struggle with the birth process, struggle to transition from bottle to cup, and with proper motor skill transitions which all create a pattern of anxiety. I love the idea of teaching successful transition skills in a fun way as part of the Kindergarten curriculum? I completely agree with Angelo that many answers are being revealed in the 0-5 population. WOW - so fun!  Let's all collaborate.  There is a lot of passion here!

Photo of Margaret Powers

That's a great insight Cynthia Charles - I wonder if we should look for links between transition struggles on a broader scale and what type of impact can improving and scaffolding micro-transitions have on a child's life? Looking forward to collaborating!

Photo of Angelo Truglio

Excited to see your contribution. I believe many answers we seek are available if we look and learn from children 0-5yrs.  So much is there that works naturally, to carry kids through to succeed at chosen paths, and it is either nurtured- sustained or it is lost.  You've inspired me to add my thoughts and I just entered my contribution. Perhaps we can collaborate.
https://collaborate.teachersguild.org/challenge/reach-higher-better-make-room-teachers-guild-college-journey-collaboration/discover/a-two-year-old-s-mindset ;

Photo of Tom Mullaney

This is great. This veteran of middle and high school teaching would love to be part of the team that explores this!

Photo of Margaret Powers

Awesome! So glad to hear you're interested Tom Mullaney and connect with you here on the Guild. Did you see the latest post about How young is too young? I am excited to see how we can use insights from early childhood experiences and students to support all students to and through college! 

Photo of Tom Mullaney

I hadn't seen that Margaret Powers Thanks for sharing! 

Photo of Encarna Llamas

Well, I guess it was desperation ;-) We had bought the materials for Education students to become familiar with this approach and I used them in one class to explain Montessori's ideas. I was concern with the critical thinking issue at the same time, so I just notice my students would order the pieces right but were not able to give an account of their process... That was the beginning. After that, I just needed to teach them the names of their intelectual steps, and then started to sequence and compare... It works beautifully also with medicine and Arquitecture students! 

Photo of Margaret Powers

That is such a great insight you had when watching your students! I wonder how many other tools like the Montessori materials, could be used for similar explorations around critical thinking? 

I would love to hear more about your students as well and how they come to your school. Do they experience the struggles we're exploring in the current #reachwayhigher collaboration?

Photo of Lisa Abel-Palmieri

Love comparing the transition to preschool to that of college Maggie. 

Photo of Encarna Llamas

I actually teach Critical  Thinking to my colleges students using preschool materials: constructions, figures and forms are great to teach logic, classifying, ordering, planning, analyzing, etc. In a visual way, they learn to decode a piece of information in its smallest parts, to conect the dots, to order and argument, to build critical reasoning with adequate support... Since the y are not familiar with Thinking skills training, because there is nothing like that at Spanish schools, making it visual helps them much to understand what is it about. Montessori's materials are specially great for this.

Photo of Margaret Powers

Wow, that sounds amazing Encarna Llamas I love working with the Montessori materials. How did you come up with the idea to start using them with college students? 

Photo of Molly McMahon

Maggie -- this is so true! And, thinking about transitions, I feel like there is a build on Mark's idea about 5 years in high school.  There seems to be some common thinking about how we make those leaps. Good stuff!