Parents gearing up for preschool should worry less about letters and numbers, and more about their child’s soft skills. Specifically, when thinking about how to best prepare children for preschool, the more social opportunities preschoolers have beforehand, the better, experts said. 

“A large focus of preschool is learning to build relationships and navigate social situations,” said Kara Haustovich, lower school division chair at Village Academy in Powell.

Preschool success often depends on social and emotional skills. Playing with groups of children helps preschoolers gain confidence, communicate better and master the art of sharing and taking turns, said Jamie Gottesman, executive director of Columbus Montessori Education Center in Columbus. 

“Early childhood is a critical time for development. Playing with other young children this summer will really pay off in preschool,” she said.

However, experts also shared other tips for preparing children for their first day. Nikki Henry, early childhood director at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus, said the best way to prepare a child for the transition to preschool is to talk with them about it. She also advocates visiting the school prior to the start date.

“Give your child a chance to walk around, look at the classrooms and meet the teachers,” Henry said. “Do this a couple of times.”

Routines are also part of the development and Gottesman encourages them long before preschool starts.

“How little people start their day often determines how successful their day will be. Have the same wake-up time each morning and the same bedtime every night during the summer,” said Gottesman, who also suggested parents decide in advance who will drop off and pick up their little one each day. 

Once decided, talk about it often so the child knows what to expect.

“Some children have an easier time transitioning than others,” Gottesman said. “Some do better if Mom drops them off. Others do better with Dad. The important thing is to really know your child and understand their temperament, so things are easier when the time comes.”

Children who have exhibited few signs of separation anxiety in the past are likely to do well with the transition, she said.

“During the summer months, parents should work with their children on self-help skills, such as dressing themselves and washing their hands,” Haustovich said. “I also encourage parents to read with children daily, even if it is just before bed. Ask questions about the stories as they read, have students predict what will happen next, or have students point out characters and objects in the books.”

Summer fun is important, too.

“Preschool-age students need to be outdoors, attend library story times and play with peers, all of which will help to prepare them for preschool,” Haustovich said. 

Moreover, it’s time for parents to spend with their children before school starts.

“Enjoy your time with your children this summer and give them the gift of childhood,” Henry said.

Children will have to sit and listen to lessons soon enough, she said. Most have 13 to 16 years or more of schooling ahead of them. Now is the time to learn through play.

“It’s their job,” Henry said. “Let your children know that they are going to make friends in preschool while Mommy is at work. Make it exciting for them. You want school to be fun, not a chore.”

Jill McCullough writes for the Columbus Jewish News from Westerville.