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Rookie Mom’s Guide to Preschool

Preschool: the land of crayons, crazy art projects, throwing dirt at the other kids, eating boogers, picking up a few words, new teenager attitudes appearing and learning to line up. Seems simple enough right? Wrong! Preschool is about so much more than that. More than any rookie mom could possibly imagine.

For instance, did you know that you are supposed to give gifts to preschool teachers during the holidays and at the end of the year? Your son or daughter is also supposed to exchange Valentine’s with the other 3-year-olds. Oh, and you can never, ever pack anything remotely close to a nut in a lunch box (oh wait, they are lunch bags now!)

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I had no idea until I entered my son in preschool at age 3. As he begins pre-K this year and I’m sure there will be even more surprises in store, but here is what I know from the past two years of preschool. Long gone are the days where you just dropped off your little munchkin to play for a few hours with their friends. It’s structured, organized, and a whole lot of fun if you just go with it and don’t get caught off guard. Let’s walk through the first year of preschool and all you might be in for over the next nine months.

Homework

Yes, your 3-year-old may get homework. We have certain art projects that pop up each year that we have to do at home, including an “All about me” page the kids (i.e. the parents) need to create and bring back in the beginning of the school year. We don’t even go to a fancy preschool, just the neighborhood one down the street. My son also gets a worksheet once a week in his cubby that shows off the letter they are learning that week in school. We can choose to do the worksheet or not. We don’t have to turn it in, but it is still there taunting me, telling me I should be working on writing and reading with my son. They are still in a stack waiting for us to tackle.

Yes, your child will bring home every germ known to toddlerdom.

Lunches

Do not pack a PB&J sandwich. I repeat. No PB&J sandwich. The one thing my boys love and consistently eat at home is a peanut butter on raisin bread sandwich, and I can’t send it to them for school lunch. Now, I understand the no-nut policy. I have several friends with children who suffer from sever allergies. Even touching something that was touched by a kid with a trace of peanut butter on their skin can set off an allergic reaction. I feel their pain in these situations and the extra effort they have to put into lunches and protecting their kids. I would do the same. However, for every mom who grew up in the '80s eating a peanut butter sandwich, peanut butter with celery or any other nut-related product with their lunch, this can be a challenging experience. More often than not, I would send my son to school with a big snack of yogurt, raisins and crackers. When he got home he had his peanut butter sandwich. We have been working on expanding our non-nut lunch options (ham and cheese with a pickle please!), but it took some time to get there for my picky eater.

Illness

Yes, your child will bring home every germ known to toddlerdom. It’s inevitable. Even if they don’t get sick, they will pass it on to you and every other member of your family. There are two things you can do to help combat school born illnesses: Be extra vigilant about washing hands AND keep your kid home when they are sick. Yes, this may disrupt your Pilates routine and kid-free time, but if you want to break the cycle, you need to keep your kids home when they have fevers and stomach bugs. Most preschools do have illness policies (24 hours fever-free and they can come back). Some even allow for make up days. Check with your school about their policy as soon as school starts.

Halloween

Every school will handle Halloween a little differently. Our preschool lets the kids dress up, but that is about it. They don’t trick or treat or exchange candy. Others may hold harvest festivals or do fun themed activities. Talk with your teachers if you aren’t sure what to expect. If scary costumes freak your kid out, it may be best to skip that day of school.

Christmas holidays

You will need to get your child’s teacher(s) a gift. This is common courtesy in school land, and it starts as soon as they enter any structured type of learning environment. Teachers love gift cards, chocolates, plants and anything else that may be a bit of a treat for them. You don’t have to go overboard. There are seven teachers at my son’s preschool, all of whom help to teach him in one way or another. They all get a present from us. I skip the gift cards (too pricey) and get specialty chocolates or cupcakes for them. A friend made beautiful succulent plant pots for each teacher. You can also have your child help you plant Christmas bulbs in hand-painted containers. Pinterest is full of great ideas. There are lots of low-cost ways to say thank you to the teachers in your child’s life. And if you forget, don’t despair. You can grab something for the teachers while your child is in school and just act like you wanted to give them fresh cupcakes that they could bring home right when the kids go home (yes, I did this my first year).

If you must give Valentines, keep it simple.

Valentine’s Day

3-year-olds exchange Valentine’s Day cards. Yes, it is true. It is usually optional, but if you skip you will be the odd mom out who didn’t add a card for someone else’s kid in their bag. I am usually that mom. I always forget. If you must give Valentines, keep it simple. Stick to the friendship ones, not the “I love you” kind. Don’t go overboard with elaborate homemade cards, unless your kids really do help you make them. Skip the candy. Some kids can’t have candy (like mine). It just makes the rest of us who aren’t uber crafty and on top of it look bad.

Theme Days

Toward the end of the school year, your teacher may announce that next week is spirit week. This could mean that every day will host a separate theme, including crazy hair day, pajama day, favorite color day, etc. You as the parent are responsible for making sure your child is not the odd boy out and that his hair is as crazy as the next kid’s. No one likes to be left out of the fun. Set reminders for yourself on your phone and on the fridge if you have to, but do not forget those jammy pants on PJ Tuesday!

Show and Tell

Not every school has Show and Tell, but if yours does, you will want to know. Every week you may be responsible for helping your child pick out a new toy, shirt or drawing that they just can’t wait to show all of their friends. In a way Show and Tell is good. It cuts down on the number of stuffed animals coming to school and toy cars getting lost because your son just had to show it to his friends. On the other hand, you have to figure out something new each week. Just one more bit of homework to remember.

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As you can see preschool is a whole new ballgame when it comes to parenting. This is the precursor to grade school, middle school and high school (prom anyone?). You will make mistakes in preschool — and now is the time to do it. Get yourself into a school routine, test out lunches, figure out how you will remember to pack Fluffy the dog for show and tell, or dress your son in his favorite purple shirt on Purple Shirt Day. Preschool is the time to get your system down. It only gets harder from here gang.

Image via Flickr, MissMessie

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