It has been a rocky few months at childcare for my 4-year-old daughter Giuliana. The transition between rooms at childcare can be traumatic for little ones at the best of times and for Giuliana, it was no exception. Witnessing a daily flood of tears can be so traumatic for both parent and child, but there is nothing to do but help them through it the best you can.
The introduction of the ‘single year intake’ in SA Government schools has caused a bottleneck effect on the childcare system. Kids with birthdays from May onwards can spend up to 8 extra months in childcare/family care or kindy (or a combination of the 3). In turn, this means that some childcare centres are restricted in their ability to move kids between rooms (due to age or need) because the natural attrition of kids starting school is less frequent.
Our local childcare centre is also a registered preschool which means they have a ‘Junior-Kindy’ room and a ‘Kindy’ room. Giuliana had been in the ‘Junior-Kindy’ room for almost a year and while her carers were awesome, I was concerned that she might be getting bored (and naughty) from being one of the oldest in the group. I wondered if I should say something?? All my years as a swimming teacher (my high school/uni job) has led me to dislike ‘pushy parents*’ and I have always been determined to never become one of ‘those’ mums.
Because of the single intake process, I was sure that Giuliana wouldn’t move up to the Kindy room until next year so my husband Marc and I were brainstorming ways to keep her engaged/interested/in check for the next 6 months. Anyhoo, a quick question to the centre about what activities we could do with her at home….and they moved her up to the Kindy room….just like that.
Giuliana is a smart little kid so ‘intelligence-wise’ it’s a no-brainer, but she has really struggled socially to find her place with the ‘big kids’ and settle into a new learning environment. At some drop-offs she’s fine and at others, she has an absolute meltdown. Early on I was ready to raise the white flag and ask that she be allowed to go back to her old room, but I knew that would only be a Band-Aid solution. Given that Giuliana is my eldest child, Marc and I have been trialling all sorts of strategies to help her adjust to the big change. Below are some of my learnings from the transition process.
Be prepared to address the big issues
- I wasn’t ready to deal with the issue of ‘mean kids’. I don’t know if some of her new classmates have older siblings or being a few months older = a nasty streak but a couple of brats said some very hurtful things to Giuliana’s face. Kids will be kids, but I took the time to discuss these comments with her, what they meant and what to do if she’s spoken to like that again.
- In hindsight, it would have been easier if Giuliana had transitioned to the new room at the same time as another kid from her old group. As adults, we assume that making friends as a kid is easy, but it’s not. Even at 4 or 5 years old, kids have their own cliques and it can be hard to find an opening. I now love hearing her mention new kids names at pick up time….but this has been a long road!
- As kids get older, the child/carer ratio increases, but any kid still needs time to establish a bond with their new primary carer so they can deal with the ‘mean kid’ and ‘friendship’ issues together. Illness and annual leave meant that Giuliana took longer to bond with the new carers, but this was just one of those things.
Invest time (to a point) to get them comfortable in the new childcare room
- While the outside space was shared by the 2 rooms, the inside of the kindy room was totally foreign to Giuliana. Simple things like where to hang your bag, put your drink bottle/hat, go to the bathroom can be BIG issues for a 4 or 5-year-old. Marc does most of the drop offs so he made sure to follow the same process each morning to establish a new routine with her. Some kids are not ready to embrace the ‘kiss and drop’ approach so he also found that spending 10 minutes doing a drawing/painting/building helped Giuliana to get into her first activity of the day.
- However, it’s important to set guidelines around the time spent in the room each morning. If you plan to stay for 5 or 10 minutes, don’t let this extend to an hour. Be consistent so your child knows what to expect.
Introduce the familiar at childcare
- Giuliana loves her cuddle toy ‘Ted’ to bits, but this could be a trigger for the ‘mean kids’ who are too big for comforters if they are just about to go to school. Instead, the carers encourage all the kids to bring a book from home they love and then they read it together as a group. Giuliana loved doing this.
Be prepared for ‘tough love’
- Despite doing all of the above, every morning for a couple of weeks we left Giuliana crying her eyes out at drop off. As a parent, this is heart breaking, but most of the time they will settle down quickly after you leave, so you just have to toughen up and do it. It doesn’t stop you feeling guilty, though.
I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to best support your child when they are ready to move up to the next room at childcare. I’m not going to lie; the last couple of months have been tough but they will adjust eventually…you just need to be there for them. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the carers or staff at your childcare centre for advice and support. I’m sure they will be happy to help.
Good luck 🙂
*The life of a swimming teacher means 1,000,001 funny stories. I used to teach, coach and work on the reception desk. One day while working on reception I took a call from a parent wanting to enrol her son. I was walking her through the standard spiel when she interjected with “I just feel I should let you know that my son has been tested at genius level”. I had no idea how to respond (I think I said something like ‘that’s very exciting’) but when it came time to take her contact details and place her son on the right waiting list I casually asked his age. She replied ‘oh, he’s 6 months’. Thank goodness this was a phone call and not face to face as I would not have been able to contain my smirk. I’m sorry sweetheart, but no matter how brilliant your kid is he’ll still be in the beginner babies class where a parent/guardian needs to accompany them in the water at all times. Of course, I was uber polite. After all, the customer is always right 😉