We know that starting nursery is a big step in a little one’s life and that parents have lots of questions about how to prepare and ensure a smooth start for their child. So we asked Kathryn Mewes, the star of The 3 Day Nanny on Channel 4 and author of The 3 Day Nanny, published by Vermillion, to pass on some of her wisdom on the best way to get ready for the first day. Over to you Kathryn!
When the Day Comes – Off to Nursery!
It is such an exciting time when your child is ready to go to nursery school. It is a big step for both you and your child, but it can be made a little easier by following some simple steps of preparation.
Practice the ‘nursery run’ with your child. Time the journey and find the most efficient way of getting there. Get ready in the morning and leave the house at the time you would need to in order to get to nursery on time.
The last thing you want is to be worried about timings in the morning. Rushing creates tension and puts unnecessary pressure on you both.
Aim to be the first to arrive at nursery at both drop-off and pick-up time. This way you are likely to arrive around the middle!
It is so helpful to your child if you encourage their independence as much as possible before they attend nursery. Here are some simple things you can do to help them:
Ensure that they can put on their own coat and shoes (Velcro fastenings are fantastic on shoes!) It is not expected that they can do the fastenings on their coat but it is a huge bonus if they can.
Teach them how to visit the toilet all on their own, from opening the door to wiping, flushing and washing hands.
Give your child a variety of healthy snacks at home – for example fruit, crackers and cheese. These tend to be the main snacks given at nursery and if they are familiar with them at home they will be more likely to eat them there.
The Night Before
After bath time I suggest you decide together which clothes are going to be worn to nursery. Lay them out on the floor of your child’s bedroom. Ensure that the clothes chosen can be easily pulled down and up for toilet visits!
Discuss the breakfast for the following day. Aim for something filling and substantial. Think of this as a special meal you are going to eat together before the big day.
Lay the table the night before so that it is welcoming when you both come downstairs in the morning.
Explain to your child that they will be getting dressed in their bedroom before breakfast time. This is a good habit to get in to, as it is a great time saver.
Teeth brushing can take place downstairs, at the kitchen sink, after breakfast. This prevents having to visit the bathroom again.
The Big Day
Aim to arrive at the nursery early so that it doesn’t appear overwhelming.
Bend down and point out something for your child to play with. For example “Look, we love books. Let’s take a look at the reading corner.” Once your child is distracted, find a teacher to keep them busy once you have departed.
This is the hard part for you – the departure! Don’t take too long leaving the room. The longer you stay the harder it is for you both. ALWAYS say goodbye and have a kiss and a hug, but once you have said your farewell you must leave swiftly.
I am sure that the teachers will distract your child and they will have a wonderful time.
Children often sense their parent’s anxiety at leaving them and this can cause them to worry and be tearful. It soon passes once you have left and children love the stimulation of nursery school, the new toys, children and enthusiastic teachers.
Starting nursery is a big leap but a wonderful one, and it can be a smooth transition if planned and prepared for.
Your questions answered
Q. My child has been at nursery for three weeks now but still cries (howls actually) and clings to me every morning when I leave. She seems to be fine when I pick her up, but it all starts up again the next morning. It is very upsetting and I’m unsure as to what to do.
A. This is very common behaviour in children. However, usually they are fine and happily carry on with the day as soon as you leave and they are distracted.
Because you are in this cycle you will naturally start to feel apprehensive as you approach the nursery gates. Your child will sense this and feed off your anxiety.
My advice is to remain positive, walk with your child rather than carry them and approach a member of staff as soon as you enter the building. Speak to your child in a confident tone, guide them towards what they are going to do, then let them know what you are doing and that you will see them later.
For example: ‘Now you are going to look at the play dough with Miss X. I am going to the supermarket and then home to do some cooking and cleaning. I will see you later. Have fun!’
Make the departure as swift as possible. The longer you stay, the harder it is for both of you.
Be strong and confident and your child will be guided by you.
Q. My child is starting nursery soon and still has the occasional ‘toilet’ accident. However, I know from friends with children at the nursery that most of the children there are fully toilet trained. Will the nursery insist that she is trained before we start? It feels like we have a deadline.
A. Many children have ‘occasional accidents’ when they first start nursery. There are so many new toys to play with and activities to participate in that, at times, the loo can be forgotten. The staff are trained to manage this and I would not be concerned.
The last thing you want to do is put pressure on yourself and work to a deadline. This will form tension between you and your child and visiting the loo shouldn’t become a battle between the two of you.
Q. Our son has been hitting other children at nursery, which is very unusual behaviour for him. The nursery staff said they have spoken to him and think it will settle down, but we are really concerned – does this mean he is unhappy, or that he is showing traits of being horrible to other children, or is this just a phase?
A. When children start nursery they have to find their place among the other children. This means that they have to stand up for themselves and make their own decisions.
It is extremely common for children to go through a stage of ‘protecting their toys’ or wanting what someone else has. This is the main reason why children can come to blows.
The staff are right: this behaviour settles down and passes. I suggest you don’t focus on it or discuss it too much with your child. If you draw attention to it, the chances are that it will continue for longer.
Q. My daughter is so tired when I pick her up from nursery that she falls asleep when we get home at 3.30 and will not be woken up! When I eventually manage to wake her she is so grumpy but then a couple of hours later won’t go to bed at her usual bedtime. Her whole routine seems out of whack and I’m not sure how to get it back on track?
Children tend to sleep in 3 cycles:
1) A 20-minute cat nap
2) A 45-minute half sleep cycle
3) A 90-minute full sleep cycle
Aim to wake her after one of these cycles as this is when she is coming into a light sleep and is easier to wake. I suggest after 45 minutes (so at 4.15).
A way to exhaust her is to participate in some educational games and activities, since mental stimulation is far more tiring than physical stimulation. Here are some ideas for activities:
Pairs and memory match card games
Cooking / baking
Reading her a story and asking her questions (How many apples are in the tree? What colour is the man’s hat? etc.)
Dot to dot books
Don’t think that she is not ready for bed three hours after waking: she is. Continue the usual bedtime routine. If she keeps leaving her room you need to keep returning her there until she realises that at 7pm, children go to bed.
Sleep breeds sleep so please don’t think that a daytime nap that is needed, it will prevent night-time sleep.
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Thanks so much Kathryn! This is a great post and it’s fantastic to have so many tips as well as helpful answers to some common questions.
If your child is starting nursery this year, take a look at the new ‘I’m Starting Nursery’ books by preschool favourites Pirate Pete and Princess Polly. These lovely books can help to reassure and prepare little ones for their first day at nursery school. We are giving away FIVE big bundles of Pete and Polly books (including I’m Starting Nursery and Please and Thank you), plus copies of Kathryn Mewes The 3 Day Nanny. Click here to enter the prize draw! Good luck!