Transitioning your toddler to a Montessori preschool

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So you’ve enrolled in a Montessori preschool. Now what? This guide covers everything you need to know about your child’s transition to the Children’s House, designed for ages 3-6.

Whether your child is enrolling from home, daycare, or a Montessori Toddler program, joining a Montessori Children’s House is a bittersweet milestone. You might be excited for this leap in their early education, but you might also feel sad or anxious around the separation routines of starting school. 

In this guide, we’ll cover our educators’ best preparation tips for starting preschool, while also addressing the most common parent curiosities specific to starting in the Montessori environment. 

What to do before your child’s first day

Most children start the Children’s House at age 3, but some Montessori programs enroll as early as 2.5 if the child is toilet trained. It can be helpful to remember that starting school is a big life transition for your toddler or preschooler and will require some preparation. Here are some key strategies to prepare:

Talk about starting school

Avoid introducing this too early, which can cause anticipatory stress. We recommend a 2-3 week window. A great way to start this conversation is with books about school, like “Maisy Goes to Preschool.”

Visit the school

Children are grounded when they are able to get oriented, and one way to help them do this is by physically touring their new school. While there, ask if you can take photos (while respecting the privacy of other children there). Try to capture:

  • The building as it looks when you drive up
  • Their teachers
  • Where they will place their belongings
  • Their classroom
  • Their bathroom
  • Where they can play outside

You can show them these photos as the first day of school nears, or you can even make a social story with these images. A social story is a type of children’s book that emphasizes the facts around what children can expect related to a new experience. Many companies make it easy to customize your own children’s books, such as Pinhole Press. 

 Avoid “doubling down” on major transitions

Sometimes, we think to double down on transitions that feel correlated, like moving to a “big kid bed” in honor of starting preschool. However, it’s best to space out transitions by at least 6-8 weeks because even single transitions can spark regressive behaviors.

 Practice skills that build their independence

This is true for any preschool setting, but especially in Montessori where children experience more freedom to do for themselves. Consider practicing:

  • Opening their own lunch containers
  • Taking their shoes and socks on and off
  • Self-care routines, including using the restroom independently

 Ease into a new school routine

You don’t need to wait until the first day of school to get into the new routine. Drive by their new school so they get familiar with the commute. You can also pack their lunches in the new containers that they’ll use.

What to expect on the first day of school

Big feelings! Separation anxiety in your child is developmentally appropriate. It’s also normal if you as the parent struggle with the separation. It can help to build a predictable, positive separation routine. This should entail: 

Brevity. If your goodbye ritual is concise, it sends a message to your child that they are in good hands. If your child starts crying, avoid lingering. Instead, stay calm and confident with a validating phrase like,  “It’s okay to cry. This is all new! I will come back after your afternoon nap.”

A special ritual. What can you add to the separation routine that is both grounding and practical? One popular idea is the “kissing hand” from the children’s book, “A Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon.

Your child’s adjustment to the classroom will take time

Many parents assume it takes three days of consistency to adapt, but normalization in a classroom takes at least 6-8 weeks. If your child demonstrates separation anxiety on and off in the first couple months, this is normal and not cause for concern.

What to know about your child’s Montessori experience 

After morning drop off, what will it be like for your child? By choosing Montessori, your preschooler will experience: 

More freedom

Montessori is a child-led model in which three-hour work periods enable freedom of choice. This keeps learning joyful for young children who choose activities from a thoughtfully-prepared space. It also gives them a consistent opportunity to keep their bodies moving as they repeat work cycles of retrieving work, engaging with it, and putting it back. 

Less pressure, more purpose

Montessori students do not undergo performance pressure that is typical to rote memorization tactics. Access to knowledge matches their natural development, which at the preschool level includes an emphasis on concrete, sensorial learning that first builds up their capacity to learn. 

Individualized support

Since the children lead their chosen engagements, Montessori educators circulate the room to assess and support each child 1:1. Outside of the three-hour work period, there will be community activities like story time, group yoga, lunch, and going outside for shared nature lessons. 

Real community

The focus on building up each child’s independence is in a broader context of community where kindergarteners serve as mentors to the preschoolers. Social interactions are more naturally occurring in this mixed-age format, which benefits your child’s collaboration and leadership skills.

Above all, remember that two opposing things can be true at the same time: You can do all the tips to prepare them, and it can still feel hard to adjust. When in doubt, always reach out to your child’s teacher for additional support starting in the Children’s House. 

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N4 Montessori delivers an authentic Montessori education for independence in North Texas.