In Northern Ireland, Pre-School education is not statutory. However, to ensure the best for your child, we at Mums NI highly recommend this bridge to education for children in the year immediately before they attend Primary 1. They will benefit greatly from it. Your child will be eligible for Nursery School if they reach their third birthday on or before the 1st of July prior to the September term commencing.
It’s an exciting milestone to reach and a wonderful time for curious little minds. By the time your child is 3 years old they will be ready for new challenges and eager to meet new faces and play with different age appropriate toys. It can also be a daunting time for the parents. You will have so many questions going through your head, especially if you have been a stay at home parent and this will be your child's first time away from you.
But don’t worry, we are here to help you prepare your child (and you!) for this big step. Here are our Top Tips:
First things first - register your child for a play group by the time they are 2 years and 10 months. You won’t need to send them everyday if you don’t want to but we recommend at least 2-3 times per week. Most play groups are only on for a few hours a day, so this will ease them in gently and get them into routine. If you have a clingy child, do not fret. You will be allowed to do a settling in period, the staff at play group are human and understand the emotional requirements of young children. Your child will soon be pushing you out the door so that they can get playing with their new friends. All you need to do is ensure that you show up to collect them ON TIME with a great big smile.
On top of going to play group, make sure to attend any of the local weekly toddler classes that are available to you, if you can. Most libraries offer a FREE Rhythm and Rhyme session which encourages children to join in with activities and provides opportunity to sit and listen to the stories. It’s worthwhile checking out Café Nest in Mothercare at Sprucefield where various toddler entertainment businesses run weekly classes such as Messy Play, Toddler Sense, Storytime with Willetta and Rhythm and Rhyme Time NI. We also highly recommend Jo Jingles. It’s amazing how quickly a child will learn a routine from attending such classes. Classes like these expose children to new faces and teach new vocabulary and sensory experiences. All things that will prepare them for Nursery School. You will benefit too by meeting other parents and learning new techniques to try with your children at home.
Provide your child with the confidence to become independant and the transition to Nursery School will be an easier ride. Ensure they are fully potty trained, can use cutlery and cups proficiently and are willing to help in the tidy up process. These things will give them a boost as they won’t be relying on adults to help them. The more your child can do for themselves, the better. But do not stress out if your child is not reaching these goals. They will learn them in time.
Prepare a new routine, if possible, a few months ahead of time. Encourage an earlier bedtime routine during the month of August so that by the time September comes around your child will be used to going to bed that little bit earlier and will benefit from a longer sleep for the fun filled day ahead. Find out what the routine is at your chosen Nursery i.e. ask what time snack-time is and implement this into your home life in the run up to starting at Nursery School. By the time they get into the class they will already have been in the routine of eating at certain times and it will become like second nature to them. It is essential that you have positive conversations with your child about going to Nursery School and what is involved - new place, new friends, new experiences. You will have the opportunity to attend the Nursery with your child to meet the staff and see their new surroundings usually in the June before attending in September. Talk about this over the Summer months and build up anticipation and curiosity.
No matter how prepared you are for leaving your little one off at Nursery School, there will always be the risk of a little wobble along the way. Staying calm and collected will not only benefit you but your child too. Children can sense their parents emotions, so set an example by being positive and smiling. You might find that your child suddenly becomes the most clingy child on the first day of Nursery School. Don’t panic. Let your child see you being friendly with the staff, they will feel assured that you trust these new people to take care of them and hopefully this will be enough to settle them. If your child is really unsettled, you might even want to stay with them for a little bit, but do not stay for longer than is necessary. Once they are ready, say goodbye in a firm but positive manner with a smile. The staff will be fully trained in dealing with upset children and believe us when we say this, by the time you have got to the nursery gate, your child will have forgotten why they were upset in the first place. On the other hand, your child might run in as soon as that door is opened without looking back. This can make a parent feel a bit blown out, but this is nothing to worry about. Your child is just excited at the new adventure that lies ahead of them. Let them enjoy it. You might even find that you are the one overwhelmed with emotion, but please do keep it together until you are outside the nursery gates away from the children. Stay strong!