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How I plan to prepare my toddler for preschool 

I can’t believe it is already time to start to prepare my toddler for preschool. Yes it’s still 6 months away but I have realised there is no way my mom-heart will ever be ready for this transition so I am rather focusing my thoughts on how to prepare him ( 3 year old) for preschool as best I can. 

I’m not talking about preparing him in an educational sense- correcting how he holds a crayon or making sure he can cut perfectly on a straight line (not that those aren’t good things too). I mean getting my toddler ready to be able to function in a more scheduled environment with lots of other kids and much less one on one adult help and attention.

The journey of getting ready for preschool 

I know for each toddler getting ready for preschool may be a bit of a different journey. Some might be really excited and some might be scared of the amount of children. 

Similarly, we as moms might have very different feelings about this new season in our mom- life. Maybe worried we will miss our toddlers? Maybe nervous about what the system of preschool will be like? Maybe not really sure whether your toddler is for preschool or whether preschool is the right choice for your family?

However whatever comes our way, you and I have got this mama. We have had a whole life time of dealing with challenges and change. We more or less know what a preschool day looks like and have somewhat of a picture of what the other kids and preschool teacher will be like. 

On the other hand our toddlers don’t have this mental picture. Preschool is a pretty new concept to them. Maybe they have been part of a play group before, maybe they have seen a sibling going to preschool, and maybe they have seen their favorite TV character go to preschool but it’s still a big change for them. 

Preparing for the transition to preschool with a toddler 

The truth is that change is hard for toddlers. It requires a lot of security, patience, maturity and mental flexibility. Not exactly the first qualities we attribute to young children and fair enough, their brains are still developing. 

In my years of working in preschools I found that often parents think that getting their child ready for preschool means making them excited and “advertising” all the new, fun stuff (new backpack, lunch box, fun games, new friends etc.).  Honestly, I default to this type of “winning- over” strategy all the time with my toddler too

However I don’t think this is the best way to get your toddler ready for the big change that is preschool. 

My issue with this approach is that when the inevitable hard feelings come up my toddler won’t understand how to process them because they are so different to the rose-tinted, unending fun and excitement picture that I have coached him in. 

For my 3 year old change, even fun, exciting change can be overwhelming. I want to set mine and his expectations more realistically. I’m not expecting a perfectly smooth transition without a tear. But I would like to get him ready by creating some sprinklings of familiarity with the transition of a lot of new things. 

toddler morning routine for preschool cereal

How to get your toddler ready for preschool 

  1. Establishing a morning routine

At the moment our morning routine is pretty slow and easy. It involves a lot of play and moments for me to attempt to drink hot coffee. When we are getting ready to go out, it’s all kind of led by me telling him what to do and he isn’t doing much initiating by himself. 

I want to slowly start working towards a morning routine that teaches my 3 year old a rhythm and flow of getting ready, each task that he needs to do and how to do as much of these things independently as possible. 

I think this is a really important and overlooked step in getting ready for the transition to preschool because if the morning starts off with tears and stress it can really influence the rest of the day. 

This flow involves: 

  1. Changing out of pajamas and into clothes
  2. Putting on shoes
  3. Washing face
  4. Brushing teeth
  5. Combing hair
  6. Preparing and eating breakfast
  7.  Packing a backpack and putting it on. 

I’m going to approach this by scheduling something in our calendar at least once a week that requires us to get out the door by 8am.

As well as, making him a very basic picture morning schedule that he can follow. I’ll start off with 3 items and gradually add on until we have the full 7 steps. 

lunch box for 3 year old while preparing for preschool

2. Eating a packed snack or lunch from a lunchbox 

It sounds like such a small thing but I know how hangry he gets when he hasn’t eaten properly. For us this is a two-fold change: firstly, getting used to eating at different times and secondly, different types of foods. 

Our schedule normally involves a big breakfast, a very small 10am snack and a cooked lunch around 12am. When my toddler is in preschool he will eat a fairly sized snack around 11am and will have lunch when he gets home at 2pm. 

Because our snacks are normally very small and I normally cook lunch, my toddler isn’t used to snack or packed type of foods (like sandwiches). It’s also a challenge for me to start buying and making foods that fit inside a bento box. 

So I’m tackling this by slowly changing our eating schedule, I’ve ordered some bento boxes, and we will be using them for bigger morning snacks a few times a week. 

3. Personal hygiene 

Maybe this sounds strange but I feel people and other children are more kind towards clean kids than the grubby ones (anyone else ever think this?). Honestly we have quite a way to go in terms of learning personal hygiene but here are the things that I think are developmentally appropriate for a 3 year old to learn and do independently

    1. Blowing his own nose and knowing when he needs to 
    2. Washing his hands and face properly as a routine after the toilet and before eating 
    3. Wiping after using the bathroom
    4. Eating without messing his clothes or the table 
toddler clothes for starting preschool

4. Dressing 

By working towards my toddler being able to do the following dressing skills by himself it will make our morning routine flow more easily and give him a confidence boost in his abilities while at preschool. 

    1. Putting on and taking off his jacket 
    2. Putting on and taking off his shoes 
    3. Putting on and taking off his socks 
    4. Putting on and taking off his hat 

Are these really relevant? Yes! He will have to put on and take off shoes, socks, jacket and hat many times during the day at preschool and they are skills that 3 year olds should be mastering. As an added bonus learning to get dressed and undressed teaches kids perceptual skills, balance and coordinated movements.

backpack for preschool

5. Packing and wearing a backpack 

Now I know many people suggest giving a new backpack the day before preschool but as I explained before I want to create as much familiarity for my 3 year old as I can. So we will be starting this act of packing his backpack already. 

I can always get him a new backpack as a surprise once he is feeling a little more settled.

6. Introspection and verbalising his needs 

Without noticing it, we as mom preempt many of our child’s physical and emotional  needs. Asking if they need the toilet, if they are hungry or thirsty, if they need a hug or would like to have a quiet moment. 

Preschools generally have a very structured day plan and within the movement from one activity to the next it is easy for a young child to not pay attention to what their body is telling them. 

On top of that, not all toddlers know or feel confident to ask an adult (that isn’t their parent) for something that they need (like a glass of water). 

In the coming months I am going to work towards being a little less preemptive of my 3 year olds needs and rather coach him towards introspection by asking him open questions (“Is your body telling you it needs something?” Instead of “Are you hungry?”). Also, practicing asking other adults in his life (like grandparents, family friends). 

I also plan to spend some time talking about what our body feels and how we can feel better using pictures. For example: When my throat feels dry and my mouth feels sticky it means I need to drink water. 

Toddler learning to share doll at preschool

7. Turn taking and sharing

Turn taking and sharing is something my toddler practices with his baby sister everyday (50 000 times a day!). And we are still learning… Yes, this is still a big challenge for us. Not only with his sister but also with friends. 

Sometimes he is such a generous sharer and follows the sharing script I have coached him in, to the tee! And then other times… Let’s just say we want to improve these skills. 

Our house rules for sharing are: If it’s in someone else’s hands it means they are playing with it. You can offer them another toy (preferably something that they like) and ask (with words) if they would like to swap. They are allowed to say no and then you have to wait until they are finished to have a turn. 

I plan to use a social story to help my toddler better understand these skills. A social story is basically a picture story which describes a social situation and how we should act or react. Generally they are written in the first person so it provides a type of script for kids to learn social skills. 

toddler calming himself at preschool by giving himself a bear hug

8. How to calm down 

Toddlers and big emotions go hand in hand, at least in our house. Of course, we have a number of strategies that we do at home to help my 3 year old calm down after a tantrum or a tense moment.  The thing is that many of these strategies involve me or his dad being present and concentrated one on one adult help.  We generally approach these moments with the attitude of “He’s not giving me a hard time, he is having a hard time.” I’m pretty sure, despite what I have been told by the preschool teacher that this attitude and one on one approach will not be happening in a preschool setting.  It’s a hard pill to swallow but realistically in a situation where the ratio of adults to kids is around 1:8 I don’t see my toddler getting 10 minutes individual time with a calm adult coaching him through his emotions and how to regulate himself.  So as far as possible I want to equip him with some calming strategies that he can do independently. Namely: 
  1. Asking an adult for help if needed (for example: If he has a conflict with another child)
  2. Deep breathing and counting 
  3. Giving himself a bear hug 
  4. Having a drink of water 
  5. Removing himself from the situation and finding a quiet spot or activity 

9. Getting familiar with some common  preschool rules 

Some kids seem to internally know what is expected of them in group settings. They sit (not still but they sit), they seem to be listening, they follow instructions and just follow the flow of the group. 

That’s not my toddler. 

He is very adventurous, creative and confident. Great qualities but it does mean he needs a bit of extra prompting to understand what is expected of him and how to function in a group setting. 

Some of the points that I will try to explain to him when we are in group settings are:

  • The teacher is in charge, we listen to her
  • When the teacher talks, we listen 
  • There is play time when we can run, be loud and laugh and there are other times when we sit at the table and speak softly 
  • If we are given an activity or task to do, we must try to finish it before moving on to the next activity. 
  • He can go to the bathroom or get a drink of water whenever he wants but he must tell the teacher so she knows where he is. 

10. Preparing for the first day of preschool 

It’s still a long way off and I know we will have some preschool visits etc. before hand to start getting him ready for that first day. 

I plan to also write him a social story outlining the events of the day from the time I leave, until I pick him up.  


So, that’s my plan. We might not master each step. Some things might seem to work while we practice at home and not be as easy when he is actually in preschool. That’s okay. 

The point is to give him a clearer picture and understanding of all the small nuances of social interaction in a group setting and equip him with the skills he needs to be more independent. 

I’d love to hear your feedback and thoughts. Is there something I didn’t think of? Leave me a comment below. 

Happy preparing for preschool,