Preparing Your Child for Montessori Primary

by Delila Olsson

Welcome to the West Hills Community! This is an exciting time as you prepare for your child’s first days and weeks of school. The purpose of this article is to provide you with a set of proven steps. Each section offers specific preparations to help ease your child’s anxiety (and yours) as we get closer to the new school year.

Watch for signs of readiness: Sometime before the age of three, your child will begin to look and act less like a toddler and more like a pre-schooler. The following readiness markers are some of the most obvious signs that your child is ready for the Montessori Primary (3 – 6) class:

  • Verbally expresses personal wants and needs
  • Can separate from parents and caregivers relatively easily
  • Anticipates the need to use the toilet and carries out toileting independently
  • Responds to adult direction in a timely manner
  • Does not need/expect holding or carrying from adults
  • Has learned to wait for an adult’s attention
  • Demonstrates social awareness of others
  • Can manage disappointment
  • Is aware of physical body and demonstrates some impulse control
  • Puts on and takes off coat, shoes, clothing independently
  • Can sit calmly and focus on an activity for a period of time
  • Often chooses to play alone without need of adult participation

Begin Preparing for the Transition to School: You have some weeks ahead to prepare yourself and your child for the transition to the Montessori Primary (what we refer to as the “Children’s House) – now is the time to begin :

Practice Clear, Positive Communication: In Montessori we adhere to the following guideline in our communication with preschool children: “be kind, respectful, clear and brief.” We know that while over-explaining may make us feel more confident in our knowledge as adults, too much explaining is simply confusing to young children. Here are a few additional guidelines that we practice in our classrooms and likewise encourage you to practice at home:

  • Model clear spoken language for your child to give a clear impression for their developing spoken language; refrain from using “baby talk” either in words or intonation.
  • Expect your child to use words rather than gestures, grunts or body language.
  • Ask for what you want. Rather than emphasizing a negative action (“Don’t do that!”) use positive language to ask for what you want from the child, such as “you may put your shoes on now.”
  • Communicate expectations with clarity and provide logical consequences such as: “It’s time to put your shoes on now and we won’t do anything else until your shoes are on.”
  • Say what you see, rather than what you think it means. We can empower children to express their feelings with words by modeling the language of feelings, such as: “I can see you’re feeling happy/sad/frustrated/confused.”

Support Socialization: Provide Social Experiences away from home: Summer is a great time to set up play dates and arrange for your child to attend short classes or camps to build relationships with peers.  These “away” experiences prepare your child for the more social environment of the Montessori classroom, and also provide them with experiences separating from you and learning to feel safe and comfortable in the presence of other trusted adults.   This is a critically important preparation for school because these experiences allow the child to discover that they can stay in other environments and enjoy themselves, relaxing and trusting that their parent will return for them later.

  1. Gradually increase the length of time your child spends with another trusted adult.
  2. Always explain to your child that you will leave and you will return a bit later.
  3. Be on time, so your child experiences trust in you and your word.

Provide activities that require Multiple Steps and support Concentration: As you already know, the mantra of the toddler is “I can do it myself!” That intense desire for independence continues to increase in the preschool child and the Primary classroom is uniquely designed to serve that need.  In our Montessori approach, we believe that competence builds confidence and we therefore offer many and varied opportunities for even the youngest children to manage their own needs independently. In preparation for this next stage of independence, please provide your child with activities that have multiple steps and encourage them to stay with the activity until completion. Experiences such working together to set a table (one careful step at a time), helping to prepare a meal, folding and putting away laundry, washing windows, or harvesting vegetables from the garden build independence, confidence and concentration. These kinds of activities also give young children practice with sequencing, support their natural sense of order, strengthen their fine motor muscles, and give them an experience of contributing to their family in a meaningful way. These are also activities the child will encounter and continue to practice in the Montessori Primary class, so starting now will help build comfort and familiarity.

Provide Tools of Independence at Home: In Montessori we believe that we should never do for a child that which she can do for herself.  This focus on independence is about creating environments in which young children can succeed with as much independence as possible, because we know that competence builds confidence and becomes the foundation of a lifelong love of learning.  Some of the common tools of independence we offer in the Montessori Primary classroom can also be very helpful at home – here are a few of them:

  • A stool at the bathroom sink allows your child to wash hands and brush teeth without having to ask for adult assistance.
  • A child-sized pitcher and glasses stored on a low shelf in the kitchen allows a child to pour a glass of water when she feels thirsty, rather than waiting for an adult to help.
  • A small broom and dustpan hung from a low hook allows a child to sweep a spill when it happens – same with providing a low kitchen drawer or basket filled with cotton spill cloths for easy, independent clean-up.
  • Low shelves neatly organized with a child’s toys and art activities, with each having its own clearly designated space, makes it possible for your child to successfully follow your adult direction to “please put away your toys.”
  • For independence in dressing, offer choices that your child can manage alone. For example, if you child doesn’t yet know how to tie laces, provide shoes with Velcro closures; if your child struggles to fasten snaps or buttons, provide clothing with elastic waistbands.

Expect and empower your Child to be Independent: When your child comes to school, she will be in an environment where she will have many choices and long periods of time when she can work independently with an activity of her choosing. She will also be responsible for managing her own toileting needs and clothing.

Unstructured Playtime: Allowing for unstructured playtime at home, without an adult directing or playing along with an activity, provides the child with ways to work through her own problem-solving strategies and creative role playing.

Toileting: Children must be fully bathroom trained to attend the Montessori Primary class. When a bathroom accident occurs at school the child is guided to be as independent as possible in changing into a dry set of clothes. We encourage you to support his same level of independence at home.  NOTE:  Pull-ups or other disposable type underwear may not be worn at school.

DressingConsider, first and foremost, your child’s ability to manage getting easily into and out of their clothing at school. Consider also that your child’s clothing should allow for their activity while not detracting from their experience at school:

  • There won’t be an adult in the bathroom to help with snaps, buttons, buckles and bows; therefore, unless your child is already fully independent in managing these closures, please do not send them to school. Pull-on pants and skirts with elastic waist bands are manageable by most young children.
  • Please limit your child’s school clothing choices to those that are appropriate for their active, reality-based experience at school. In order to avoid morning power struggles and set your child up for success in managing their clothing at school, please keep seasonally inappropriate or “dress up” (costume) clothing in a separate place from the everyday/school clothing from which your child may choose.
  • To save time in the morning, consider having your child choose the next day’s clothing, and lay it out, the night before.

Establish Ground Rules that align with our Montessori approach:  In our classrooms, the ground rules are simple and logical. We treat each other with care and respect, as we do with all living things and the environment. We listen with attention, and speak with kindness. We take responsibility for our words and actions, and practice the ways of doing this every day in our classrooms. If a material is disrespected through misuse, it is removed from the classroom for a period of time.  Through the lessons of grace and courtesy, children learn the tools of self-regulation, and of expressing their feelings in peaceful, respectful ways. When a child misbehaves, we do not send them to a time-out or otherwise punish them, but rather use the opportunity to practice more peaceful means of communicating one’s needs. Our goal for the children is not obedience, but self-discipline.  And throughout a child’s experience at school, you will hear more about the ways we arrive at this goal as well as the ways you can support the process at home and in partnership with us.

Build Familiarity with your new School: Establish a Routine: Begin having regular conversations about the new school and new adults at school. By hearing you speak of the new school casually and often, your child will sense that you already know a lot about this place and you are comfortable and excited about this new experience. When you receive your registration materials, which will include the name of your child’s new Guide (teacher), include that name in discussions to build familiarity. During the last week of August the Guides and Assistants will be on campus setting up their classrooms. This is a great time to bring your child to campus to meet his/her new Guide and explore the classroom and playground for a few minutes. These are important preparatory steps for every new child:

  • Drive by the campus often so your child begins to recognize the location
  • Call to schedule a brief visit with your child’s Guide the week before school starts
  • Snap a few photos of the classroom and Guide to inspire conversations at home
  • When you come to meet the Guide, explore the school grounds and playground together

Discuss what will happen on the First Day:  It is comforting to children to hear what will happen, and  likewise  unsettling  for  children  when  changes  occur  for  which  they  are  not prepared. As you talk with your child about their new school, be positive, brief, and consistent in what you say so they can begin to relax into the new routine before school has even begun. It can really meaningful to share some of your own new school memories. Make sure, as you share, that you are conveying total confidence in your decision for your child to start school at West Hills.  The confidence the child senses (or does not) in the parent is the single most important factor in determining the success of their transition to school. Some suggested language:

  • “On the first day of school we will get up early, get dressed and eat breakfast together. After breakfast we’ll drive to your new school and greet your teacher at the door. You and I will hug and say goodbye. Your teacher will shake your hand and invite you in. You’ll go inside and work and play with friends in the classroom, while I do some of my own work at home/office/etc.  You’ll have a snack, play on the playground, and have lunch at school. After you finish working and playing at school, I’ll come back to pick you up and then we’ll go home together.”
  • “I know your new teacher and the children are very excited to meet you and play together.”
  • “I remember my first day of school. I was so excited to see my teacher and play on the playground. I got a new lunchbox for my first day, just like you did!”

Plan for Healthy Lunches your child manage independently: Young children love to help in the preparation of food, especially their own school lunches. Lunches can be packed the night before to save time in the morning.

  • Offer food choices which are easy for your child to manage at school – fruit and veggies cut into small pieces, for example
  • Provide containers your child can manage independently – practice with the closures ahead of time
  • Guide your child’s healthy choices: “Today, do you prefer apple or banana for your fruit? Do you prefer cheese or tofu for your protein?”

Assure Adequate Sleep:  Adjusting to a new routine and can be emotionally and physically exhausting for a little body. You can begin to adjust for your child’s new school schedule the weeks prior to the start of school. Consider these guidelines:

  • According to Michael Brews, PhD, children between 3 – 6 years of age require 10 ½ – 12 hours of sleep per day.
  • A well-rested child will awaken without prompting and with a positive outlook.
  • Please plan for adequate sleep so that your child awakens well-rested and with plenty of time to go through the morning routine of dressing, breakfast and arriving at school without rushing.
  • Tried and true suggestions for a peaceful bedtime and positive start to your child’s day:
    • Turn off all screens and electronic devices at least 3 hours before bed.
    • A warm bath can help children relax and prepare for sleep.
    • Lightly rubbing your child’s back or feet may help them relax.
    • Dimming bedroom lights sets the mood for relaxation and sleep.

Limit Screen Time: At the core of our Montessori approach is an emphasis on sensorial exploration and the real-life experiences that inspire each child’s unique creative imagination to develop. In support of your child’s Montessori experience, we encourage you to develop healthy family guidelines and limits around media use, including television, computers, handheld devices and video gaming systems. We recommend that you designate media-free times and media-free areas within your home.

When the first day of school arrives…

Provide a Healthy Breakfast: Children who are hungry do not function as well and tend to be more anxious. While we do provide a morning snack, this is in no way a substitution for a healthy breakfast. Choose breakfast foods that provide sustained energy and that are low in sugar and preservatives. Be sure to allow adequate time in the morning so your child can enjoy a calm breakfast at the table.  Eating on the run, in front of a television, or in the car are all known contributors to anxiety in children.

Make “goodbyes” positive and brief:  On the first days of school, as parents we can easily fall into the trap of lengthy farewells with many hugs, because the separation is difficult for us as well.  It’s important to understand that lengthy farewells create separation anxiety for both child and adult and add confusion and stress to the child’s experience of school.

  • Convey confidence as you arrive: “I see some new friends. It’s going to be a great day!
  • At the door, keep it short: “I love you and I will be back after school.”
  • If you or your child had a difficult time separating, give us a call and we’ll peek into the classroom to see how things are going.

Get the information you need to feel 100% confident in Montessori and West Hills

Starting school is a very big and exciting transition for your child, and also for you. Your attitude about this transition is the single most significant factor in your child’s successful transition to school. Our staff is 100% dedicated to supporting you through this process.

  • Email Delila Olsson, Assistant Head of School, with questions or for support: delila@westhills-montessori.com.
  • Look for parent handbook, school calendar, and your child’s class assignment and phase-in date to arrive early in August.
  • Once school starts, communicate with your child’s Guide by phone, email, or a note at the door.
  • Attend the Back to School night for your child’s class. This is a time to meet other parents, to get to know your child’s teacher, and learn more about the daily rituals and routines at school.
  • Attend Parent Education and Community Events – watch for a handout of upcoming events!

Welcome to the West Hills Montessori Community – we’re so glad you’re here!

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