Stretched out arms, heartbreaking cries and confusion – to settle into nursery is not an entirely uncomplicated process for a young child. It includes changes in routines, people, and perhaps language. Settling in can also be a painful adaptation and experience for parents. This is why it is good to be aware of settling in procedures as it may close the bridge between home and school.
Choosing a nursery
The settling in period really begins when you are choosing a nursery. The initial visit may be done without your child when ideally you would visit a few nurseries in order to have a look at their settings, to be informed about their settling in procedures, approaches and every day routines, meet staff members and ask all the questions that are important to you and your child. However, on the next visit it is important that your child comes along in order for you to see how they respond to the environment and to watch how the practitioners interact with your child – a ‘taster day’ for both you and your child.
Some nurseries may also follow up with a ‘taster day’ for your child on their own, to see how s/he gets on. When you get home it is important to talk positively about the nursery, the activities that go on, the other children and the staff. It is also important to chat through any worries that your child may have before they start off for real.
If your child is not used to being away from mum or dad, it may be easier for them to settle at nursery if you prepare them by leaving them with other carers such as, grandparents, friends or relatives. You might start off with short periods such as an hour when you go shopping or when you go to the gym. This could gradually increase to longer periods until your child is happy to be left for a whole morning or afternoon. Introducing time away from mum and dad may be a useful and helpful preparation for your child when they are about to start nursery, as most children won’t like being left with practitioners they don’t know at first. The settling in period may thereby be shorter if the child has been introduced to being away from their parents, and it shouldn’t be long before they come home chatting about their day, teachers and friends.
On the first day
There is no set rule when it comes to settling in procedures. Some nurseries have a cut off policy from day one, that is, parents leave their child at the door and are not allowed to remain with their child in the nursery. Other nurseries may have a 3-day settling in procedure where the parents spend three full active days with the children, and then leave. Others may have a longer settling in period where the child’s time at the nursery increases by the day over a longer period – all depending upon the child’s individual development of being away from mum and dad. Parents also have needs and may not be able to attend the nursery every day over a longer period due to work etc. Each nursery therefore decides upon what procedure they will follow. However, on the first day it’s advisable for parents to consider some points:
Allow plenty of time. The chances are that your child won’t be prepared for you to just drop them off and leave – be prepared to hang around until they’ve settled. You will most likely feel as anxious and emotional as your child, but try to stay cheerful and confident as they, without a doubt, will pick up on your feelings of apprehension.
Explain to your child that you are leaving and when you will be back Do NOT tell lies, such as, “I’m just going to the lavatory and then I’ll be back”, tell them you’ll be back after outdoor play, lunch or story time.
If your child is very upset and won’t let you leave, ask the staff for advice. Most nurseries will ask you to stay for a while with your child in the early days. Make sure the school have your contact number in case they need to contact you.
Say goodbye cheerfully and with confidence, and try not to worry. If there is a problem you will be contacted, but in most cases your child will be enjoying their exciting new experience!
Some children will find it more stressful than others to settle in: some will settle in quickly, while others may take longer. For practitioners this is not unusual as they are used to deal with crying and upset children that are starting nursery, and they have the experience, training and expertise needed to manage such situations, and to build trust with the children.
For many parents though, this situation may be somewhat overwhelming. For parents it is of course heartbreaking to see their child upset when they leave. It is therefore important that you as a parent find out from your child’s teacher, or key worker, what happens after you have left – do they cry for long – what is the school’s policy – can I stay on in the classroom and leave when they are happy? Also, it may be an idea to encourage friendships by inviting children from your child’s play group outside of school hours.
Remember that some children will settle a lot quicker and better if you keep your goodbyes brief – hanging about may just make the whole process more painful for both of you. As a parent you need to be clear, consistent and show trust in your child’s setting, for example: “Daddy is going to work now and that’s ok. You have a great day and lots of fun and I’ll pick you up after outdoor play”. Then leave, don’t hang about and repeat this – be clear and confident and leave. If you hang about the child will learn that if they scream daddy will not leave, he will come back, which will make the settling in period longer and much more painful. And lastly, don’t worry and don’t blame yourself, just accept that children are individuals and that your child will get there in the end.
Carola is the Principal & Director of Little Gems Montessori Nursery Nicosia and Larnaca. She opened Nicosia in 2007 and Larnaca in 2013. Every year she trains future Montessori pedagogues through Montessori Centre International (MCI) where Little Gems Larnaca hosts yearly Apparatus Workshops.