A couple months ago, Lion moved up from the toddler room to the preschool. We were thrilled because as the youngest in his cohort (he has an August birthday; the others in his class turned two-years-old in April-July), he missed his friends and desperately wanted to move up as he waited for a space to open in the preschool. A week before his official move up date, the daycare worked on transitioning him to preschool, letting him visit in the mornings before returning to the toddler room. Each day, he would happily march into the preschool without any tears, as there sometimes were with drop offs. When we picked him up, he would excitedly talk about all the friends he played with.
Lion’s first official day in the preschool coincided with Halloween.
We were sure that his excitement meant that we would have no trouble with the transition. The first couple of days seemed to go fairly smoothly. We heard that he had a tough time at naptime and wanted to go back to the toddler room and sleep in his old cot in what had been his spot. While the teachers let him go back, after a few minutes he changed his mind and went back to the preschool. He also would get a little upset when the toddlers would start eating lunch, because the preschool lunchtime is slightly later. Still, these seemed to be relatively minor hiccups and Lion was still very excited to finally be in the big boy room.
Then, about a week after his permanent move to the preschool, Lion seemed to be having second thoughts. “I don’t want to go to preschool,” he started crying. He started throwing more tantrums in the morning. At first, we thought it was his typical morning fussing about us dropping him off at daycare. Then, it became evident that, while he didn’t want to be at daycare, he really didn’t want to be in the preschool. He started begging, “I don’t want to go to preschool! I want to go Miss Mimi’s room!”
The toddler room is much smaller, with only six kids to a lead teacher and an aide. The kids in the toddler room are between one and two. The preschool has twenty kids, ranging in ages from two to five, with a lead teacher and, often, two aides. I can see why the larger environment takes some getting used to. To make matters worse, the lead teacher for the preschool left.
At first, the daycare let him spend five minutes in the toddler room in the morning, then would have him move to the preschool. Apparently, he was always very cooperative and after five minutes, and he would walk to the next room. In the afternoon when his favorite teachers left, he would often start crying until the preschool teachers let him go back into the toddler room. I felt bad that Lion was having a hard time with the transition and wasn’t sure what to do.
Finally, after one particularly bad morning of tears, the director of the center (who was also filling in as the lead preschool teacher) said that we were going to put a stop to the back and forth between rooms. She thought that letting him go into the toddler room each day was prolonging his anxiety about the move up to the preschool and causing some confusion. We had a few rough mornings where Lion screamed at drop off, but then after three days, he was fine. He would start the mornings by saying, “I don’t want to go to preschool,” but when we would ask, “Don’t you want to see Miss B—(the director)?” he would agree. And now, when we drop him off, he happily runs into the preschool, eager to read books, say hello to his friends or play at the sensory table.
Lion needed some time to adjust to the new surroundings and get used to the new teachers. There were two teachers he really liked in the preschool, and two that he wasn’t as familiar with and told me he didn’t like. We didn’t try to talk him out of his feelings, but instead just said, “That’s too bad. Maybe you just need to get to know X better.” One day, when Mr. Dolphin picked the kids up, as they walked to the car, Lion announced in a very matter-of-fact manner, “I like Miss X and Miss Y now.”
We haven’t had any meltdowns or crying at drop off in the past three weeks (fingers crossed this continues!) and I am grateful that the director put a stop to letting Lion go back and forth between rooms. Lion needed to know that he belonged in the preschool, not in the toddler room, and I do think switching between the rooms caused some confusion and anxiety.
Unfortunately, we may be forced to switch daycares in the next six months (more on that in a separate post) and I am not looking forward to dealing with another transition. However, I am thankful that we had this experience to learn from because I am much more confident that Lion can handle the change.