Every September 26 3-4 years olds start in my nursery class, which is part of a larger primary school. In Northern Ireland children are entitled to one year of free preschool education but it is not compulsory. For the past 3 years we have tried a different system & it has worked so well, I wouldn't do it any other way.
All 26 children start on the 1st day of school for September - sounds mad I know but believe me it works. We start them in 3 small groups of 8 or 9 for just an hour over 2 days. On the 3rd day, we have just 2 groups of 13 & they stay for 2 hours & stay in this group for 3-4 weeks & just for the 2 hours the whole month of September. So one group is in from 9.00 to 11.00 and then the second group comes in from 11.30-1.30.
During that first week, I always encourage parents/carers to take that time off, get younger siblings minded elsewhere & give the child starting nursery their full attention. They are encouraged to stay that 1st week & as I point out at open nights every year, they will never get an opportunity to observe their child's teacher in the classroom ever again. Both myself & the other staff are, at the end of the day, strangers to the children & yet so many settings encourage parents to leave children on the first day. I want the children to trust us & be comfortable with us before their parents leave. We also need to have a good sense of each child before we can figure out how they will reacte to certain scenarios e.g. Having a toy snatched from them, being asked not to throw sand or having a toileting accident.
We also stress that no parent is ever to sneak off without letting a member of staff know they are leaving, it always surprises me that every year some parents will actually open the top lock on our door & leave without saying to us. But more importantly, if a parent says they will be in the car & then leaves, if we need them & they aren't out in the car, their child will never trust our word again. Even though it is only 2 hours, some children need to build up to this & it can seem very slow for parents but it is preferable to us to have children coming and going throughout the 2 hours rather than having 13 children upset & crying all at the same time. If a reluctant child is settled at an activity we will encourage a parent to leave for 30 minutes & then come back making a huge fuss of the child for staying & then taking them home. This last bit can throw both child & parent - if they come back after 30 minutes & earlier than home time, a parent can often feel that if the child is still happy enough they could just sit & wait until home time. However, in the long term we want the child to realise that mum/dad only comes back at home time, so they have to learn to leave when they return.
If a parent is staying after the first week, we encourage them to pick a seat in the classroom or playground & stay in it, allowing the child to venture off knowing they are still there. This is mainly because we have found that if a parent follows their child from activity to activity, we can rarely get in on that child during play & begin to form a connection.
But my biggest advice to anyone settling a child into nursery is RELAX! That is why I encourage parents to take the first week off, so they aren't stressed about having to be at work or elsewhere. Not to stereotype but dads tend to be much more relaxed about the whole process & are not concerned about what everyone else is doing. Mums tend to feel under pressure to leave if the other parents are too but in my experience a dad is more comfortable being the only parent still in the classroom with their child.
By relax, I mean don't stress, no child has ever not settled into nursery, some just take longer than others but they all get there. Don't worry sharing, taking turns, socialising etc. as far as your child is concerned; that is what they have come to nursery to learn more about. All children will at various times snatch toys, it is hard being one of 26! So relax, enjoy the opportunity to play with your child, meet their new friends & their parents. Relax & chat go the staff, settling in is a frantic time but also the most time you will get to chat with us.
Luckily, every year we forget how hard settling in time can be, so the advice to relax is for us too!