Starting preschool can be a big transition for kids. Thankfully, there are plenty of books and magazine articles focused on getting children ready for preschool and making the transition a good one. Where, though, is the guidance for preschool parents? After all, we’re starting something new, too, and it can be a big change: new morning routines, drop-offs, pick-ups, permission forms (and tons of other forms) to keep organized, a plethora of new artwork to figure out what to do with, field trips, class parties, volunteering and teacher conferences. If you’re new to the experience, it sure can help to make a few new friends along the way who have the same questions or concerns. Here are five tips for meeting other preschool parents:
1) Be a joiner
It is not always easy to join groups, participate in activities, and just generally be social if you’re more introverted. Knowing it can be beneficial to meet other parents, many preschool planning committees make it easier by arranging class ‘meet and greets’ or school picnics. Go to these if your schedule allows because they are low pressure opportunities not only to get to know other parents but also to meet your child’s classmates, which is a good opportunity to put faces to the names you’ll be hearing from your child throughout the school year.
Not everyone has the flexibility in their schedule to volunteer but, if you do, volunteering can be a great way to meet other parents as well as get to know the teachers and staff better. Most preschools have a parent steering committee that plans fundraising events, family fun nights and educational opportunities. Offering to assist with these kinds of committees is a good way to get directly involved with your child’s preschool experience. Other volunteer opportunities include organizing class parties, which are often run by parents, and these can be great if you prefer working in smaller groups. Class field trips provide another opportunity to volunteer, and because they’re often planned weeks or months in advance, it makes it easier to adjust your schedule and plan ahead. Regardless of the time you have to give, whether it’s an hour or 20 hours, volunteering can be a rewarding way to meet other parents.
3) Go to a birthday party
Don’t be surprised if you start getting invites to lots of birthday parties for your child’s classmates. Many parents choose to have parties at fun places that will accommodate lots of kids so they include everyone. While you may not know anyone, your child will and the chances are good that she will have a blast with her little classmates.
When I went to my first birthday party, I knew maybe one other mom and it was a little awkward. I soon got over it when I realized how much fun the kids were having – and that several other parents had chosen to come, too, even though they didn’t know anyone. We all talked about our kids and school and, now, we’ll have some familiar faces to look for at the next birthday party. These events can be excellent ways to meet other parents, if you can just get past that initial “I don’t know anyone!” panic when you walk in the door.
4) Plan a playdate
It can be very beneficial for kids to play with each other outside of the classroom. In fact, if your child is particularly shy at school, try setting up a playdate with one or two of the classmates that your child talks about most. Another mom and I planned a playdate – just meeting outside to play and have lunch. Her daughter was having a little bit of a hard time adjusting to school because she was shy and didn’t know any of the other kids. Our children had so much fun and after the next school day, even the teachers commented on the change in the classroom. The shy classmate seemed happier in class, more involved and, according to her mom, she even looked forward to coming to school now that she had a special friend that she knew better. It doesn’t take much effort to send an email or make a flyer about meeting up at a local indoor playplace or the park. You may find that other parents are very receptive to the idea and that they appreciate the opportunity to get together in a relaxed setting outside of school. An added benefit: parents can bring siblings of all ages so it can be a family event and your other kids may just meet some playmates, too.
5) Smile and say hello
Okay, so you’re just not a really social person and you don’t have time to volunteer – what can you do? Simply try to be more present in the moment at drop-off and pick-up. Try to smile and give a friendly hello. It can be hectic and you can easily stay focused on yourself and your own kids, but if you take a moment to look around, you’re likely to see other parents who are willing or eager to chat. Even just a quick conversation with another parent can help ease the transition from a sea of unfamiliar faces into an ocean of possibilities.
Mandy Fields Yokim is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two children.