Last fall, my son began attending a new preschool in our area. Our first afternoon of picking him up, we experienced the dreaded conversation every parent fears. Apparently, he cried for much of the day, was angry at certain points, and refused to participate in many of the activities.
After several tough days and a teacher that was at the end of her ropes, my husband went to the school to observe my son and his behavior at the school. One thing he noticed was our son didn’t know the routine. He didn’t know the transition songs. He didn’t know the days of the week song at rug time. He was frustrated and embarrassed.
And his teacher was oblivious.
You could see that all of the other kids in his class had been together that summer. They knew what to do, where to go, and what to say. His teacher took for granted that my son would follow the crowd and figure it out himself. She probably felt that explaining everything to my son would get tedious for all the other children in the room. Needless to say, the situation was frustrating.
Consider your own group. What does it look like when a new child visits your group for the first time? Are you and the other small group leaders aware that their routine and attention may have to shift to make a new child feel welcomed?
To create a safe place for a new child, a small group leader needs to be able to recognize the frustration, on the part of the new kid, that comes with being in an unfamiliar location. And in order to help a preschooler adjust to his environment, it’ll be necessary to explain what the child can anticipate along the way.
“Right now, we’re learning about what we do when someone else is hurt. We’re trying to make this teddy bear feel better by putting band-aids on its boo-boos.”
“In a minute, we’re going to go to large group where we are going to sing songs about God and watch our Bible Story video.”
“When we have rug time, we’re going to talk to each other and God about what we learned today.”
The more words a small group leader provides to lead a child through his time in small group, the better acclimated a child will be to the environment. Knowing what to expect helps to diffuse a preschooler’s anxiety.
Our son loves his preschool now. A few changes by his teacher changed his experience and his attitude. Now, instead of being frustrated because he doesn’t know the songs the rest of his friends are singing, he comes home singing those songs he learned and telling us how much he loves going to school. He just needed someone to help him know they care by helping him to adjust and learn the routine.
How do you help new kids adapt to their first time in your small group?
Written by Kelly Stockdale
Family Director at Grace Hill