Welcoming New Children in Your Child Care Program

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Regardless of whether a child is new to the center, being moved to a new classroom, or is moved for part of a day, there are things we can do to make this transition easier.

Tips for welcoming children:

  • Be prepared in advance for a child new to your room. It says a great deal to a parent and to a child if there is a cubbie made and ready just for them! This will absolutely set the tone for this families' experience with the center (and with you as a professional). Incorporate that child into your Birthday Board. Have a cot ready so you don't have to do this at naptime his/her first day. I used to put up a welcome sign on my classroom door for new children (after I "got it") and I actually had parents save them and put them in their child's Baby Books as a remembrance of their child's first day of "school".
  • Welcome this child warmly, on his/her eye level. Think about how scary and intimidating this experience must be for some children. Spend some time with the child .
  • Walk the child around the classroom, showing them the different areas, while positively stating a few very simple rules and guidelines.
  • Introduce the child to the other children, and introduce the group to the new child. Simple and basic - yes, but often overlooked. You will probably need to do this more than once.
  • Make sure that you are pronouncing and spelling the child's name correctly. This is a huge thing and it is understandably offensive to a parent when a teacher or center does not take the time to learn their child's name.
  • Read through the Child Profile (developmental intake information.) There is often very important &/or insightful information in these, including crucial information on things such as allergies that you need to know. Gather information from the parent, and if possible, the child's former teacher as well. (You may need a release for this.)
  • Pair the child up with a buddy. And we all know the children that serve as our welcoming committees and have the personalities for this!
  • Explain the routine and let the child know what will be happening next. Don't assume that children will know this. Every classroom and teacher is a little different, so take the time to clarify your expectations. And remember, a child who has only stayed with Grandma will have no clue about what "walking feet" are, or using an easel.
  • Call the parent of a new child mid-morning to let them know that the child is doing okay. I can't even tell you how many parents were so grateful for this small gesture, and stated to me that they were thinking about their child but didn't want to call and bother us. Reiterate to the new parent that they can always call! Those first few days are rough, and this is very reassuring to parents. If you will not see this parent when they pick up their child, leave a detailed note for them every day that first week on things their child liked and had fun doing. If possible, take a picture of the child enjoying an activity for the parent.
    Continue with making your "What We Did Today" notes detailed and interesting, (posted in a highly visible location) to maintain and build upon parent/teacher communication.
  • Prior to a move, introduce a child to whoever is going to be his/her "new" Teacher a few times. It is obviously ideal to walk a child through the new classroom several times before the big day. Having the child spend small amounts of time in that room is sometimes helpful as well (with the parent being informed prior.) Be very clear ahead of time with the child as to what is going on, and where he/she will be at different times during that day.
  • Talk about an upcoming move with the child in advance, and encourage parents to do the same. This assists in the mental preparation process. For the child new to child care, there are several excellent books on this. ("Mr. Rogers Goes to Day Care" by Fred Rogers, "Debbie Does Day Care" etc.)
  • Make efforts to include this child. Many children do not have the social skills to interject themselves into play experiences with other children and will need assistance, with an adult facilitating this process.

As you can see, many of these tips have an underlying common theme - communication. Don't we all just want to know what's going on and what is expected of us in a new situation or environment? If you have ever lost your Daytimer calendar/planner, you know how unsettling it is to not know what you are supposed to be doing next. Think about how much better you feel about something when you feel prepared for it. Respect children and their feelings enough to let them know what will be happening to them. A child's first experience in a new classroom can be frightening and traumatic, or it can be relatively seamless, calm, and fun. With a great deal of communication, and some effort and sensitivity, we can make transitions positive experiences for children and families, and relieve some of the stress and craziness we associate with new enrollment(s).

© 2005 Cathy Abraham