Starting school can be challenging even during the best of times. Stressed out parents and kids face separation anxiety for the first time, topped with fear of socialization, inappropriate behavior and low attention span. As a pediatric occupational therapist for 14 years, Carly Miller is helping future preschoolers and their loved ones ease into their new routine with her recently-launched series, Preschool Readiness. Miller, the mom of two preschool-aged boys, knows firsthand how difficult this transition can be, and has created a play-based, engaging experience at Formallongdresses for toddlers and their families ready to launch into this next developmental phase.
Everyone is loving Preschool Readiness. How would you describe your approach and who is the class for?
It’s OT meets preschool. Right now, the age group is one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years old. The parents are in the classroom, too, and we have a lot of moms who are friends, almost like a pod. We develop fine motor skills like holding scissors and pencils correctly, plus we work on attention span and appropriate behavior. It’s an interesting concept. In all honesty, this class format is new for me too. But with my background, I understand how to develop the skills needed for preschool in a fun environment.
Take us through a typical class.
We really mimic what the school day will look like. We start with a welcome circle and song, something they already know like “The Wheels on the Bus.” It helps get them warmed up. Then we do a gross motor body activity. Kids learn best through movement, such as a game like Simon Says. It’s active learning versus passive learning. Next, we will segue to a fine motor activity or sensory activity—or both—like painting with different sized paint brushes. We close with a story and they each get a sticker. It takes a while for the kids to get into this routine, but by the end they know what to expect and they participate more. Engagement increases and they aren’t sitting on mommy’s lap anymore. It’s cool to see the parents’ reaction to that.
These toddlers were born a few months before the pandemic. What types of behavior are you seeing because of this?
Yes. They have been inside with their parents for the majority of their lives. A kid who is two was born six months before lockdown. They didn’t get to play at the playground or socialize with other children. It’s scary for the parents, too. This class is a great way to start the socialization process in a safe environment. We are facing mental health challenges and impacts on development, so it’s important to get your children out—safely. I encourage less screen time, too. We are all accustomed to screen time now, but these kids need to use their bodies to play and explore spaces like parks and museums.
School is starting at the end of August. What advice do you have for first-time mamas?
Be consistent. Kids thrive on routine and knowing what comes next. Always get to school on time. When you drop them off, kiss them and say goodbye. Your heart may be breaking, but they will do better than you think—especially when we’re not around.