My three year old started preschool twice a week, six months ago. She was showing signs of needing consistent socialization and structure, more than what I felt that I could provide at home. I also transitioned to working full time after more or less being home with her and her now 18 month old brother, so it has been a big year for changes. Her adjustment to school was more or less smooth. The first two weeks were hard, but after a few months, drop offs became effortless and she was excited. We recently had her parent- teacher conference and they noted that she doesn’t engage other kids and seems to prefer to play alone. They mentioned it again when I picked her up again today, saying that she will engage the other kids (as much as three year olds do) if she is invited to join them, but will not initiate the connection. When she plays with her pals in smaller settings or 1:1, she engages them, invites them to do things and has perfectly normal 3 year old interactions. Should I be concerned? My gut tells me that she is still adjusting but wonder if there’s anything I can do.
First of all, it sounds like she’s doing great! Separating from mom for the first time, especially while adjusting to a new sibling and mom’s back-to-work schedule, can be challenging. She’s doing a great job managing the changes and, from what you’ve written, she’s confident and secure going to school. Horray!
Young 3 year olds often enjoy playing alone while still near others. They are just beginning to transition from parallel play to cooperative play. They are still learning how to share ~ which can limit desire to invite friends to play with what they are playing with themselves. It doesn’t sound like she has any problem getting along with other children; and she enjoy her smaller playdates. Twice a week is not a lot of time at school; this might make her take a bit longer to ease into comfort with her new friends. I know some schools (ie. montessori) mandate that children attend a minimum of four or five days as they feel the routine needs to be more consistent for the little ones. For example, one montessori school addresses the benefits of 5 day preschool programs and states:
Starting a new learning activity is easier with consistency. It helps children maintain their enthusiasm and interest if they are allowed to continue. Waiting entire days between stages of activities causes them consternation, just as it does to you. The process of developing longer and longer attention spans is also thwarted when whole days intervene.
While they specifically address how consistency affects interest and productivity, you can imagine how it also impacts relationships and level of comfort/familiarity with peers. I’m not suggesting she go to school for 5 days, but the limited time spent at school plays a role in getting to know her classmates. Have you had any playdates with other students? Is that an option?
Three year olds spend time observing, listening, imitating, and absorbing what they see. Soon you might find your daughter mimicking the behaviors of her friends…maybe even asking them to play. However, she might also be a more shy person when outside of her home setting. I have a “quiet” child myself and while he enjoys playing with others, he is often known to spend time observing others or playing alone. He definitely prefers one-on-one play or small groups. I found the Ted Talk by Susan Cain to be helpful in understanding his quiet nature. I’m not suggesting your daughter is an introvert, I don’t know her to make such an assumption, but if she is, it’s perfectly ok! Not all children are going to initiate play; some children are more comfortable playing alone or waiting for an invitation. That need not be of concern. However, it’s important to note our society expects our children to be outgoing, social, cooperative learners…and if one is not, things could be a bit more challenging. I’ve made a great effort to understand my son’s quiet nature so I can help his educators (and myself) to best support his needs.
Overall, I think you should be proud of your little girl for how well she’s adapted to her new school, her new family dynamic, and your new schedule. If you can arrange for her to play with some classmates one-on-one (outside of school) it might help her feel connected to them…and maybe in her house, with her toys, and one friend, she’ll be the one initiating!