A mom told me about her son who is three and has just started preschool. She described him as a kid who isn't normally really clingy, but when they even talk about going to school, he starts to scream. According to his teacher he screamed and cries for the full 2.5 hours for the first two weeks. She wondered if this is normal or is he just not ready?
Unfortunately for this mom and the child's teachers, the situation is difficult, but not that unusual. Without knowing this child personally, there are actually two conflicting answers I suggested. I asked her to think about each one, knowing that other parents have done both and felt confident in their decisions.
The solution I recommend most is to try to stick it out. I know how tough it is. A couple of things you might try, are to bring him to school during a time when he isn't in class. For example, if he goes three mornings, bring him in the afternoon or on an off day. Let him show you all around his classroom, pointing out the things that he likes best. Make a big deal about his cubby, his circle time mat, etc. Let him play with you on the playground. If he isn't anxious because he knows you aren't going to leave, he may enjoy himself. Then, when you bring him to school the next day, be sure to talk about something specific that he showed you in the classroom. Tell him you can't wait until he comes home to tell you how he enjoyed it in school.
Also tell him how lucky he is now that he's a big three year old and he gets to have special time with new friends and new experiences. You have jobs you have to do (pick something he doesn't like, such as going to a store) and he doesn't have to go with you to do your job. School is his special time and you are so proud of him because you know it's a little scary to go to a new place by yourself. Ask him to make you a picture that you can't wait to hang on your refrigerator. Be sure to ask his teacher to give him time to make that picture. They should also make a big fuss over the special picture he is making just for you.
Ask his teacher if he can bring a blanket, stuffed toy or other comfort item that he's allowed to keep with him. Slowly his teachers can wean him off of that item. One more thing you can do is have a play date with a child in his class. If he develops a friendship, he might be more excited about playing with this child in school and may look forward to playing with him again after school.
Not to confuse you, but I know another parent who went through a similar situation, and after two weeks she decided to pull her son out of school. She believed he just wasn't ready yet. He had some speech delays, and she chose to use that year to enroll him in speech. She also formed a play group so he could begin to meet and become friends with the children he would ultimately go to school with. She worked with him on the pre-reading and pre-math skills he would be missing in the three year old program, so he didn't "fall behind."
Her son is now in his twenties and she is sure she made the right decision at that time. In fact, she teaches in the same preschool where I teach. If you decide to do this, it won't be popular among other parents. You need to be strong in your conviction that you are doing the best thing for your child. At three years old, he has plenty of time left for school.
A bit about myself: I produced the Romper Room and Friends TV show and Bowling for Dollars when I worked for Claster Television in the '80's and '90's. With three kids of my own, I stopped working there in 1996. Today I am a freelance writer and preschool teacher and I am in the process of publishing my first book about preschool advice for parents. Please check out my blog at http://www.preschoolteach.blogspot.com