The end of August and the beginning of September mark the start of a new school year. Young children, as well as their parents, are usually excited and somewhat apprehensive as that first school day approaches. For some little ones, this may be the first experience in a new pre-K or Kindergarten classroom, and some anxiety is natural. In fact, when I got home from the first day of school with my pre-K kids or Kindergartners, my husband always asked “how many children cried today?” He knew that there were always a few children who became upset when they were brought into the classroom. Of course, this is upsetting to parents. So allow me to suggest some ways to help your child adjust to his new teacher, classroom and classmates.
Things to do before school starts
Especially if this is the first year at a new school, take time to visit the building before school begins. Your child’s school may have a scheduled ”open house” to give little ones a chance to see their classroom and meet their teacher before that first day. Often, though, schools are closed to visitors to allow teachers and staff time to prepare for the new year. In that case, take your child to the school and look around the grounds. Allow him to play on the playground to become familiar with the equipment. If you have the opportunity to go inside the building, find your child’s room and let him take a peek or even speak to his teacher if you see her.
If you know other children in your child’s classroom, try to arrange a casual meeting so that your child will see a familiar face the first day of school. Meeting at the school playground is an ideal opportunity to meet new friends. This is an open ended play date with communal toys and no pressure to entertain a friend as is the case with traditional play dates.
Practice the morning drop off and afternoon pick up routines before school starts. Let your child know how he will get to school and what he will do when he arrives. Perhaps he will have time on the playground before teachers take their students into the building. Or your child may be expected to enter the school and go directly to his classroom. Also let your child know what will happen at the end of the school day. Will he picked up in a car, ride a bus, or will you be waiting at a specific spot to walk him home? A new school day routine can cause stress until it becomes routine!
Be aware of the supplies your child will need and go shopping for them before school starts. P.E. shoes, crayons, pencils and markers are typical items required in a pre-K and Kindergarten classroom. Your child will be less anxious if he knows that he is prepared.
Begin the night time routine several days before school starts so that your child is ready to sleep at an appropriate time and is ready to wake up rested in time to get ready for school without rushing. This is especially important if your child has become accustomed to going to sleep a little later and waking up later during the summer.
Talk to your child about his feelings regarding school. If he expresses anxiety, let him know that his feelings are natural and that most children (and even the teachers!) feel nervous before school begins.
Read stories about the start of school to help your child identify and verbalize his feelings. Some recommended picture books about the start of school include:
- First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
- Mrs. Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
- The Berenstain Bears Go to School by Stan and Jan Berenstain
- Kindergarten, Here I Come! by D.J. Steinberg
- Off to Kindergarten by Tony Johnston
Things to do when school first starts
Have clothes picked out and ready to wear the night before.
Check your child’s backpack for notes from his teacher so that your child knows you are aware of what is happening at school. Ask your child to help you prepare his backpack in the evening to avoid rushing in the morning.
Wake your child ten minutes earlier than needed to allow a more leisurely breakfast.
Review drop off and pick up routines each morning and make sure your child knows what to expect at the start and the end of his school day.
Keep the dialogue about school going. Ask some specific questions to encourage your child to talk about his school experience. What was his favorite part of the day and why? What did he do during his recess time? Did he have any special classes, such as art, music or P.E.? Which children does he play with at school? Taking ten or fifteen minutes to sit quietly and discuss the school experience will show your child that you care and are interested.
Attend any parent meetings so that you are familiar with expectations and experiences your child will encounter. These meetings also provide great opportunities to get to know other parents as well as the teacher.
The start of a new school year is an exciting time. I hope that you and your child have a smooth transition from summertime to school time!