You made it through the heat of summer, the claims of boredom, and now your baby will be off to learn, climb, and make new friends on the first day of school. Yet, with all of this relief comes the knowledge that your sweet little (albeit active and chatty) cherub is officially a big kid. As you prepare for handing over your beloved child on that first day of school, here are a few tips to help you and your child(ren) with the big transition:
1. Be confident! Your child can sense your unease, your sadness, and your joy. So, in the weeks leading up to school starting, show your child that you are confident (even if you’re actually terrified!). Remind them that you think they are ready to begin a new school/grade/class, etc. Talk up the new teacher to them; express your excitement about their future new playground; tell them about how you made new friends each year and the fun you had at school. Let your child know that this will be a positive change in his or her life, and you can’t wait to experience it with them! Your confident tone will help your child feel more comfortable entering the great unknown that is kindergarten, first grade, fifth grade, and so on.
2. Take them to the school to walk around. When my own charges face their first day at a new school,I like to take them to the school to get a nice quiet and personal first-hand look before classes start. Unless your child is used to picking up older siblings, they have no idea what a big kid school looks, smells, or feels like. I like to pack a snack, and go to their new school to play on the playground, eat at the lunch tables, and talk about all the fun they are about to experience there. It might even be possible to walk around the inside; try calling the school’s office and asking if that’s permitted. Even if you can’t go inside, just being outside around the school will help your child feel more at ease during the busyness of that first day rush.
3. Begin waking them up earlier in preparation for the morning routine. About 3-4 weeks before the start of the school year, my own mom used to begin waking my siblings and myself up slightly earlier each week so that our bodies and sleep schedules would be ready for the earlier mornings that school time requires. That was a great idea, as it really helped us to adjust to the earlier start. Thanks, Mom!
4. Include your child in selecting school gear. Allow your child to help pick out their backpack, lunch box, pencil pouch, clothes, and any other personal items required for their school. By giving them a choice, they will feel a sense of control and confidence when they walk in to that classroom, even on day one. Even in the case of my friend’s daughter, a very independent five year old starting a school at which uniforms were required – no exceptions, some choices can be made. My friend let her daughter pick any earrings she wanted for school, within reason of course, and helped her daughter to express herself despite the dress code. This helped her 5 year old to feel like she had a say in her daily school routine. Kids want and need a level of control, and backpack selection is another great way to give it to them!
5. Lastly, when the first day of school begins, walk in to school with your head held high! Some children run in to that classroom and barely shoot you a “see ya later, Mom!” If they do, you should be proud that you raised a confident child! However, most children will cling to you, cry, and beg you to take them home. This does NOT mean you made a grave mistake in bringing them. They ARE ready for school, but they understandably uncertain of what the day and the future holds. It is ok for them to feel that way! Walk them around the inside of the classroom, look at the pictures, find the class pet (if there is one), help them locate the hook for their backpack, the spot for their lunch box, and their desk. Help them get settled, and know that tears are ok on both sides. Assure your child that you are very happy they are experiencing kindergarten, that you will be right outside the door at the end of the day, and that you cannot wait to hear every detail of their day. Try not to linger or draw out your departure, just give them hugs, love, and say goodbye, and then walk out that door. I assure you that your child is in capable hands. Kindergarten teachers are no strangers to first day of school tears from parents and kids alike. Also, many schools do half days during the first week as a way to reassure yourself and your child that it will only be a few short hours until you are reunited.
As a former preschool teacher, I experienced many kids new to the school scene. I can honestly say that children do not cry for long after drop off. I promise! You can take comfort in knowing that teachers are trained to redirect your child, to engage them in a fun activity, and to snuggle with them when snuggles are needed. Kindergarten, and every grade for the matter, is a necessary part of life. After you’ve walked out that door, having left your heart, in the form of your beloved child, in that classroom, go treat yourself to a coffee. You survived the first 5 years of parenthood, and are now on the fun roller coaster that is school. Congratulations, you have a big kid!
Check out our early podcast: Get Ready for Back to School.
Britney Fredrickson is a nanny of six years with a B.A. in Child Development. She lives in the Napa Valley with her husband, Great Dane/Border Collie mix, and orange tabby. Having begun as a preschool/infant teacher, Britney now uses her experience and education to specialize in nanny shares, predominantly working with toddlers under age three. When she isn’t wrangling kids, she can be found reading, sewing, and noshing on goat cheese. For real time tips and anecdotes follow her on Twitter @sisternannies.