By Ren Cedar Fuller, Education Consultant at Bellevue Discovery
I love these books for the start of the school year:
- Follow the Line to School by Laura Ljungkvist (available on Kindle)
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
- Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
- Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
The first day of preschool or kindergarten, even if our children have already been in daycare or another preschool, is a big deal for our children and for us. It’s a time to celebrate.
Pinterest is full of ideas about first day photos and adorable back-to-school projects if you enjoy being crafty. But you don’t need to be: your young child might not remember the lion-shaped pencil pouch you sewed for them, but they will remember if the start of the school year is calm and fun and filled with love.
Here are four practical ways to help your child thrive at the start of the school year:
- Play school: young children learn best through imaginary play. Your child will probably want to be the teacher, so you be the student – which lets you explore feelings and typical school experiences. What do I do if I need help at school? What do I do if I miss home?
- Visit the school: meet the teacher, take pictures inside the classroom to talk about at home, find the bathroom, explore the playground/library/cafeteria … then come home and play school some more
- Practice a quick goodbye: have your child help decide the routine (a hug and a kiss and an “I love you”), then role play the quick and happy goodbye, including having your child walk through a door and start to play school
- Practice your family’s school routines: a week before school starts, have your child begin setting out clothes, helping pack lunch, choosing breakfast, moving to a school bedtime and wake up time, and following a school morning schedule (will there be any play time before school?)
You can hold a celebration dinner on the first day of school, and begin asking your family’s dinner table question: “What did you learn today?” or “What was fun today?” or “What did you do that was kind today?” You can also start keeping a school journal with your child – they can draw and dictate to you about what they think school will be like, and then about what they did at school that day.
If you are worried about separation anxiety, role playing is one of the best things you can do to help your child’s transition. You can also make matching yarn bracelets for the first day: tell your child to touch their bracelet if they miss you and you will be touching your bracelet, too. You can draw a heart on your child’s hand with a Sharpie (lipstick kisses won’t last through the mornin). You can laminate a family photo and attach it to your child’s backpack or lunchbox.
Most children settle quickly after mom or dad leaves the classroom, and early childhood teachers have a wealth of strategies and TLC to help children transition. If you are truly concerned, contact the teacher ahead of time to find out what would happen if your child were to have a really hard first day.
Our goal as parents is to help our children feel secure when they walk through that schoolhouse door, knowing that teachers care, friends await, and learning new things brings joy.