Going back to school is always a transition, but when your child is going to school for the VERY first time, the experience can seem overwhelming. What will the teacher be like? Will my child have a meltdown every time I leave the classroom? Whether you have a Little Miss Independent who seems completely ready to explore the world of school or a child for whom school may be his first experience away from Mom or Dad ever, there are multiple ways to ease the transition and to help both you and your child feel safe, secure, and excited. Read on for 7 ways to prepare your child and yourself for his or her FIRST first day of school.
1. Tell him or her ahead of time about school (and point out all the positives).
While this tip might be a no-brainer, when to tell your child (especially if you suspect she might have separation difficulties) is a highly personal decision and also depends on their age. I recommend telling kids who are old enough to understand at least a few days if not weeks ahead; the night before may not allow them enough time to react and absorb the information. For many kids, they will know at least one person in their preschool or kindergarten class from the neighborhood or playdates. Sharing this knowledge with them can be deeply comforting.
Schools often have a “Meet the Teacher” or family orientation, which is also the perfect time to tell kids about school and to show them all the fun new toys, games, and activities they will have access to. Even very young children who may not understand the concept of school will benefit from being acclimated to a particular classroom and teacher this way.
2. Make sure you are prepared with paperwork.
There’s nothing worse than showing up to school and having your child turned away due to a lack of medical forms or otherwise necessary paperwork. If you have chosen not to vaccinate your child, check with the school and your doctor to find out if you need a waiver or addendum of some sort. Nowadays, schools will often include an “About Me” page for parents and kids to fill out. This is another fun way to get your child excited about school and meeting new friends.
3. Start them off well with a routine, including a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast.
Adults know how much better we feel when we are well-rested and healthily fed before starting work. The same goes for kids as they head off for their day of play and “work”. Over the summer, it’s common for families to get relaxed about bedtimes and waking times (Isn’t that what summer is all about??), so try and move back bedtime to ensure a good wake-up time for your child on his or her first day of school. And try some yummy, healthy breakfasts that will fill kids up and keep their energy going throughout the day.
4. Give them something to look forward to.
Going to school for the first time is a big deal and the promise of something appealing in the future is a good incentive for your child to think positively about his or her school experience. You can choose to celebrate with a special lunch or snack at the first week’s end or you can promise a special park play session. Kids will likely just be thrilled to hang out with you after a few hours away! If your child seems interested, you can also create a weekly journal with her favorite things that she read, did, listened to, etc. Fill up the journal throughout the year and be amazed at how much your child has changed!
5. Consider letting him or her bring a special lovey.
Sometimes, bringing a lovey can do more harm than good (especially if said lovey is large), so it’s understandable that schools are not unanimous about whether or not loveys are allowed. At most schools, younger kids are encouraged to bring with them something comforting that reminds them of home. Often times, kids will be so busy at school, they may even forget it’s there! If you have mixed feelings, you can always place the lovey in your child’s backpack with a message to your child’s teacher that it is for emergencies only!
6. Put the power of departure in his or her hands.
Transitions have always been difficult for my son, and he’s not alone: most kids will have the most difficulty with the actual leaving of their parents. It’s heartbreaking….and completely normal: What parent hasn’t seen their child tearful at their departure only to find out within moments, their child wiped away his tears and played happily all day long?
My child’s school put the power of leaving in the hands of the children-literally. It’s a school tradition for children to push their parents out the classroom door. For whatever reason, every single kid does this and absolutely loves it. Elijah loves it so much that he even uses it when I leave our house now. Handing kids this tiny bit of control might be just the thing that starts them on their way.
7. Make a clean and quick exit and be prepared for tears-from your child or you!
Don’t be surprised if you are even more emotional than your child. Once you have made sure that your child has met the teacher and you have performed any “settling in” activities, such as reading a book (a ritual Elijah and I still keep even after he has been in school for three years), give him or her a quick hug and say something to the effect of “It’s time for Mommy (or Daddy) to go! I’ll see you after lunch/before dinner/etc!” Experienced teachers discourage long, drawn out goodbyes, which often drain parents as well as the children. It may take a few days or weeks for your child to be tear-free at departure time. Consistency at departure time and the gradual realization that Mommy or Daddy always returns to pick them up will eventually win out and soon your little one will be skipping off to play with friends and start her school day!