For most children, starting school for the first time and even going back to school after the summer holidays is a big deal. We adults can recall or imagine starting a new job, a new training or any number of new situations. Many adults find new situations quite challenging and develop strategies over the years for managing this, so we can only begin to imagine what it is like for a shyer, or self-conscious, or cautious, or patiently observing child or even those few children who truly are extroverted. It is a BIG DEAL.
So here are a few brief tips to ease the transition back to school or into school for the first time.
1. Meet both the school and the teacher
Visit the school and meet the teacher if at all possible. Some teachers these days even make a point of visiting homes to meet the child and parent(s). If a child can visualize where she will be and with whom, it helps bring them out of pure fantasy and into reality which tends to ease a child’s fears, real or imagined.
2. Sharing school stories
Read books suitable for the age of your child about going to school. This can be a good and safe way for a child’s unspoken and generally unformed questions, pictures, fears, etc. to be expressed.
Encourage your child(ren) to play school at home. Play is, among other things, a child’s way of processing their world.
Tell funny and positive stories about your school experiences.
3. Contact the teacher to discuss the actual “hand-off” at school
If you know from previous experience that your child has some challenges with entering a new situation or if your child has not yet been to a play group or daycare, try to contact the teacher and discuss this with him/her to see how to best work with the teacher on this.
Many if not most teachers these days are sensitized to these issues. Often it is good to accompany young children to the classroom if you are able to, express your confidence in your child, the other children and the teacher to have a good day and let your child know again about how he will get home (who if anyone will pick him up and other details that assure him he will again be home where he feels safest still).
Teachers appreciate whatever parents do that eases their lives and helps them in understanding and supporting your child in an effective and positive way. Many (most?) teachers are also parents and understand. (I was a teacher and school director for many years and say this from experience).
4. Love Notes
Pack a tiny note or drawing in their backpack or lunch sack periodically throughout the school year. . They may never say anything but it does mean a lot to them.
5. Get back on a school schedule
Most families let schedules and bedtimes relax in the summer holidays which, depending on the child’s age, can be quite a difference when the new school year start. Teens will probably just want to face the music when the school year starts but with younger ones, it can make the beginning of the school year much easier if you begin to ease the bedtime routine gradually back towards how it will be during the school year. Yes, this is difficult when it is light outside but that’s how it often is at the beginning of the school year.
6. Please do not worry about preparing your child for the academics
To assist your child in igniting the neurons and synapses, as it were, you can simply continue to read books, tell stories, play word and number games but PLEASE no flash cards, or essays or other tasks which seem suspiciously like school work or homework. Your child needs a teacher AND a parent and not someone who looks like the parent but carries out teacher functions. A parent’s ways of teaching are different and equally important. A child learns best when she feels safe, secure, loved and gets to laugh and cuddle a lot. That is how best to prepare a child for learning and can be age-adapted.
Enjoy this exciting, nerve-tickling transition. For many parents it’s a relief to have the kids back in school while for others it’s the end of more relaxed days with less scheduling but, whatever it is, the beginning of the new school year is a BIG DEAL for parents and children.