By: Jenni Watts Evans, The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital
The end of summer means it’s school time! For some young children this will be one of their first experiences away from home and family. Children are often exited about the new environment, toys and activities, and meeting other children. But others may be anxious and unsure.
Recognize that leaving home for the first time can be a difficult step. Being left with strange grownups and strange children in strange surroundings can be a bewildering experience – whether your child is excited about it or not so excited. There are things parents can do to ease the transition and put a positive spin on school. Remember, positive school experiences translate into a love of learning.
Ways to Ease the Transition from Home to School
- Visit the school before opening day. This is the single best thing to do. Some schools have get acquainted parties - family picnics, open houses, or play days – prior to the first day of school. The visit should give your child the chance to see his classroom, meet his teacher and learn the teacher’s name, and most important, find out where important things are, like his cubby, the lunch area, and the bathroom.
· Ask the teacher for a brief rundown of the day’s activities. Children are comforted by knowing what will happen next.
· Be sure to see the outside play area. Also, locate the going home spot where you will pick up your child. The opportunity to experience school surroundings and become familiar with important aspects without the confusion of opening day will help a lot.
· If there is no scheduled day to visit, call the school and schedule an appointment for you and your child to meet with the teacher and look around.
- Before school starts, but not TOO much before (about two weeks), talk about what he might do there. Get a list of classmates and think about making contact with some friends before school starts. Read children’s books with your child about starting school. Be positive about school, curriculum and activities, and teachers. Don’t undermine them.
- Don’t paint a glowing picture of school, though. Be matter of fact. Children are often angry or disappointed if their experience doesn’t meet their expectations as painted by parents. Mention types of activities and that the teacher likes children.
- Let him know you will want to hear about school and assure him he will get to know other children. Show interest in everything he has to say about feelings and experiences at school. Don’t ask too many questions at first, just listen and be sympathetic. Read books about children’s worries about school and making friends if this is an issue for your child.
- Remind your child that the teacher will tell her the rules and that she can always ask about anything she needs to know or forgets.
- Send your child in comfortable, cool clothing. Save the new winter wardrobe until it is really cool. Consider self-help ability when choosing clothes for school. Your child’s self confidence and comfort will be increased if she is able to manage her clothes when toileting by herself.
7. Your child will have an easier time adjusting to the new environment and routine if she has had enough sleep and a nutritious breakfast.
8. Pick your child up at the same spot each day. Be on time, preferably a bit early, never late. Also, bring an easy to eat snack with you for the car ride home if you know your child is going to be hungry. It is hard to have a cheerful reunion and talk about the day when one of you is cranky.
9. If you are carpooling, start after the first few days of school, if possible. Be sure your child knows the other drivers when you do start.
10. If you are worried about separation issues, check out the policies at your child’s school. Can your child bring a "lovey” or a picture from home? Will you be encouraged to come in for a while to help your child get adjusted or will a teacher give your child some one-on-one attention? Have a plan for how you will handle good-byes.
11. Give your child unstructured playtime at home. Now that your child spends more time in a structured environment you should allow more free time at home.
12. Get to know your child’s teacher. Get involved in someway with the school. As a parent, your relationship with the school and your confidence in the teacher shows your child you think it is a good and safe place.
Don’t be surprised if your child is exhausted for the first few days – and maybe a bit messy. A good school curriculum may keep your child busier than she has been and expose her to new experiences and materials.