No matter what age or stage we find our children, they will continually be encountering firsts. We anxiously awaited that first cry, first smile, first laugh, first steps, etc. Another big first that is just around the corner is the first day of school. Whether it's the first day of preschool, middle school, or college, it's a new experience for your little (or big) one. It's back-to-school time, and along with all the excitement, some mixed feelings and anxiousness can develop in our kids and in us as parents. Properly preparing for this upcoming milestone to create a smooth transition into the first days of school will help put everyone involved at ease.
While any back-to-school experience is going to be new, that first leap into a more formal educational setting can be a bit daunting for a preschooler or early elementary child. Establishing routines that will be used on school days prior to the actual first day will help get things running smoothly. Setting a proper bedtime and allowing for enough time in the morning before you have to leave will keep the hustle and bustle feeling that could cause some anxiousness at bay. The National Association of School Psychologists offers some great back-to-school transition tips1. I especially like the suggestion to forego television in the morning to help prepare a more learning oriented mindset before heading out the door.
Hopefully, your preschool or elementary program offers an opportunity to tour the classroom with your child and meet the teacher prior to the first day. This will let your little one become a bit familiar with their new classroom setting and find some comfort when they reenter recognizable surroundings. If you're able to snap a few pictures to revisit before that first day, you can talk about the different areas in the classroom and share them with anyone at home who wasn't able to make the tour. A familiar place will be a great start, but a familiar face or two could make all the difference. Recognizing the teacher will be great, but see if arrangements can be made to meet a few other students at the school playground or a local park. I doubt you're the only parent hoping to create a smooth transition into preschool or elementary school. You could try to set something up with other parents that may be touring at the same time as you; your child's teacher may even be able to provide some assistance in arranging this.
Our kids are always watching and taking cues from everything we do and say. Talk about the upcoming school year with a lot of enthusiasm, and put a positive spin on all the new experiences to be encountered. If you're like me and you cried at first shots, steps, smiles, etc., it's a given that it will happen here too. Don't let them see it though. As hard as it may be to hold them back, don't let those tears flow until you've said your good-byes. As suggested in the First Day of Preschool Tips from What to Expect2, never sneak out without your little one knowing. When they see you leaving with a confident smile on your face, they'll be more likely to embrace their new environment. You're asking them to make it through several hours or even a whole school day with no tears, you just need to make it to the other side of the door or your car. If you bring along a pack of tissues, I'm sure you'll find someone to share them with, and you may just make a new friend too!
A little preparation can lay the groundwork for a smooth start as our little ones embark on the first steps of their educational journeys. The first day of school is a big milestone in a lifetime of many new experiences. Grab your camera and some tissues, and let the learning begin!
Additional Resources & Works Cited
1. National Association of School Psychologists: Back to School Transition Tips for Parents
2. What to Expect: Tips for Handling the First Days of Preschool