As a child, I remember my younger brother and I anticipating that “dreaded” yet “exciting” first day back to school. As soon as August came around, the commercials would come on (you know those one’s with that song) just as it seemed like you were just getting settled into Summer. You were excited to see your friends and catch up on your Summer adventures and buy that really cool pencil box that you would later decorate with stickers and show to your friends, you wondered who your teacher and classmates would be, how much homework would you have after the first week, if you would have a friend or two at the bus stop to chat with and sit beside on the ride to school in the mornings, making new friends and as you got older that other dreaded question of “What to wear?!”. For some both younger and older children, this transition to school can be quite exciting yet the anticipation of starting a new year, not spending as much time with parents/family as they are used to, a new class and/or a new school can take a toll on their emotions and willingness to enjoy the days leading up to and the first few moments in school.
Being a Teacher myself and working specifically with the preschool and JK/SK aged children, I have had students who came to school the first day and those that followed, excited and gave Mom a big hug and got through their day without a tear, while for others, the tears may come in a moment of realization that Mom or Dad are not with them for example and some had a bit more of a tough time adjusting initially, with tears and holding onto Mom or the door handle. When I began Kindergarten, I had been with my Grandparents prior to school and it was a great experience for me, learning another language and spending some quality time with family, my parents had somewhat anticipated as well that my transition may not have gone well either – and being the oldest grandchild and first of the kids heading off to school at the time. My mom told me that as soon as she dropped me off at school for JK, she remained calm on the outside while inside she says was preparing for me to yell, scream for her and both of us to cry – but, I walked right into the classroom, waved to my Mom and said “Bye Mommy!” and ran off to play. This is not always the case for everyone, but from my teaching experience, it is very important for both parents and teachers to remain calm and demonstrate that to help ease those first few days of drop off and it will improve with time and consistency.
Today, I will be focusing My TOP 5 tips for First Day/Back to School transitions for chidren - PRE-K to Kindergarten age group:
1. Visit the classroom and do a run through of typical school morning routine: Have breakfast together and have your child pick out an outfit for his/her visit. Have the kids pack a backpack with some snacks and maybe a favourite stuffed animal to bring with them when they go to school. It is great to go on a school day, early if possible, after drop off when the kids are getting settled in. The teacher can show your child where their shoes and backpack will be, walk around the classroom centres, introduce the class and have an activity or two along with a friend to show him/her around the classroom. This is what I normally do when parents and children come for a tour of the daycare and allow for about 30 minutes for the visit. I find it helps for the child to ease into the new setting, meet myself and current students who will be familiar faces to them each day and within a few minutes they feel comfortable enough to explore and you can discuss any questions you may have with the teacher as well – to add to this, keep communication lines open between parents and teachers throughout the year. Afterwards, discuss the visit with your child and remind them of all of the fun things they will learn at school.
2. Read books about going to School: and talk about all of the activities and fun things that they will be doing leading up to school. The summer can be quite busy, but by taking some time each week whether it is at story time before bed, or after breakfast talking about your day ahead/schedule i.e. we will have breakfast, then brush our teeth, then get dressed, and pick one stuffed animal to take with us, and pack some snacks in our backpack then go to “so and so’s” house or program and have some lunch, have a nap, then Mom/Dad will come pick you up and then after dinner we will go to the park to play before bath time, a story and then bed, etc. By reading stories about School and taking just a few minutes to go through the schedule ahead that day, it allows for the child to be prepared as to what is to come and less likely to have a moment of hesitation when it comes to the day ahead, as well as when it is time to go to school.
3. Enrol in a Preschool Program: if you can – whether it is a week or two at a summer camp, or 2-3 days a week at a local program or home daycare for a few weeks before heading off to school. By having some experience socializing with another child or children, having some experience in a childcare setting with scheduling, routine and some educational activities along with a teacher and being away from Mom and Dad for a few hours, this too can help ease the transition for going to school ahead of time.
4. Bedtime routine and sleep: This is very important in the transition for back to school, be well rested and to really enjoy their day exploring at school, to assist their classmates and teacher (being well rested means a calmer environment for everyone) as well as help you at home during the morning rush. At least two weeks or so before, have a bedtime routine set each evening that will closely follow that of during the school year. Earlier naps are best, to allow for the gap between an afternoon nap and bed time to be smoother and to help avoid falling asleep at a later time. Have items like books, or music to help ease that bed time routine and encourage your child to participate in prep for the next day including snacks, or picking out clothes for the next day. Children love to help and so by giving tasks each night and having them participate in the nighttime routine, having some rest and excitement/encouragement for the next day will help everyone.
5. Have a consistent drop off routine: This is something that I focus on with my families at the daycare and when I worked in the school system as well. As teachers, we understand and greatly respect that of course you do not want to see them cry or upset or call for you and neither do we. We want to see them happy and excited and know that they will be and transition well into their program. We are there as well to assist you and your child and teach/guide them into and throughout their day and foster that potential that they have. It may seem like we may be guiding you out quickly but we can reassure you that he or she will be just fine after a few minutes and that it does take time and patience for everyone to allow for that adjustment period. A calm nature and reassuring hug and kiss is just what they need to move on with their day. I encourage the children at my daycare to ring the doorbell on their own, carry their backpack and our lunch bag into the room on their own, hang up their items independently and always make sure they say bye to their parents and greet the teacher as well. By doing this each day, although there can still be moments of tears, but by demonstrating to your child that they can be independent, this is part of their daily routine, they will see you at the end of the day and a hug and kiss is just what they need. We thank you for being an encouraging part of this transition as well. By working together, I have had many parents thank me for my assistance and encouragement and how much their children have learned and grown. Often, after the parents call to check up on their little one, they are surprised to hear that they have happily moved along with their day.
Along with teaching and parenting comes experience and getting to know options that work best for your little ones. It is important for everyone to work together, plan ahead, set guidelines and routines, have words and actions of encouragement and to respect one another in order to allow for a smoother transition. It is important to take one day a time and set an example of calm behavior, communication and responsibilities’ that will work together to help your child and students.
By following my TOP 5 Back to School tips above, before you know it, they too will run off happily into their day knowing how much fun and learning is ahead and by getting used to a routine and schedule, they will be super excited for the day ahead with their teacher(s) and classmates and of course, seeing Mommy and Daddy at the end of their fun day at school and excitedly telling them all about their day!
What are your favourite tips for the Back to School transition?