Transitioning from Summer to School

For many, thoughts of September conjure up a variety of different images. Labor Day signals that summer has officially ended, heralding the approach of autumn. The change of season brings with it cooler temperatures and stunning fall colors. It also brings the happy sounds of children armed with backpacks gathering at bus stops in eager anticipation of the first day of school. For young, preschool aged children, this may mean the very first day of school ever.
The start of preschool can bring with it many mixed emotions. It is often an exciting time for children, but can also be a time filled with fear and anxiety. Parents are not immune to the emotion that goes with the first day of preschool either. Questions like “Is she really ready to start school?” and “Will he feel like I left him and be scared?” are very common. It is also just plain hard to leave your baby for the first time knowing that it is their first step towards growing up and spreading their wings.
There are so many benefits to sending your child to preschool. It is a great place for children to interact with their peers, contributing significantly to their social growth. Children learn to share, take turns and follow rules and directions. Preschool will also emphasize the importance of developing independence, helping to prepare children for Kindergarten and the years beyond. Knowing these things probably won’t make it any less emotional to leave your child at preschool for the first time, but rest assured, you truly are doing something wonderful for your little one.
There are many things that you can do to make the transition from home to school a little easier on your child before school even starts.

A few weeks before the first day of school:

  • Begin encouraging your child to be as independent as possible in the weeks leading up to the first day of school. Encourage them to dress and feed themselves, go to the bathroom without you and wash their hands on their own.
  • Visit the preschool a few times so that your child will be familiar with the faces of the teachers and with the new environment. This will help ease their anxiety about entering a strange place. Allow your child to explore and observe the classroom so that there will be excitement and anticipation to return to play with the toys or read a favorite book again. While there, try very hard not to participate in your child’s exploration. Pretend you are not there and just observe them. It will help ease your anxiety to see them happy and functioning well in this new environment.
  • Help your child prepare mentally for preschool. Talk about school, about the fun things that are waiting there. Talk about school being something that “big kids” do. Children love to feel like they are a big kid and are getting to do special things because of that new status.
  • If possible, spend time with other children that are starting at the preschool that your child will be attending. It is always helpful to know that a friend will be there with you.

Arising Question!

  • Discuss what will happen on the first day of school. Most preschools send home newsletters that provide weekly schedules. Often, if a child knows what to expect, anxiety is replaced with excitement.
  • Discuss monthly themes that the preschool will be covering and how your child may be able to participate. Holidays and season changes are often particularly exciting times in preschools, so talk about them with enthusiasm.
  • About a week before the first day, start a school routine. For example, dinner at 6:00 pm, bath at 7:00 pm a story at 8:00 pm followed by bedtime. It is very important to get your child adjusted to school year bedtimes and wakeup calls. It will make the first week of school much easier if this routine has already been established.

Now that you have done everything you could to prepare your child for the first day of school, the long wait is finally over and the first day has finally arrived. There are several things that you can do to make this day as easy for your child as possible.

The night before the first day of school:

  • Discuss the school’s daily routine. First you will hang up your coat and backpack. Then we will go to your classroom. Next you will have circle time…and so on. This will make your child feel like they know exactly what is going to happen from the moment you leave until the moment you return.
  • Make a list of things to do in the morning. Brush your teeth, wash your face and hands, get dressed, eat breakfast and organize your backpack. You can make drawings of this routine or even take a photo of your child doing each thing on the list and then post it on your refrigerator for your child to use as a guide.
  • Practice your goodbyes. Start with “I’ll be back to pick you up at 1:00. Give me a kiss and I’ll see you soon.” Make sure that it will be a short goodbye followed by your immediate departure. A consistent and predictable farewell ritual will help to make drop-off times smooth.

Encourage Your Child

When you wake your child up in the morning, be sure that you all have enough time to get ready to go. Resist the urge to let them sleep late because rushing around will only create more stress on a day that is already filled with so much emotion. If you think the transition may be a problem, encourage your child to bring something to help them such as a family picture, special doll or a favorite blanket.
Upon arriving at the school, begin the routine that you discussed the night before. Hang up your child’s coat and backpack in the designated location and then head for their classroom. Re-introduce your child to his or her teacher and make sure that a staff member is ready to help with the transfer from your care to the care of the teacher.
Say a loving goodbye to your child, just as you rehearsed, but once you do, leave promptly. Resist the urge to linger. You should also not sneak out when your child is not looking. It will create unnecessary upset when your child looks for you and learns that you left without saying goodbye. Most children do well when their parents say goodbye and leave. Tears dry and are replaced by smiles surprisingly fast. Preschool is an exciting, fun place and it is hard to keep crying with so much exploring to do!

Difficult Goodbyes

Leaving your child at school for the first time can be very difficult and definitely pulls at your heartstrings. If your child has a difficult time with you leaving on the first day, don’t give up. Keep trying because it will get easier each day. Rely on the staff to help you with difficult goodbyes. Know in your heart you really are doing the best thing for your child, and helping to prepare them for the world that is waiting.
With a little preparation and planning prior to the much anticipated first day of school, you can help ensure that your child’s initial experience is positive and rewarding. If you are determined to make it work and keep thinking positively and encouraging your child, everything will be just fine. By employing some of the suggestions listed above, you will be well on your way to providing your child with a great first day of school from start to finish.
Have a great year!