School days are upon us: we’ve bought the prerequisite “twenty-four pre-sharpened #2 Dixon-Ticonderoga ™ pencils (black, not yellow)” and “ten boxes (long boxes) of Kleenex ™ with the box tops intact decorated with a flower pattern”…and we’ve agonized over how our kids will do out there in the big world without us if this is their first foray into school.
So how do we do it? How do we make sure they make that jump gracefully? Helping kids to transition in gradually can be a start: if Kindergarten is a still a year or so down the road enrolling your child in a part-time (I’m talking a few hours a day a few days a week here) preschool might be an option for you. Kids (in general) love being around other people their own size/age. They love being given new things to do and experience. If you find the right preschool for them they will start to equate school with fun.
Another way to help with a more gradual transition: doing part-time kindergarten as opposed to full day.After school you can stay and play on the playground (bring a healthy snack for your kid) and your child will get a chance to meet the other kids in a more relaxed way and you will get to meet some of the parents.
You can prepare for school to start by play acting ‘going to school’ where you or an older child is the teacher and your soon-to-go-to-school child is experiencing all the fun of school with none of the concerns of a new place and new people. After they’ve got the hang of things, switch the roles around and let your little one be the teacher. Nothing gladdens the heart of a child more than bossing their parents or siblings around.
If you are starting at a new school where your child doesn’t know anyone reach out to your community (through neighbors or online resources such as Facebook) before school starts and set up some play dates with kids who will be at the same school.
Consider getting your child involved in sports or other extracurricular activities (like art or Lego clubs) that are associated with your child’s school so your child recognizes familiar faces on that first day.
Talk with your child’s teacher in advance if possible to get their advice on how to best transition into the first few weeks of school. If your child can meet them before the first day of school and start getting to know them that can go a long way to feeling at ease.
Another great way to help support your child and put them at ease is to take them in and help them become familiar with the school before school starts.
Give your child a little something to help remind them of home like a special keychain on their backpack that they can look at throughout the day. Some preschools allow a ‘lovey’ to be brought during nap/rest time, but the older kids usually don’t get to bring toys, so a keychain of a little animal or figurine on their backpack or shirts/socks/underpants that they can wear with pictures of things that are important to them can fill a similar role.
If your child is bringing lunch from home for whatever reason have them be a part of making the lunch and help them to feel more in charge of it/have ownership so they won’t feel as out of place when they are getting their lunch bag out instead of having hot lunch.
When dropping kids off at school, try not to linger. Let your child know you love them and will see them soon (giving a time frame and helping your child to read the clock for when to expect you might help, depending on the child), give them a hug and hightail it out of there. The longer you stay the more they won’t want you to go.
That being said, if you are able to do some volunteering at your child’s school (in their classroom or just in the building) every once in a while both you and your child will have more of a sense of parental connection to the school, which can help your child be more at ease in some cases. *Know your child’s temperament: some kids do better with having school be just their space.
So what if you are a bit further into the school year and your child is having difficulty making friends?
Again I refer you back to the teacher: often she or he will have a good sense of kids that have similar likes and interests and they can encourage friendships between them by pairing them up for projects. The teacher may also be able to identify places your child is having a hard time in communication or playing with others: they might be able to give you some pointers on things to work on at home.
If your child has a hard time with sharing, taking turns or including others in play then model, model, model the more friendly behaviors with your child and anyone else at home. Use please and thank you with everyone, in all situations; play blocks and show how to take turns and share; invite other members of the household to play with the two of you when you’re playing a game. And talk about how doing these things makes others feel! “Did you see how happy Daddy got when we let him drive the car we made with your blocks? Wasn’t it nice when he said: “Please may I use your car?” I really like playing with him because he treats our stuff so nicely! Do you like playing with people who treat your things nicely?”
Consider involving your child in afterschool/extracurricular activities a few days a week where they can get to know other kids in a different setting from school. Having things in common such as being in the same Tae Kwon Do class or in Lego club with can give more opportunities for friendships to arise.