Every year just before the new school year begins, I would get a phone call or an email from a parent who was concerned because her child was nervous about beginning school. Sometimes this was simply a child moving on from the previous grade, other times it was a child starting at the school for the first time and sometimes it was even a child joining the class mid-year. No matter what time of year, the child’s fears are the same. Will I make friends? Will I be able to do what the teacher asks of me? Will I be able to find the bathroom? Will my mom/dad miss me? Will I miss my mom/dad? These are just a few of the fears of young children beginning anew. Here are some suggestions I have shared with parents over the years and have used with my own son as well.
Read books about school. We assume that children know what school is all about. Well, they don’t. They may have some idea especially if they have an older sibling, but really, many of their fears can be allayed by simply reading about school. A few books that we used before my son started kindergarten are:
- Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
- Look out Kindergarten, Here I Come! by Nancy Carlson
- Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
- Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
- Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
Go to the school and meet the teacher. Bring along a camera and take a picture of your child with the teacher as well as the classroom, his work spot and his cubby or locker. Hang these at home so they become familiar sights even before the first day of school.
Take a tour of the school. Whether there is someone there to give you a tour or if you and your child have to tour around on your own, show your child how to find a few important places– her classroom, the bathroom, the front office and the drop-off and pick-up area(s). If your child will be in before or after school care, find those rooms as well.
Take a picture of mom and/or dad. Print the photo and put it in your child’s backpack. If your child feels sad during the day, he can open his backpack, look at the picture and feel connected to you even though he is at school. Also consider packing a small lovey of sorts. Something that is comforting to your child. Make sure he knows that this item is to stay in his backpack so it does not get lost or become a distraction.
Connect with other classmates. Some schools provide class lists before classes begin. Find out if one or two of your child’s future classmates lives nearby and make a plan to meet at a local park for a play date. Try to do this a few times over the summer or in the week before school begins so the children can establish a friendship before the first day.
Shop for school supplies together. Make a big deal out of school supply shopping (or even back to school clothing). Read the list together, plan where you will shop and give your child a few items from the list to be in charge of or on the look out for. Allow her to pick out her own backpack and/or lunch box. Taking part in the selection of these items gives the child a sense of control and ownership. Tell your child that the supplies and the backpack are special and can only be used for school. This will give her something to look forward to and be excited about.
Talk with your child. This is probably the most important thing a parent can do. Talk with your child the first few days of school first. Once the first few days of school are over, most children settle in nicely. Keep the conversation positive by focusing on her hopes and dreams for that school year. What does she really want to learn? Make a goal for the year and write it down. Revisit the goal in a few months time.
Reassure your child that you will be back at the end of the day. This may be the biggest fear of all for some children. What if mom/dad forget to come and get me?? This can be terrifying for a young child. Make sure your child understands that you WILL be back. Visiting the spot where you will pick her up before beginning the first day can be very reassuring.
By taking these simple steps, you may be able to alleviate many of your child’s fears about the first day of school. By working through her fears well-before school begins will allow the rest of your summer to be less stressful and that first day of school free from jitters!
- Talk with a student who just finished the grade your child is entering.
- Find a big buddy at the school- maybe a sibling of a friend or child of a friend to check in with your child during lunch or recess. You can even ask this buddy to pick your child up at the end of the day and walk him to the pick-up spot.
- Check-in with the teacher after school and make sure things are going smoothly.
Other books about school:
- Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes
- Lily and the Purple, Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
- Froggy Goes to School by Jonathon London
- We Share Everything by Robert Munsch
- I Like Me! by Nancy Carlson
Want more? See our post, Book Mama: Back-to-School Books
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