With the back-to-school season upon us, many kids are about to experience their first day of school. It’s an exciting time filled with happy emotions for some, as well as anxious feelings for others. If you are like most parents I know, you may be struggling with the idea of sending your child to school for the first time. You may feel unsure that your child is ready to start school or that you are ready for him to start. Don’t worry. You aren’t the first or last parent to feel this way. As a school Administrator, I always enjoyed helping parents through the process and found that the best way to prepare children for the first day of school was to prepare their parents.
In this post, I share some of my favorite first-day-of-school tips for moms and dads. These tips are relevant for young kids and toddlers starting a Montessori program or pre-school program.
Tips to Prepare for the First Day of School
Creating expectations of your child’s daily schedule is extremely helpful for all kids, especially those who have difficulty with change and transition. By understanding what their day will be like, kids feel secure, grounded and calm. Conversely, when expectations aren’t clear, children naturally feel confused and insecure. You can help prepare kids for their first day of school by telling them what their day will be like and then reminding them of it. This is especially important for toddlers and truly helps them adjust to their day. You can walk them through a typical day from morning until pick-up giving them consistent markers throughout their day.
An example of this is: “When you wake up, you will get dressed and ready for school. You’ll have breakfast and then we will drive together. Then your teacher will help you into the school. You’ll do different activities with the teacher, other children and by yourself. You’ll play outside and then have the lunch that we packed together. You’ll have a nap and then I will pick you up from school.”
This generic example may seem silly but this is exactly how you can help young kids understand their day. Again, mention these consistent markers throughout the day like drop-off, playtime, lunch, nap and pick-up. Remember that knowing what to expect gives them security. When you feel that they are uneasy, you can remind them of their schedule and these consistent aspects in their day.
Project Calm & Confidence
If you are calm and confident about your child going to school, your child will be calm and confident. This isn’t to say that there are never any tears, but overall, your child will enjoy being at school. If you aren’t ready for your child to go to school or if you are nervous about the school you have chosen, your child will sense this and both of you will have a difficult time come drop-off. Be calm and confident. If you aren’t feeling calm and confident, ask yourself why and address the issue.
Classroom Visits & Slow Transitions
Most Montessori and pre-school programs set up a time for new children to visit the classroom and meet the teachers. This is a fantastic opportunity to acquaint your child with the new setting and helps kids know what to expect on the first day of school.
In addition to a classroom visit, some schools set up a period of time where children, who are new to the school, transition into their classroom. Slow transitions into a new classroom are an absolute must for Toddlers and are beneficial for young kids. Typically, slow transitions take place over a week with the child visiting for an hour on Monday and by Friday having the first full day.
I have seen programs that support slow transitions and programs that do not. While I am fully aware that slow transitions are difficult for parents, they make a world of difference for the child. Your child is able to adapt to the school day instead of being thrown into the school day. If your school provides a slow transition for kids, then you have found a diamond in the rough. Many pre-school programs have moved away from this model since it is not as lucrative and does not meet many parents’ needs. To them I say, slow transitions are extremely beneficial for children and in a world that is completely adult-focused, we sometimes need to make allowances for kids and their wellbeing.
Before the first day of school, there will be paperwork to turn in, as well as specific items requested by the classroom teacher. I highly recommend turning in any paperwork in advance as it is a great help to Administration, and will also help you “project calm & confidence.” Know that pre-school programs cannot legally accept a child the first day of school if the appropriate documentation is missing or incomplete. This is not the school trying to be difficult. This is licensing law dictated by your state. Additional items that may be requested by your child’s school are:
Extra clothing with your child’s name (I recommend ironing on labels)
Indoor and outdoor shoes
Baby wipes and lots of underpants (or diapers) for toddlers
An emergency kit in the event of a disaster
Acquaint yourself with your school’s drop-off policies and procedures and follow them. Most Montessori schools ask parents to drop their children off at the school entrance or at their classroom door. Parents are not meant to enter the child’s classroom. On behalf of teachers all over the world, please follow your school’s drop-off policies. Drop-off is not a time to try and speak with the teacher extensively, nor is it a time to sit with your child. Share any pertinent information with the teacher quickly or by the school’s preferred method (notes, emails, calls, office).
Remember to be calm and confident during drop-off. I recommend a loving and quick goodbye. Trust me on this one. Nine out of ten times this works. The longer you extend the goodbye, the more difficult it will become. When kids are feeling emotional or crying, extending the goodbye only makes it more difficult for them. Remind them that they will have a great day, you love them and will see them right after school and off you go.
Once these kids are in the classroom, other little ones tend to comfort them (which is the most adorable and compassionate thing to watch). They may read in the book corner, paint or work with a friend and before you know it, they are settled in. If you are concerned, you can always call the school to check in and see how your child is doing. In a Montessori program, you can go back and observe through the observation windows. If you do this, I recommend waiting at least 30 minutes so that your child has time to settle in.
If you read Keep in the Sunshine, then you know I am a massive proponent of getting kids in the kitchen. Kids are super capable and food preparation gives them awesome opportunities to learn and develop. If your child’s school does not provide lunch, I definitely recommend your child helping you prepare lunch the night before.
This is an awesome habit for adults and kids. It ensures that children know what is in their lunchbox, gives them the opportunity to make choices and for the most part guarantees that they will eat most, if not all, of their lunch. It also becomes a fun talking point for them with their teacher and/or classmates, as they explain how they made their sandwich “all by myself” and peeled the orange. It’s also awesome for adults because it allows them that time with their kids and ensures that the morning routine isn’t slowed down by tantrums over lunch choices. I recommend meal planning for the week. Then from your pre-determined list, you can give your child choices such as: “Would you like strawberries or apples?” “Would you like egg salad sandwich or avocado & cheese?”
I have to include this and please don’t take offense, but I can’t tell you the amount of times I have seen this and the amount of teachers that have spoken to me about this across the country… When you are picking up your child from school, please do not have your cell phone out. Your child is so excited to see you and when they realize they are sharing your attention with a cell phone, well, it’s a massive disappointment to them. Kids really do miss their parents during the day even if they do not always show it in the way you want them to. They truly enjoy seeing their parents at pick-up and it’s such a special time for them. Be present and enjoy the moment. They won’t be little for much longer.
Talking about the Day
I hear this one a lot from parents. They tell me how their children must not be doing anything during the day because when they ask them, they say, “I don’t know.” This is normal. Young kids typically do not give you a play-by-play of their day (although I know some who do). Instead of asking yes or no questions, ask questions that have specific answers. This is a great way to hear about their day and also get kids to communicate about their day and their feelings. If your child is in a Montessori program, know that he/she may not know the names of the materials and the work that is presented. This also applies to other pre-school programs.
Some alternative questions to “how was your day” are:
Who did you play with on the playground today? What types of games did you play?
Who did you sit next to at lunch?
What did you make and eat for snack today?
What was an activity that you enjoyed today? Can you describe it to me?
What was something funny that happened today?
How did you help somebody today?
How did somebody help you today?
What is one thing that you did today that made you feel happy or proud?
My hope is that these tips help you feel prepared for your child’s first day of school so you can in turn prepare your child.
I would love to hear from you. Are there any other tips you would add for parents and kids first day of school?
Keep well, S