First Days of School

Hi Sharon,Do you have any advice for preparing a pre schooler for the first days of going to school? Leslie in Whitestone

Dear Leslie,
Congratulations on entering a whole new phase of parenting. Sending a child to school for the first time whether it is for your first child or not can be an emotional transition for everyone in the family. Just because you are nervous about the change doesn’t mean it won’t go well, even if you both are teary eyed for the first few days or weeks. I was lucky enough to cross paths with Suzanne Peebles, Director of the Preschool at the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School just as I began writing the answer to your question. Here are some thoughts we agreed might be helpful. (Don’t feel bad if you can’t do all of them.)

1. Before going for the first day, walk past the school or if possible take a short trip inside, use the bathroom or get a drink in the hallway if a classroom visit isn’t possible. A trip or two like this can help your child have a relationship to “my school” and can help them feel more secure or even proud and excited about the new idea.

2. There are many children’s books with first day of school themes. Ask at your local bookstore or library for books with going to school themes and choose one you and your child might like. Reading a book together can help begin a conversation about the topic. Two year olds might not have as many distinct verbal questions or worries as a 4 or 5 year old but their impressions and reactions are very important to listen to. Listening respectfully to their thoughts can shore up their confidence about the whole experience. It could also help them talk to you about their school days when they do begin.

3. You and your child could also go shopping for special school things to create a positive association with the idea such as a new back pack, lunch box or snack bag. You both could also choose something special to bring to school on the first day (a favorite shirt, blanket or photograph are some ideas). Check with the school to see if it is ok to bring a toy.

4. As you say in your question the people who staff the new school are strangers even though you have spent time and energy finding them. It is important for you to get to know them and develop good relationship s with the adults who are there. Children often trust the people that their Moms and Dads trust. Let your child know that you like the teachers in the room and if there is anything the staff needs to know about your little one make sure you have given them the information. The first few minutes of the first day are not the best time to communicate but most early childhood teachers are very eager to hear information about the children in their care and set up ways to make that happen.

5. Most preschools have an established setting in or transition period that gradually increases the child’s time away from parents and into the classroom. This time is helpful to child, parent and school personnel, Everyone gets to take their time to get acclimated and to deal with separation – a very common part of 2 year old good-byes.Don’t be surprised if the moment you actually say good-bye to your little one is emotional for both of you Big cries from your child at that moment can be common. They can be almost impossible for an adult to listen to but can be an important part of your child’s first school experience. For many children their second year is an important time in their life. They are leaving their parents arms and going off in an independent world much more than they were even a few months earlier. Sometimes saying good-bye to Mom and Dad and getting really upset about them leaving can help them say hello to the new setting. If a 2 year old is upset but tries to cover it up with a big happy smile it might surface in a less productive way later on. If a child gets to say an emotional 2-year-old good-bye it sometimes gets the sadness about the change and missing Mom or Dad out of the way and helps makes it easier to have fun in the new exciting environment.

6. It can be helpful to establish a good-bye ritual when you and your child know it is time to go. Teachers often have suggestions that can help. Helping your child get involved in an activity, giving a big last hug or waving out the door or window are some common suggestions.

7. Before leaving remind your child that you will be back to pick them up at the end of the school day. It is important to not be late, your child will be anxiously waiting for your arrival and it will be hard to watch other children getting to see their Mom or Dad first.

It is not at all uncommon for parents to go through a period of separation as well. I believe this is a completely healthy parental reaction. The first day of nursery school can be the beginning of a whole new stage in many parents’ lives.

I send all my best wishes as the big day approaches.