Knowing how to prepare children for the first day of school isn't only beneficial for them, but also for the parents in order to start this exciting new chapter on a positive note. The first day, first week and even the first month can be a difficult and trying time while everyone adjusts to the new schedule and new demands.
Did you notice I included you both in that opening sentence? Yes, that’s right, it is not only a pivotal moment for the kiddos, starting school is also another step on the parenting pathway. Making this journey hand in hand with your child will promote a positive experience for you both and lay the foundations for a positive lifetime of learning.
As a totally unqualified, non-expert generalization, I think the majority of people's fears are rooted in one of three areas. First, you have had a bad experience and are experiencing anxiety at the memory of that experience or the possibility of it happening again. Second, you are in a position or are going to be in a position where there is an element of the unknown. Third, you feel as if you have no control over your situation.
20 Ask them to share their fears about starting school
Never underestimate the power of a good, relaxed chat. It is easy to assume you know what your child is thinking and feeling about most things, after all, you have been their number one friend and confident up until now.
However, kids have a way of developing thoughts and fears without us even realizing and sometimes the first you know of a newly developed anxiety is when your kiddo has a massive meltdown at your feet.
Take the time to ask about their feelings as the first day of school approaches, listen to what they have to say, and don’t dismiss any fears out of hand.
19 Tell them about when you went to school
Younger children see their parents as infallible pillars of certainty in an uncertain, ever-changing world. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing when they can feel confident you are always there to help them.
It can be a bad thing if your child believes you always cope well and are never worried. In this case, your kiddo might keep things to themselves to try and be tough, confident and carefree like mom.
To avoid this situation, share a story about a school experience when you had concerns. It will make your little one feel a whole lot better to know mom was once anxious about school.
18 Keep Quiet, But...
As with all good pieces of advice, there is a “but” tagged onto that last point.
When you are discussing starting school, or any other subject for that matter, with your children, ensure the discussion about what fears they may have, is child-led. Not only does this help your little one feel in control but it can also help you avoid one of the perilous pitfalls of parenting:
Putting ideas in their head.
Don’t ask your child, “Are you worried you won’t get to the toilet and you might pee yourself in front of everyone?”
Because if they weren’t before, they will be now. If it is a worry, you have then ask something like “Do you know how to ask the teacher about going to the washroom?”
17 Check out the space with them beforehand
You may have had the opportunity to visit the classroom and meet the teacher at the end of the last school year, but for your kiddo, that was a long time ago.
If your school is having a meet and greet or offers an individual appointment to go in, tour the classroom and chat with the teacher, go for it.
If not, go for a walk or a drive past the school. If you can walk around the building and the grounds with your child, it will help to make them more comfortable with the physical school environment.
16 tell them Stories And Lots Of 'Em
There are limitless storybooks available around starting school and specific worries or situations associated with this momentous event. Even better is that you don’t need to spend a single dime to enjoy them.
Make a day of it and visit your local library. If your child doesn’t have their own library card yet, sign them up and help them find a starting school book to borrow.
Alternatively, you and your child can make your own book. Choose a favorite stuffie or animal to star in your tale and build the story together, writing it down and drawing the pictures in an exercise book. Once they start school, you can compare the story with what actually happens.
15 let them Pick their supplies
Make a list of what your child needs for school and go shopping together.
You don’t have to shop ‘til you drop to make starting school special and it is not about how much you buy, or how much you spend, it is about how much enthusiasm and excitement you can squeeze into each purchase.
Thrift stores usually have plenty of school products at this time of years, including pencils and crayons, etc. and our kids have taken to finding plain items at the dollar store, to decorate themselves. Just don’t let them use glitter.
Trust me on this; you'll still be seeing the stuff on your clothes when they are graduating high school.
14 Practice the Rise And Shine routine
Run through what you expect from your child on school mornings, but don’t do it when you are in a hurry.
Instead, make a game of it. Tuck your little one into bed and get them to snore like they are asleep. Then work through the steps they will have to take in order to get ready for school.
You may already have a pretty well honed morning routine, especially if you work and have to drop your kiddo off at a daycare in the mornings. But this doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from practicing the new morning routine with your child.
13 Let them take it Step By Step
This tip can help with any task your child might have to complete in the same way, on a regular basis. It is especially useful for children who have a hard time completing too many tasks or those who are readily distracted.
Either by hand or on a computer, start with a single page, with the longest edge at the side. At the top, make it clear what the steps are for, such as “Get Ready For School In The Morning.”
You don’t have to lay out items you do every day like “get out of bed” or “brush your teeth.” Instead, put steps like “Get lunch from the fridge” or “Put Water Bottle In Bag.”
12 Practice The Practical first
Some kids are ready and budding with excitement to go when the time for school rolls around. Others, not so much and it’s not all about emotions or attitude. It might be that your child is happy enough to go but has not yet mastered all of the necessary skills they will need to be self-sufficient in the classroom and schoolyard.
If your little one still finds buttons tricky and might struggle when it’s time to change for PE, or has yet to master another skill they’ll need, then practice.
Make it fun, so they are not stressing about their abilities.
For example, if clothes fixings are an issue have them dress and undress toys, and make sure they can manage by themselves, with confidence.
11 Fill In Some Blanks for them
The idea that there are six hours to fill can be daunting to a child - what are they going to do all day? Where will they be? When will they eat? Your little one will have a shed load of questions.
To help quell these fears talk about what happens during a particular school day, starting with going into the classroom and settling down, working through recess and lunch and getting ready to come home.
Don’t be too specific about timings and don’t give a definitive structure to the day. Just let them know roughly what to expect and comparing what you thought might happen in the day to what actually happens is a great way of talking about your child's day.
10 show them the different with Teacher Interactions
Adults have varying levels of comfort when talking with strangers, or even people we know well, come to that, and so too do our kids. Even little ones who seem to be outgoing and confident can clam up in an unfamiliar situation.
Explain to your child they will need to put their hand up and ask the teacher a question if they need to, but take care to also let them know how to have a quiet word with their new day-time boss.
You don’t want your child announcing in front of 30 other kids that they need to poop.
9 the important part: How To Behave, Appropriately
If your child has been attending day-care, they will probably already be comfortable with the concept of having to go and sit down when they have to or being quiet when someone else is talking.
However, for plenty of children, the first day at school is also the first time they have to learn to sit still and stay put for any period of time.
If you have an active child not used to keeping their butt on a chair, give them some tasks at home that require them to park themselves on a seat for some time.
8 give them the tools to be social
Some children feel awkward or uncomfortable in social situations. Heck, as an adult, I have trouble talking to strangers, starting up conversations and feeling comfortable in social situations, so I know exactly how they feel.
If your kiddo is not a social butterfly but would like to interact more, give them the tools they need to build relationships with their peers. What seems obvious to you might not occur to your little one so practice simple interactions like asking another child if they would like to play.
7 teach them To Cope with rejection
Another underestimated and undertaught skill is how to cope with your emotions and, as parents, we often forget to take the time to ensure our kids are equipped to manage their feelings in an appropriate way.
If, for example, your little one asks another kid to play and that other kid says no, it can feel like a vast, difficult to cope with rejection.
Talk to your soon to be academic, about how to manage their feelings in these situations, how to talk about them afterward, and whether or not the intensity of those feelings is equal to the situation.
6 Let them bring little reminders
If your little one is feeling worried about being away from you and the family, a small photo album can be a useful comfort object to get them through the day.
You can swing by the dollar store together and pick out a discreetly sized, easily cleaned photo album for next to nothing. Then, sit together and choose photos of the things your child feels they will miss. You could even take new pictures, especially for the album. Decorate with stickers or other personal objects for that something special.
Tuck the album away in their schoolbag and your child has a sweet way of connecting with home whenever they need it. This is also a useful item for show and tell or just sharing with friends.
5 and a piece of home
Letting comfort objects make the journey to school is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the upside, they will give your little one some much-needed reassurance during the day in a way that perhaps nothing else can.
On the downside, those special items can be easily lost or damaged at school, can be the focus of unpleasant teasing from other children and may promote your child remaining isolated or insular.
Try an alternative way of “taking” the item to school. For example, ask your little one if you can cut a small square from their comfort cloth, hem it up and affix it to a keychain on their clothes so it can be rubbed when needed or take a photo of your little laughing and hugging their teddy and tuck it in their bag for a quick fix during the day.
4 Show them how to make their Mark
Some children worry about losing their belongings at school, or about getting their items mixed up with those of other kids. Alleviate these fears and involve your little one with preparing for school in one fell swoop by labeling belongings.
You don’t have to purchase personalized, sew on or stick on items. We make out own by buying blank labels at the stationary store and letting our budding Picasso design their own. For clothing items, we use a waterproof marker and make a “special” mark on the washing label.
This activity is excellent for bonding as well as addressing fears and building excitement for the coming big day. It’s also brilliant if your child doesn't recognize their name yet, as they will instantly know their own artwork.
3 Make sure they eat
Make some time to sit down with your child and discuss what they might like to take to school for their snack and lunchtimes. Starting school is a time of significant upheaval so now is not the moment to decide on an entirely new approach to your child's diet, but it is also important to use this opportunity to reinforce healthy eating habits.
Talk about balancing “more healthy” and “less healthy” foods and plan what to put together for the day's menu.
Getting your child excited about packing a more healthy lunch helps them feel included, look forward to meal time and develop healthy habits for life.
2 Show them how lunchtime can be fun
Of course, lunchtime isn’t just about the things we eat; we have all kinds of emotional associations with food and mealtimes.
They can be a cause of stress or a cause of comfort, a time to look forward to or a time to dread and as parents, we can help make mealtimes at school something positive.
Choose fun lunch containers and drink bottles with your little one, or use plain items that mini-me can decorate themselves. Then, take the time to pack the occasional little surprise with lunch.
It could be a “love you” and smiley face note, a small collectible like a “Shopkins” or “Grossery Gang” item, or a novelty eraser, although not in the shape of a food item, you don’t want them noshing on it by mistake.
1 Play It Out With Them
Finally, there’s nothing quite like a bit of role play with some toys to work through starting school anxieties.
Sit some toys out as pupils and have a “teacher” toy. Let your child choose if they want to be a child or the teacher and have some fun together.
There’s no need to be too serious about it all or play within the structure of an actual school day either.
Just let the game flow where ever your child takes it and look for openings to share, investigate, and reassure.
Reference: This one mom's experience.