Families, communities, and nations are stronger when children are prepared to attend school. The first day of pre-school, kindergarten, or first grade are important because it may be the first day that your child has been separated from you and left with strangers. Some children have a more difficult time on their first day of school than do other children.
I do not remember being concerned about going to school. However, I do remember being so excited to start school. I remember telling everyone that I saw that I was starting school. I had watched my older siblings leave for school for as long as I could remember, and I was able to join them – finally. The fact that I had older siblings on the bus made it easier for me. I do not remember, but I suppose that an older sibling took me to my first-grade classroom. (Kindergarten was not held in my school district when I started school, and I did not go to preschool.)
An important fact for parents to remember is that children must be prepared physically, emotionally, and socially as well as mentally for school. The emotional-social experience is often made easier by earlier experiences. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, children go to nursery while their parents attend or teach other classes. Children may be hesitant at first, but they learn that the teachers are kind, and the toys are different.
The most important truth that they learn is that Mom and Dad will be back to get them. When children experience such experiences in a loving environment, they gain emotional-social strength to prepare for their first day at school. The good thing is that parents have several years and an entire summer to help their children to be prepared for school.
My children adjusted to starting school well. There were no tears at separation. However, I recognize that I could have done more to prepare them. For those of you with young children at home, here are some ways to help you to prepare your children for their first day at school. Most of the suggestions apply to a child’s first time of attending school. Nevertheless, there are suggestions that can be adapted for children going back to school in successive years.
1. Start Adjusting Your Child’s Sleep Schedule.
A sleepy child equals a grumpy child, and you don’t want a groggy, exhausted child on the first day of school.
If your child is used to going to bed late and waking up late, start adjusting his sleep schedule a few weeks before the first day of school. Move bedtime up by 15 minutes each day until your child is able to wake up at the desired time in the morning.
A well-rested child is a happy child. Plus, an early wake time will allow your child enough time to eat a healthy breakfast and go through the morning routine … at his own pace….
2. Practice the New Morning Routine
Kids thrive on routines because knowing what to expect gives them a sense of security. A morning routine allows children to learn how to take care of their own responsibilities (e.g. get dressed, brush their teeth, etc.) without you bossing them around….
Practice makes perfect! Establish the new morning routine at least a few times before school starts to get your child mentally prepared for school and establish healthy habits.
3. Practice Pick Up and Drop Off
[Whether you plan to walk your child to school, transport them in a car, and put them on a bus], practice the drop-off. Show your child where you will be dropping him off and where he should go…. Then show him where you will be waiting for him after school is out for the day.
Practicing drop off is especially important if your child has separation anxiety – you need to prepare him so that he knows that getting dropped off at school means mommy is going to go away….
Remember, the less unknown, the more confident your child will be on his first day of school.
4. Shop for School Supplies
… Your child will be thrilled that he gets a say in what school supplies he gets to use at school….
Your child will be so excited t use all his new things and show them off to his friends on the first day of school!
5. Act It Out
If your child loves to pretend play, this is the perfect opportunity to act out a typical day at school. Set up a pretend classroom at home and act as the teacher so your child gets used to sitting at his desk and listening to the teacher during school…. [Practice packing the lunchbox and let your child pretend eating lunch at school.
6. Make Friends Before School
7. Play at the School Playground
8. Tour the School [even if you cannot get into the classroom]
9. Meet the Teacher(s)
… What makes or breaks how much your child will enjoy school comes down to the teacher.
10. Read Books about the First Day of School
11. Countdown to the First Day of School
I recommend planning special days and marking them on the calendar so that your child as a visual of what’s to come. For example, plan one special day to shop for school supplies and throw that on the calendar. This way, you have a checklist of things to do and your child will for sure hold you accountable to doing them as scheduled on the calendar….
12. Prepare the Night Before
… Set up everything your child needs in the morning the night before to ensure that the next day goes off without a hitch. Make sure to involve your child in this process. [This includes selecting the school outfit, packing the backpack with school supplies, and preparing as much for breakfast and lunch as possible. I fixed lunches for all my children from kindergarten to high school graduation. My children have taught their children to fix their own lunch each evening.]
13. Pack a Comforting Item
14. Make the First Day of School Special
The big day is here! Make it special by starting out the day with a breakfast of your child’s choosing. Be positive (despite your own anxiety of sending your child off to school) and praise your child on how great he looks and how much fun school will be with his friends.
You can also start a “First Day of School” tradition by taking pictures with a personalized sign that captures your child’s school information and current interests….
[My children have adopted this tradition with their children and have pictures from at least kindergarten through high school graduation. I saw a suggestion today that parents take a picture before the child goes to school and another picture when they return.]
14. Talk to Your Child
When all is said and done, what really matters is how your child feels about the first day of school. Talk to your child about his feelings about going to school. Ask him what questions he has about starting at a new school and meeting new friends. [My youngest son hated school. He did not want any celebrations or reminders that school would soon start. His favorite part of the day was coming home – following by lunch time and recess. Even though he did not like school, he was a good student and later obtained a graduate degree.]
15. Prepare Yourself
Sometimes, we are more nervous than our children about the first day of school. If you have done all the things mentioned above (and possibly more!), you have done all that you can to prepare your child for starting school.
Smile! Going to school is a big milestone and it’s time for him to go and exercise his independence….
[When my oldest child started school, I walked with her and her younger siblings to the school and introduced her to her teacher. I went home and watched the clock until it was time to go get her. I wasted the entire morning (half-day kindergarten) because I worried about her. Her biggest complaint for her first day was that the teacher would not push her in the swing. After I explained that the teacher could not push thirty children in swings, she seemed to understand.
[I made the opposite mistake with my youngest daughter. When I expressed that I would miss her when she went to school, she announced that she would stay home with me. Quickly, I assured her that I would be okay without her.]
The first day of school for a child and/or the first day of school each year is a big day. Parents can prepare their children to be successful in their adjustment to their new schedule. Just as parents can prepare their children for starting school, they can create traditions for after school experiences. Parents can do many things to help their children to succeed in school, and successful children strengthen families, communities, and nations.