It happens every autumn. Millions of young children start school for the very first time. They carry backpacks, lunchboxes, pencils, sometimes a grin on their face, but more often, a look of trepidation about what school will really be like. They wonder: Will my teacher be nice? Will I have friends? What if I can’t find my way? Who will sit with me? What will I do? What if I don’t like it? What if I miss home? What if it’s too hard?
As parents guiding our children off to start school for the first time, or to begin a new school year, we want to do all we can to ensure that they have a great experience. At the same time, we want to encourage their independence as they set off on a new journey in their development.
Kathryn White, author of Ruby's School Walk, early educator and mom of five children, shared her tips to ease children's start-of-school anxiety and make this an enjoyable milestone:
•Read with your child and talk about the school experience. Share with them stories about your memories of school, both the good and the less so. School is an adventure, and like all adventures, it has its ups and downs.
•Help spark your child’s imaginations about school to encourage them to talk about their concerns and face their fears. You can do this through stories, books, drawings and other art forms. Ask them questions such as what they think school will be like, what they are excited about and worried about, what they think they will learn, etc. These conversations can also be had with grandparents and other favorite people in your child’s life.
•Build a community in your neighborhood. It is amazing what a familiar and friendly face can do to help a child overcome their fears about going to school. As your family journeys to school each day you might see this friendly neighbor, or only see them occasionally, but it will help your child feel comfortable and safe on their trip to school.
•Sit down together and create a fun map to school. Note interesting landmarks and have your child color them in or place numbers at each point. On that first morning to school, your child will be preoccupied with checking off the landmarks on their special map. The school can be drawn with welcome signs, making it a great triumph upon their arrival.
•Walk with your child to school whenever possible. If you don’t live nearby, take public transport, bike or drive and get out a few blocks away and walk together. The walk will become a meaningful way to spend time together and help get the day off on the right foot.
•Create traditions. Take pictures of your child in front of your home or on their way to school. Each year you can reflect back on these first day of school photos and see how much your child has grown in every way.
•Know that if the first day went well or didn’t go well, there are many more days of school throughout the year and peaks and valleys along the way.
We hope your child’s first experience with school is part of their magnificent journey of growing up.
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