Every year, about this time, I think about what strategies I can use to comfort those new students who are fearful about school, or are having a hard time separating from parents.
School "jitters" are real and scary emotions for some students. Often, it’s the first time they have been away, all day, from parents or caregivers. It’s stressful for parents, too.
Here are some tried and true ideas for parents to help ease the transition:
Read books together that address young children’s school fears. Two books I use in my classroom are "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn and "Grover Goes to School" by Dan Elliott. These are available at your library.
If possible, stop by and visit the classroom before school begins. Often, principals and teachers are there preparing for the first day. If the school is not open, visit the school grounds. Talk about where your child might have recess, or line up in the morning. With a camera or your cell phone take pictures that you and your child can look at again before school begins.
Have your child practice writing their first and last names. Use one capital and the rest lowercase. Being able to recognize and write their name is a real confidence booster for young children, especially since so many things are labeled this way in a classroom.
Let your child bring a photo of you, your family, or even the family pet in their backpack or lunchbox. If their teacher allows, the picture can be kept on their desk. Just having this small visual reminder gives a young child comfort.
Let your child pack a favorite stuffed animal or small toy from home in their backpack. They can play with it at recess time.
Put a "love note" in their lunch box or backpack. This is a powerful little reminder of you.
Resist the urge to "linger" on the first day. The longer you stay, the harder it is for you, your child and the teacher. I can assure you that most children settle in quickly, and want to start the day!
School is your child’s new "job." Just as you go off to work, your child now has a similar responsibility. Young students love how important and grown-up this makes them feel!
Connie McCarthy is passionate about her work as a teacher of young children. She has devoted her entire career to making sure that her students do well at school, right from the start. Connie has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She has been teaching first grade in East Providence, R.I. for 23 years, where she received the distinction of “Highly Qualified Teacher” by the Rhode Island State Board of Regents. Connie also taught nursery school for four years, and published numerous articles on early education in East Bay Newspapers in Bristol, R.I. She’s also been published in PTO Today Magazine. She lives with her husband, Brian, and has a daughter and a son, both young adults. Connie enjoys reading, writing about elementary education, and taking long walks with friends. During summer vacations, she likes to travel with her husband. She also loves reading readers’ comments on her weekly blog posts.