The school bell will toll in a couple of weeks – if it hasn’t already – and a new crop of kids will begin their academic careers. For some little people, starting school, or a new school, is exciting. For other kids, however, it is a challenge, and one that might trigger tummy butterflies and tears.
For those parents who will soon face this scenario with their school-aged kiddos, OnMilwaukee.com turned to local teachers to provide insight and suggestions to make the first-day-of-school transition run more smoothly.
Familiarize kids with their school ahead of time
Visit your child’s new school before the first day. Call the secretary for a tour, or just spend time on the playground and talk about the fact he / she will be a student there in a few weeks or days. Some schools have open houses or new student orientations, particularly for those starting K3 or K4.
“Having kids as familiar with their new school as possible is important,” says Angie Aranda, an unassigned K4 teacher for Milwaukee Public Schools.
Jennifer Lucas, who teaches Early Childhood Education for K3, K4 and K5 at Elm Creative Arts School, suggests contacting the teacher directly if possible.
“I love when parents come in before that first day. It is really hard to give parents one-on-one attention on the first day when you have 25 to 30 new students entering all at once,” she says.
Discuss drop-off and the details of their day
Dropping kids off at school can be traumatic for both the kids and the parents. Describing how the drop-off scenario will look might help the child start to understand that there will be a separation, but it will be temporary and it will be OK.
“I think sometimes parents might just assume that kids understand the whole process, but it’s important to clearly explain to them,” says Aranda. “Even if the parent doesn’t really know the school schedule, giving them a bit of a prep will help, even if it’s, ‘You’ll play for a while, go outside, have lunch, play some more and then I’ll pick you up’.”
Send a family photo to school
Sometimes, looking at a photo of family members helps young children feel better about being away from them. Slip one in their backpack just in case and tell your child it’s there if they need to take a peek.
“Sometimes a special item from home, a picture of the family, or a note – even if it’s just a heart for kids who can’t read – in their lunch box can help,” says Lucas.
Don’t prolong the inevitable
No matter how much parents prepare their child for school, the first few days, weeks, even months might still be emotional. The bottom line is that some kids are going to cry when it’s time for their parent to leave the classroom.
Aranda says staying for a few extra minutes with a weeping wee one is fine, but spending too much time in the classroom or promising to “check up” on the him or her just makes it more difficult. Aranda suggests parents tell their child, firmly and warmly, “I know you are sad, but I love you, I need to leave now and I will be back to get you at the end of the day.
“I know how hard it is to leave your child when they are crying – trust me, I’ve done it from the parent end, and half the time I want to cry, too,” says Aranda. “However, the great majority of the time, the child either stops crying or at least calms down significantly after about 10 minutes from when the parent leaves.”
Melissa Tempel teaches first grade for MPS, and she agrees.
“The longer you linger the more emotional both you and your child will get. It really makes it worse. The sooner you get out of there, the easier it will be for your child to refocus on the other things going on in the classroom and start getting involved and making new friends, which will lead to learning,” says Tempel.
Tempel says that when parents stay too long, the kids focus on them and miss out on hearing important information or routines that he / she will need to know.
Parents should feel free to call midday to check in on their child, but they should remember that the first few days are very busy for teachers and they may not be able to speak immediately. Lucas suggests leaving your number with the teacher, so she can text or call with an update when he or she has a moment of down time.
Be clear on pick-up
Both the child and the teacher need to be certain how the child is getting home to avoid confusion or a traumatic experience. So, be sure to double-check that the teacher knows how the student is getting home at the end of the day. And equally as important, if the parent is picking up, they should be sure to be on time.
“There is nothing more heartbreaking than the last child in the gym, crying because his or her mom or dad didn’t come to pick up on time and he or she thinks that they’ve been abandoned after a long first day,” says Tempel.