The first day of school is a big milestone for your preschooler. The start of the school year is an exciting time, but can also be challenging and mixed with a range of emotions. Children are navigating new friendships, managing different emotions, and may even be coping with issues of separation. Below are some helpful tips and strategies to help prepare your little one for her first day and have a smooth transition back to school.
Coping with Separation
Going to school can be an exciting experience; however, many preschoolers feel anxious or fearful about separating with a parent or caregiver. It’s important to validate and acknowledge how your child is feeling and let him know it’s OKAY to have this feeling. Help alleviate any anxieties by focusing on all the positive and exciting aspects of what he will learn and do at school. You may even want to visit and walk around the school before the first day. You can also give your child a family photo or a comfort object to keep in their cubby or book bag, or make up a special song or rhyme to remind him of how much you love him. Let your child know that you will be thinking about him throughout the day, and will be looking forward to seeing him and hearing all about day when school day is over!
Playing Well with Others
Navigating new social situations and playing well with others is an important part of preschool. The ability to resist impulses and share and take turns is an important part of interacting with others and building healthy friendships. As school approaches, look for activities in which you and your child can practice sharing and taking turns. Draw a picture together while sharing crayons. Use specific language, such as “There is one box of crayons. Let’s take turns using the different colors in the box.” Or build a block tower together while taking turns adding blocks. Try to reinforce phrases such as "Let's share!" and "Let's take turns!" or even “How long are you going to use that for?” As you model these strategies, explain what you are doing and why. You can also role play a situation that might cause conflict between two children, such as fighting over the same toy. Practice with your child strategies she can use the next time she has a problem with a friend, such as calming down, labeling feelings, and thinking of a solution to a problem.
It’s not easy to manage emotions, especially for young children who do not have the vocabulary yet to fully express themselves. Help your child learn words to label her feelings. This will allow him to express how she is feeling, and deal with strong emotions she may encounter at school, such as disappointment or frustration. You can also build your child’s vocabulary around common feeling words by reading stories together and talking about the characters. You might say, “Why do you think the girl is crying? How do you think she is feeling?” What can make her feel better?” As your child learns to label and understand her own feelings and those of others, she is gaining important skills, such as empathy and perspective taking.
Follow the Leader
Help your child be better prepared for school by playing fun games to practice impulse control and important self-regulation skills, such as paying attention and following directions. Play games at home, such as Simon Says or Freeze Dance that require your child to follow directions and listen carefully. Remind your child that it is important to listen with his whole body (quiet voice, body calm, eyes watching, ears listening). Playing these games can ultimately help your child in the classroom, such as remembering to raise his hand during circle time or waiting in line.
It's important for your child to get enough sleep each night to give her mind and body the energy she needs to think and learn at school. Help her establish healthy sleeping patterns by following simple bedtime routines - - taking a warm bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, and reading books. When your child gets a good night sleep she is better able to focus, learn, and play the next day!
Eating a Healthy Breakfast
Finally, encourage your child to eat a healthy breakfast each day before school, such as oatmeal or low fat plain yogurt with fresh fruit. Eating right provides your child with energy to help him learn, play, and grow. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day and will give him the fuel he needs to stay focused and alert.
The start of the school year is full of changes and can be a time of anticipation, nervousness, and excitement. However, following these tips and modeling a positive attitude about the first day of school will help lead to a successful transition.