Plan ahead, have lots of talks, and over all else – stay calm

It’s no secret, families are starting to feel the stress of going back to school. This time of year can be particularly challenging for families with toddlers entering a preschool for the first time or those who have a new kindergartener. To help alleviate the stress, the experts at the United Way Center for Excellence in Early Education have compiled tips to ensure a smooth first week of school.

The Parent Plan

  • Inform your boss that you’ll be late the first day of school and that you’ll need a bit of flexibility during the first week.
  • Buy your child’s school supplies in advance and label everything with his/her name. Don’t wait until the last minute.
  • Include emergency contact information in your child’s backpack, along with a change of clothes, particularly for the little ones. For safety reasons, practice your phone number and address with your kindergartner.
  • Plan your morning and afternoon routes, so drop off and pick up flows smoothly. Remember that what usually takes 20 minutes can take up to an hour during the first week of school.
  • Before school starts, discuss stranger danger with your child without using scare tactics. Have a conversation about who the child can confide in (the teacher, the teacher aid). Remind your child that unknown adults don’t need help from children. Also, make sure your child knows who will be picking him/her up from school.

The Family Plan

If your child is entering a preschool for the first time:

  • Know the program and its daily schedule/routines. Ask about teacher/child ratio, group sizes, sleeping areas, lunchtime etc.. Get to know the director and teachers and offer your assistance in the classroom when possible.
  • Send something from home that is familiar to the child – his favorite toy, stuffed animal, blanket etc. Some preschools even create a family book with photos, so the children can turn to this when they are missing their families.
  • Arrange to meet your child’s primary caretaker. Share special information about the child – likes and dislikes, triggers, and anything that will help caretakers to relate to and interact with the child.

If your child is entering kindergarten:

  • Back to school starts right now, so tonight after dinner have the child complete a task, whether you read a book together, work on a crossword puzzle or draw a picture about a story – the point is to start preparing for homework.
  • Tweak the daily schedule to get the child accustomed to a routine similar to what he/she will experience when school starts: earlier bed time, early mornings, earlier lunches (kindergarten classes start lunch at 10:40 am), cut out the daily nap, etc.
  • Prepare your kindergartener for a different lunch process. Small things like carrying/balancing a food tray, opening a milk carton or paying for lunch can be daunting for a five-year-old. Practice these activities at home. If your child must take a lunch box to school, plan for the entire week.
  • Make sure your child helps organize his/her backpack and school uniforms. You want to build excitement around the uniforms, particularly with children that have never worn them before. Tip: tell him that the uniform says that he is part of a big kid school. If the child continues to have reservations, allow him to make decisions about what socks and/or shoes to wear or what he’d like to wear on the weekend.
  • Visit the new school a few days before the first day of class with your child. Walk through the campus, allowing the child to familiarize him/herself and perhaps take photos or draw a map of where the main points are: the entrance, classroom, morning gathering place, cafeteria, afterschool pick-up area etc.
  • After you visit the school, talk to your child about what a day at the new school will be like. Explain that mom/dad can’t walk to class every day, because he/she is bigger now and can walk to the designated area, where all the students will gather to wait for the teacher. For your child’s safety, make sure he/she knows what is expected afterschool – is he going to an afterschool program at the school, is he being picked up by mom or a bus, etc.