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

It’s no secret; as summer break winds down, families start feeling 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 a few tips to ensure families prepare for and execute the first week of school without any major snags.

The Parent Plan

  • If possible, inform your boss that you’ll be late the first day of school and that you’ll need a bit of flexibility with your start and end time during the first week of school. This will help keep your stress at bay.
  • 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.
  • Plan out and organize your day, so drop off and pick up flows easily. Remember that what usually takes 20 minutes can take up to an hour during the first week of school.
  • Before school starts, this is a good time to discuss stranger danger with your children. Have a serious conversation about who the child can confide in (the teacher, the teacher aid), but don’t use scare tactics. 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, groups 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 of the family so the children can turn to this when they are missing their families.
  • Arrange to visit the school a few days before to meet with your child’s primary caretaker. Share special information about the child – likes and dislikes, any red flags, and anything that will help make it easier for the caretakers to relate to, 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, or a crossword puzzle or draw a picture about a story – the point is to start preparing for homework.
  • Tweak the daily schedule to help adjust the child’s internal clock. Get them accustomed to a routine similar to what he/she will be experiencing 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. So make sure to practice these activities at home or a local eatery. If your child must take a lunch box to school, plan accordingly and make sure you find food options that he/she will eat.
  • Make sure your child helps organize his/her backpack and school uniforms. You want to build some excitement around the uniforms, particularly with children that have never worn them before. Tip: tell them that the uniform says that he/she is part of a big kid school. If the child continues to have reservations, allow them to make decisions about what socks and/or shoes to wear or what they’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, the classroom, the morning gathering place, the cafeteria, the 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. Tell them that mom/dad can’t walk them to class every day, because he/she is bigger now and can walk to the designated area where all the students will wait for their 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.