Have you ever noticed that we spend an inordinate amount of time preparing children for anticipated milestones? “What books do you have with siblings?” a very pregnant, harried-looking caregiver might ask. Another approaches the desk saying, “He refuses to even go near the potty. I just want him to know it’s not scary.”
These are year-round events, ones we must always be ready to handle. But there’s one milestone in the lives of small children that’s quickly, predictably approaching: the first day of school. And while it’s important to provide the perfect picture books to help those concerned caregivers, if our work stops there, we’re missing a golden opportunity to prepare caregivers right alongside those first-time school attendees.
To that end, I like to do a workshop for caregivers in August where we talk about some of the practical and academic ways they can prepare their children, as well as what to expect (in terms of emotion and attitude) in the first few weeks of school.
If you’re interested in hosting your own workshop but don’t have the time to prep a presentation from scratch, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If your schedule runs a bit tight for a full workshop, however, here are some of the tips I share with caregivers:
- Work on the basics – Your child’s first year of school is going to be focused a lot on numbers, letters, colors, shapes, and social-emotional skills. Getting a head-start on some of these will help them feel more confident, which will make the overall school experience more fun. Find ways to incorporate counting to 20, reciting (and recognizing) the alphabet, and identifying shapes as well as colors into your normal day-to-day activities.
- Build patience and listening skills – For active children, school is a lot more stationary than the usual routine. It also involves a lot of listening and following instructions, something independent kids may not be used to. Help your child practice following one- or two-step instructions as well as sitting for progressively longer stretches of time.
- Make your child their own champion – Teachers are amazing human beings. They take on classrooms full of children, teaching them what they need to know to succeed and usually doing it with a smile. But they’re still just human beings. So they’ll really appreciate it if your child is prepared to handle some basics largely on their own. This includes: zipping and unzipping jackets; using the bathroom; recognizing and responding to their names; and opening lunch containers.
- Get comfortable, but not too comfortable – Find out if the school your child is attending has any meet-and-greet opportunities before the first day. If so, be sure to stop in to meet their teacher and see the classroom. If not, take a trip to see the outside of the school and talk about features you know your child will enjoy (like the playground or art room). Ask your child what they’re most excited to do and what worries them. But don’t go overboard; the more you talk, the more pressure you’ll put on the event.
- Be prepared for mood changes – Once you’ve made it through that first-day drop-off, pat yourself on the back. Seriously, you’ve done great work! But while you’re celebrating, remember: It may take your child awhile to adjust to all this change. Be prepared for tantrums – whether about going back to school or just in general. If your child says they don’t want to go back, listen. But then ask them to name three things they enjoyed about school. Putting the focus on positives will remind them that school isn’t all bad.
Of course, any resource on starting school would be incomplete without a booklist, so here are some of my top picks to share with caregivers and children:
The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes
A very recent release from the award-winning author of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, The King of Kindergarten centers on a little boy who’s beyond ready for his first day. Full of affirmation and excitement, this gentle introduction to school expectations will have even nervous children looking forward to their first day.
Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous by Keith Calabrese
One of my favorite starting-school reads, Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous takes a light-hearted, humorous approach to first-day jitters. Lena is 100% ready for kindergarten. She’s got her blue dress, pink striped socks, and floral headband all ready to go. But there’s one problem… her shoes aren’t so sure about this school thing.
Lily’s Cat Mask by Julie Fortenberry
Armed with her cat mask, Lily feels capable of taking on anything – until her teacher says masks are a recess-only accessory. A sweet tale of one little girl’s first day at school, Lily’s Cat Mask highlights the experience of a shy child nervous about meeting new people on her own.
Ayobami and the Names of the Animals by Pilar López Ávila
In Pilar López Ávila’s beautifully illustrated debut about the power and importance of literacy, Ayobami must negotiate a dangerous landscape in order to reach her school. Here, there are no first-day jitters; instead, López Ávila places the focus on Ayobami’s desire to learn.
It’s Your First Day of School, Busy Bus! by Jody Jensen Shaffer
Much in the vein of School’s First Day of School, this 2018 release presents the first day of school from the perspective of an anthropomorphized bus. Busy Bus experience the worries many children face – What if I get homesick? What if I don’t make any friends? Beyond this, Shaffer deftly reassures children nervous about their first bus ride through Busy’s safety inspection. An especially good choice for vehicle enthusiasts.
Finally, here are a few more resources (for you and caregivers) to help make the first day of school the best day possible:
Other Ideas from ALSC
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group; III. Programming Skills; and IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials