Ease Your Child’s Transition to School

by Dalia Tole

Before School Starts

Practice going to school: Walk or drive to school a couple of times each week so your child gets familiar with the route and routine. Point out the signs, classrooms and any visible play equipment.

Describe what will happen on the first day/read books: You can share your own memories, sing songs (my favorite is “Off to School” from The Best of Elmo album by Sesame Street), and read books together about going to preschool. See suggested reading below.

Don’t ignore fears but focus on the positive things: Don’t let your children dwell on fears or imagination of what might happen. For example if you child likes art, you can show her books where children are painting or doing crafts. Talk about how a fictional character (Dora or Superman) might handle it. Focus on fun.

Practice separation: If your child has never been separated from you/family member, introduce her to alternate caregivers (e.g. babysitters). Also consider one to two hour drop-off classes. You can also play simple separation games like hide-and-seek.

Start adjusting sleep and meal times: If your child will be at school during her scheduled naptime, start adjusting in advance. Many schools will not have a naptime for children over three years.

Meet other children going to the same class: Some schools will organize orientations and get together prior to the start of school. Additionally, consider introducing your child to some of the children in the class and arranging play dates in advance.

Give children control over what they can control: Plan a special shopping trip for school supplies or clothes with your child. Offering simple choices like picking a lunchbox, backpack or outfit may help calm nerves and get kids excited.

Don’t over-schedule extra-curricular activities: Expect your child to be initially tired and possibly more irritable than usual when he or she starts school. Don’t sign up in advance for before or after school activities.

Final Days Before School and First Days

If your child gets anxious or upset, acknowledge the feeling: Do not bribe or bargain to mask the distress. Don’t share your own separation anxiety with your child. Continue to be upbeat and focus on fun.

Make sure the child is well rested and fed: A sleepy or hungry child can quickly become a cranky child. If your child has not eaten a meal, not slept well, or feeling tired discuss these issues with the teacher in the morning.

Pack a piece of home to school: Tuck a family photo in your child’s backpack. Most schools will allow your child to bring his/her favorite toy, lovey or blanket to class.

Practice a good-bye routine and make a swift exit: Practice a special goodbye wave, hand-shake or high-5. When leaving, give a quick kiss and hug and cheerfully do your routine. Don’t linger, peek, or come back several times.

Help your child settle in, say when you are coming back: If the teacher’s picture is available, show your child the picture and tell their name in advance. Help your child become familiar with the new surroundings and people before actually leaving the child. Don’t leave quietly without saying goodbye. Say when you will come back in terms they will understand (for example, “I will be back after story-time.”)

Do not give in and keep/take your child home: Your child needs to know that you expect him to go to school no matter how much they fuss, cry or stamp their feet. If your child does stay home (from sickness, bad weather etc.), do not make it an extra fun day. Don’t be surprised if you solve the problem and it reoccurs after holidays and sick days.

Compiled from various sources including PBS “Off to School”

Suggested Reading

  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (NY Times #1 bestseller)*

  • Owl Babies: Candlewick Storybook Animations by Martin Waddell*

  • The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

  • Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney*

  • I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas

  • I Am Too Absolutely Small for School (Charlie and Lola) by Lauren Child *

  • First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg

  • D.W.’s Guide to Preschool (Arthur Adventures) by Marc Brown

  • Franklin Goes to School by Paulette Bourgeois

  • Maisy Goes to Preschool: A Maisy First Experiences Book by Lucy Cousins*

  • My First Day at Nursery School by Becky Edwards

  • Kindergarten Rocks! by Katie Davis*

  • Annabelle Swift, Kindergartner by Amy Schwartz

Note: Starred Items are available at the Hoboken Public Library

Published in HFA August 2010 newsletter