By Melanie Laguna & Dana Asby
A Parent’s Perspective
As summer --full of getaways, adventures, and the sweet sound of the ice cream truck--comes to its close, there’s the sudden realization that ‘Back to School’ is almost upon us. My husband, a preschool teacher, will soon be back in the classroom full-time and I will once again take over full-time childcare for our two year old son. I want to enjoy these last moments because come September 6th Ollie will begin school five days a week. As his mother, I am incredibly excited for him and this new leap in independence. But I know I will miss him. It will be a big transition for us.
Talking up School
This summer we’ve talked a lot about school. Even though Ollie may not fully comprehend what school is, we’ve made sure to work school into the daily conversation. We are lucky that Ollie is familiar with the layout of the school because it’s “Dada’s work.” We say things like: “It’s going to be so exciting scooting to school with Mama and Dada!”
We’ve also worked ‘school’ into our playtime. “This car is driving to school!” We also bought him a backpack earlier this summer to fill with toys to take on vacation. We wanted him to establish ownership over his backpack and have control over what he could pack in it. Once school starts, we’ll have him put his lunchbox and water bottle inside every morning and allow him to choose a few small special toys or treasures to pack in its front pocket.
Changing our Morning Routine
In general, Ollie wakes up around 7:30 and is not a huge breakfast eater. Once school starts, we will need to be out of the house by 7:45. This means we will have to shift his morning routine significantly. So during these weeks leading into the school year, my husband and I will wake up around 5:30 (even though we can sleep in) and then wake Ollie by 6:30 in order to ensure we’ll be able to get out of the house on time. We’ve introduced quick, easy, but filling breakfast options such as “special milk” (fruit smoothies), oatmeal, and hard boiled eggs. By changing our morning routine beforehand, it enables us to work out the kinks and make the transition into the school day less abrupt for our son.
Separation and Morning Drop-off
Most families don’t get the opportunity to practice morning drop off. Even children accustomed to being left with nannies and babysitters can find drop off challenging. We were lucky to put Ollie into summer camp at his preschool as a sort of practice run into the school year. Our many years of experience in child care has taught us that a good drop-off is not about the length of time or what you do with your child once you ease them into the classroom. It’s all about your goodbye. It should be clear, consistent, and final. When you bid them goodbye it should follow by you leaving the room for good. Hesitating or coming back can often make the transition harder.
Despite knowing all of this, it did not make leaving Ollie for that first week any easier for me as a parent. He cried. He clung. He called out for me. It was hard. I wanted to comfort him, but I knew I would only make it worse. I was especially mindful about keeping my own emotions in check and my tone bright and confident before and during drop-off. I didn’t want him to sense my hesitation. I dealt with all my conflicting emotions privately and committed to my goodbye. By the second week, there were no more tears. Ollie gave me a big hug and kiss and would run to whatever morning activity caught his fancy.
I don’t expect this to be any easier the second time around, but I can say this: Trust in yourself, trust in your child, and trust in your child’s teachers. Everything will be okay.
A Teacher’s Perspective
Keep It Together
On the first day of preschool you and your child might not be the only ones
feeling a bit nervous. When I was a teacher, no matter how prepared I was for the start of the school year, I felt those butterflies. It was a mixture of excitement and fear of the unknown. I knew I needed to keep my emotions to myself in order to be the comforting presence parents and their children needed to see when they walked through my classroom door. If you’re feeling some butterflies yourself during drop-off, take a glance at your child’s teacher’s brave face and try it on yourself.
Your child has not yet learned how to control their own emotions, so they depend on your reactions to unfamiliar situations to decide how to feel. The first time you enter your child’s new classroom, they might run straight to the blocks and their new friends. Or they may cling to your hand and glance up at you each time their new teacher addresses them. The important thing is to stay calm and upbeat. This way, you’re teaching your child that they can calm the nervous feelings they have about this huge change by putting on a brave face like their mom and teacher.
Let Them Go
Earlier, we discussed the importance of a quick, firm, loving goodbye.Your children’s tears can rip right through the center of your heart and seem to drag you towards them, but they don’t have the same effect on a teacher. A well-seasoned teacher has endured hundreds of crying fits. They may not know your child as well as you do, but a good teacher uses their store of past experiences to pull out all of the tricks in the bag to settle your child down, ease them into their new classroom, and foster their excitement about learning.
But what about a child who walks through that door, drops your hand, throws off their backpack, and runs straight up to a boy they’ve never met instead of coming to meet the teacher like you’d planned? Children rarely have the same agenda as the rest of the world. Don’t impose your expectations of the first day of school on your child. Let them explore and gently guide them towards an appropriate area if they are investigating an out-of-bounds spot in the classroom. Let your child blossom into their independence if they come through that door ready to do so. And be proud that you raised such a confident child!
Talk It Out and Move On
It can be helpful to talk to your child’s teacher about any problems you’re having about the beginning of the school year. Teachers can sometimes guess what’s going on at home by a child’s classroom behavior, but they can better support your child inside the classroom with your help. We have a tendency to keep big emotions inside or to worry that the teacher doesn’t have time to hear about all the little worries and joys that occupy your family. This is true to some extent; please don’t give your child’s teacher a monologue about your crazy weekend every Monday. However successful teacher-parent partnerships depend on communication. It is important to share small parts of your lives to create a trusting relationship between you, your child, and their teacher.
Just because something might not be a big enough issue to mention to your child’s teacher, it doesn’t mean you should bottle it up either. If you don’t let those worries out, they will grow deeper roots in your mind and it will be difficult to let them go. It can be helpful to talk to another parent going through the same thing, or even your own parent who may have a funny story to share about your first day of preschool.
Whether you have someone to chat with or not, it’s important to let those worries go and move on with your day. Here are a few mindfulness practices that can help you release any big feelings you may have after leaving your child at preschool that first time:
Write your feelings out in a letter to your grown-up child about all that you are feeling on this first day of their educational journey.
Close your eyes and listen to some relaxing music as you take deep, intentional breaths in through your nose and let them out through your mouth.
Take a yoga class and really focus on your body’s movements and your breath.
Reflect on your feelings and how they relate to your own experiences in school.
Approach this school year with intention, live in the present moment of calm instead of fixating on the possible worries of the future, and reflect on how you and your child felt about the first day when you pick them up.