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The back-to-school season is upon us! Children all over are transitioning from summer schedules to meeting their teachers, making new friends, reuniting with classmates, learning about classroom rules, and getting used to a lot of new routines. ⬇️Be sure to read to the bottom, to get the downloadable Back to School Kit. It has worksheets, templates to send home, and more.
This big transition from summer to school can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming for young minds and families, alike. Preschoolers may be entering a classroom for the very first time, soon-to-be-Kindergarteners are preparing for one of the biggest changes of their lives, and older children are entering new schools and classrooms with new faces, rules, and expectations. Meanwhile, families are also learning how to trust new people with their little ones while simultaneously learning about their child’s new classroom expectations right along with them.
As a parent of two and an early childhood educator, I've always known that back-to-school transitions can be difficult to navigate (both for me and my kiddos). I’ve had my fair share of rocky first days, but I hope you can learn from my story and experiences and leave this blog with some helpful tips to support your littles (and yourselves!) through the back-to-school transition.
Honestly, I really struggle with what to do because the boys really enjoy having their freedom and I don’t want home to feel so structured. I have tried to get them on somewhat of a routine before, but I’m willing to try anything at this point just to make the afternoons more enjoyable for everyone.”
- Marie, parent of two school-age children
It’s the second week of school and I’m feeling at a loss. My daughter seemed really excited to start school, and she seemed to be just fine after the first day. But now, her teacher is sending home daily notes about her behavior at school. I’ve noticed a change at home, too. She struggles with completing her homework, eating dinner, even taking a bath. I do not know what to do to help without her just shutting down.”
- Don, parent of a kindergartner
If these stories resonate with your own back-to-school reality as a parent, caregiver, or teacher, you are far from alone. When I spoke with these parents, I felt that pang of familiarity with their struggles. My own children are typically easy to get along with, but a new school year throws so many wrenches into their normalcy that our home starts to sound like the site of World War III. Here’s a glimpse of what that looks like:
One thing about my son: he absolutely despises waking up. He’s been this way since he was a baby. He stays up entirely too late (way past his 8:30 PM bedtime), which means that at 7:00 AM the next morning, he is an angry 3.5-foot zombie. The mornings before school used to be such a nightmare for my daughter as well because she would not want to get dressed or wear what I picked out.
By the time I packed lunches, we would all be scrambling to get out the door. My son would be crying from exhaustion, my daughter would be angry about what shoes she had on, and I would be ready to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head.
Last year, I was so overwhelmed that I decided I had to come up with a solution for everyone’s sanity. Otherwise, our typical morning experience would continue to unravel before the school day had begun.
At the end of the day, heading back to school is just a transition – going from one routine, activity, or schedule to another. But this one transition is a big one, filled with many other smaller transitions and changes, and as we know, even the smallest transitions can be tough for little ones.
It can feel like our children are pulling out all the stops to make life that much more difficult in a transitional moment, but there are many developmentally appropriate reasons for them to have a challenging time moving from one task to the next.
Transitions often have multiple steps, involve a change in routine or habit, and require skills of attention and emotional regulation that many young children are still learning. Put feeling tired, overwhelmed, or nervous about school on top of all that and it’s no wonder they are such a challenge!
It’s our job as parents, caregivers, and educators to break down transitions into manageable steps, provide support along the way, and give children opportunities to have some control during those chaotic moments.
I noticed many common threads that linked my own back-to-school experiences with my children to those of others: Children and their families feel somewhat unprepared to start the school year after a relaxing summer, families aren’t always sure how to support children during these big transitions, and routines can be difficult to start and manage.
With each of these common challenges in mind, I have developed a list of tips that can help families and children work through the stress and anxiety of a new school year. In fact, many of these tips can help set your children up for success during any challenging transition!
A lot of anxiety and resistance to change can come from fear of the unknown – this goes for everyone, not just children!
Give plenty of time before the first day to talk to children about what they are feeling, what questions they have, and think about what the first day might look like. Our Emotions Cards are a great tool for encouraging conversations about emotions. As children share, reassure them that their feelings are normal and valid.
Brainstorm solutions with your child beforehand and determine strategies that will help them feel better when they are experiencing heightened emotions. Deep breathing, yoga, looking at a family photo, and squeezing a pillow or stress toy are all possible strategies for coping with big feelings!
Practice these strategies at home! The more familiar these strategies become for children, the more likely they will reach for them on their own.
Stories are a powerful tool that can help children feel seen by characters navigating similar feelings and challenges. Take a trip to your local library and check out books about back-to-school feelings, conflicts and resolutions, and fun adventures! Here are a few examples I love to get you started:
|Theo's Deliciously Different Dumplings by Dr. Donna Housman|
|The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn|
|Time for School Mouse by Laura Numeroff|
Read these nightly leading up to the first day to help children identify their own first-day feelings and feel more ready to make that transition.
Consistency is key to learning whenever possible. Having a routine in place can provide some much-needed structure and control during an otherwise stressful time. This goes for all transitions, not just back-to-school.
Whatever your routine looks like, make sure it is established well before school starts. This will make that first day feel like “just another day” and eliminate some unpredictability.
Get your kids involved! A lot of resistance and pushback can come from a lack of control that children feel. Offer choices whenever possible and give them agency in the routine.
A great way to do this is to help kids make their own morning and evening checklists. Come up with a few main steps together that children will get to check off themselves. Once the list is made, let them decorate it how they please and post it somewhere they can reach. Now they have their own special way of feeling involved and accomplished each day!
Everyone needs a boost now and then to ground them in the present moment when they feel overwhelmed. Talk to children about what makes them unique and special. You can even create a fun song or chant to practice saying in the mirror each morning!
This can help children learn to take pride in themselves and remember that each one of us is different and important in our own ways. There are great options online such as The Affirmations Song by Snoop Dogg.
Back-to-school shopping is a great way to get your kids involved and excited about their first day. Plan a special outing and talk it up! Ask questions about what children think they will need and what those items are for, then involve children in picking out school supplies.
Encourage them to pick out supplies that represent themselves, such as bright backpacks or folders in their favorite colors. Help them pack their own backpack the night before so they know what to expect and can look forward to using it for the first time the next morning.
1. Create a Welcoming Environment: Make your classroom a warm and inviting space with a Calm Down Corner, picture books, and age-appropriate learning materials.
2. Foster Independence and Involve Children in Establishing Classroom Rules: Having children take part in creating classroom rules helps them feel empowered, and part of the classroom community. Encourage independence by allowing children to do tasks like putting away their belongings or choosing activities.
3. Use Visual Schedules: Visual schedules with pictures or symbols can help young children understand and anticipate daily activities. Remind children about parts of the day they can look forward to, such as free play, or pick-up time when they get to see their families again!
4. Be Patient: Understand that some children may experience separation anxiety or have difficulty adjusting. Be patient and offer reassurance.
5. Encourage Social Interaction: Provide opportunities for children to interact and make friends through group activities and play.
6. Be Flexible and Individualize Instruction: Be flexible and adaptable in your teaching approach. Recognize that each child is unique and may have different learning styles and needs. Differentiate instruction and adjust your methods to accommodate these differences as needed.
7. Engage in Play-Based Learning: Young children learn best through play. Incorporate play-based activities that promote social, emotional, and cognitive development.
8. Communicate with Caregivers: Maintain open lines of communication with caregivers. Share information about daily activities, achievements, and any concerns promptly.
9. Offer Praise and Encouragement: Provide positive reinforcement and praise for children's efforts and achievements, no matter how small.
10. Enroll in Professional Development: Stay updated on the latest research and teaching strategies for early childhood education through professional development opportunities.
The big back-to-school transition may always come with some big feelings to match, but just remember these tips to help you and your little ones feel more prepared to take on this exciting new adventure. Create routines and consistency whenever possible, offer choices, give kids some control, and remember to give yourself some grace. From one parent and educator to another, we’ve got this!