As someone who has spent every September heading back to school since I was five years old, it certainly is an engrained habit for me. I’ve been an elementary and high school student, a university student, a teacher, a parent, and a principal. Each role has given me a new perspective on heading back to school, so I thought I’d share ten ways in which I try to make the shift as smooth and happy as possible.
Get Something New
As a child with three siblings there wasn’t always extra money for the frivolous. But each fall, my mother would take us shopping (usually to $1.49 days at Zellers) for one back to school outfit. It was one of the few times we got to pick out our own clothes. We always had to buy a size up so that we could grow into the outfit, and it would last the year. We even got new shoes! That day and the new clothes always gave the start of school a special feel and helped us to feel positive and confident going into the year ahead. No need to go overboard, but a new backpack or lunch kit or hat can go a long way to make the start of the year exciting. Turn this into a special family ritual and spend some time together in the process.
Routine, Routine, Routine
Children take comfort in routines and predictability. So, if the start of school is a bit anxiety provoking for your child (new teachers, new classmates, and new learning ahead), provide your child with some comfort by getting into the school routine a week or two in advance. And if you haven’t started, it is not too late. Establishing family routines starting with family dinner time and progressing to bedtime is really important, and not just for little ones. Our older children need this structure too. Morning routines are equally important as we all know how a rough or rushed morning can impact how our day progresses. Building in plenty of time for breakfast and the commute into school can significantly impact the learning that happens during the day.
Same but Different
Every school year for me has brought with it a case of “butterflies in my stomach.” This is pretty typical and still happens. I have a hard time sleeping the night before school starts. I worry about whether I’m fully prepared, will the students like me, will the parents be kind. Those worries I had when I was 5, 15, and 25 haven’t really changed. I share this with my own children and normalize what they are feeling and allow them to share their worries with me. It is important to acknowledge our children’s feelings and not dismiss them with phrases like, “you’ll be fine” or “don’t worry.” Instead remind them how they have had these feeling before and yet overcome them. For example, remind them of previous years or how they felt heading to summer camp the first time. A phrase that is really helpful is “same but different.” Think about all the things that are the same but a little bit different. My daughter is entering grade six so we talk about how all her subjects will be the same, but she will learn about different topics. She will have a different teacher, but many of the same classmates. The school rules remain the same, but her classroom rules might be a bit different.
Go for a Visit
Have your child visit the school. If you have a young child and you can walk to school, go for a walk and reminisce about fun things from last year. If you are working on building some independence, have your child walk to school with some friends to play in the forest or have a game of basketball. Talk about where you will meet your child at pick up time. Peek in the classrooms. Walk the school boundaries, you might discover a cool new spot you didn’t know existed. If your child is moving from grade 2 to 3, they will now be able to play everywhere. Go exploring with them. Reconnect them to West Bay physically.
It’s typical for kids to have worries, but they don’t need to add their parents’ worries to the list. While it is important to acknowledge and validate our kids’ feelings, it is also important that any negative feelings we have towards school are not passed on. We do this more often than you might think. For example, complaining about a teacher or a school board policy or our perspective on COVID policies. Our adult concerns should not be passed on to our children. My son is about to embark upon his high school career, he is excited and a little frightened. I don’t want to add to his plate by sharing my worries. I stay positive to support him.
Going to school during a pandemic can be challenging and much is out of our control. Giving your child a feeling of control over some parts of their health and safety can help. Teach your child how to wear a mask and where to put it when they are not wearing it. Talk about small ways they can keep their distance from their friends. For example, after school not huddling around a friend’s mobile device, or walking in the hallway with their hands in their pockets to avoid touching their friends or high touch surfaces. Remembering to bring a water bottle each day and keep a backup mask in their backpack helps them to feel prepared.
This one falls on us parents. I know we all have good intentions to read the information sent out by the school and the school district, but at the beginning of the year it is especially important to make time for it. Superintendent Kennedy sends out important information to families about COVID-19 policies and procedures and the school sends out important information to ensure a safe and seamless start to the school year. So please read these emails, they are full of valuable information that will make the first day back better for our kids. There is information about where your child should line up, when they need to bring school supplies, where you can and cannot park. If you are calm and prepared it is more likely your child will feel calm and prepared.
Find a Friend
To help with a smooth transition to school connect with another family. Have your children walk or ride to school together. Have them arrange to meet at a special spot for recess times. Knowing you have someone to play with and a prearranged plan can be very comforting.
Not all students feel nervous about going back to school. Many are excited and have high hopes for a wonderful year; and most of our students do. Sometimes the transition back to school hits a bumpy road when your child is not placed in the same class as their best friend, or they didn’t get the teacher they wanted. While this might be disappointing for our children it is an opportunity to learn to be open-minded. Our staff puts in tremendous efforts to build our classes, carefully considering academic, social, and emotional needs. Sometimes best friends are split for very good reasons. Most often after a week or two that initial disappointment has been replaced with a blossoming new friendship or connection with their teacher. Acknowledge your child’s feelings then look for the opportunities that lie ahead.
Set a Goal
Set a silly/fun goal for the first week back at school and decide on a reward. My children do this each year, and it is really fun and makes for great conversation at the dinner table. Some examples of past goals have been to learn the names of ten kindergarten students, have a conversation with three teachers you don’t know, say hello 100 times, find out the names of 20 pets in your grade. My kids have fun reporting out what they’ve done at the dinner table and then if both kids meet their goals, they get to pick a restaurant for dinner at the end of the week.
Our staff are very excited to welcome your children to West Bay. For some this might be their first year while for others their last. Regardless, the beginning of the school year holds possibility and that is so exciting. Regardless, the beginning of the school year holds exciting possibilities and we look forward to sharing this with your child.
For more information on heading back to school check out this link from Stanford Children’s Health