Tips for the First Day Of School - Are you more nervous than your child?



The first day of school is coming up in the next few weeks. With that comes first day of school jitters; your child may be nervous, heck, you may be nervous. Big changes are afoot and they can be scary for the whole family.


Books about Going To School (Recommended by PSP members)

The Night Before Preschool by Natasha Wing (there's also a Kindergarten version)
Schoolies: My First Day of School
 by Ellen Crimi-Trent and Roger Priddy
Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen
Pete and Polo's Big School Adventure by Adrian Reynolds
Friends At School by Rochelle Bunnett
My Preschool by Anne Rockwell
I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
Oh My Baby, Little One by Kathi Appel
Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
My First Day at Nursery School by Becky Edwards
My First Day at Preschool by Edwina Riddell (only used copies available)
Making Friends by Fred Rogers
Maisy Goest to Preschool by Lucy Cousins
You Go Away by Dorothy Corey
Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes by Eric Litwin
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
Curious George's First Day Of School by Margaret and H.A. Rey

(NOTE: Some of these titles are available as YouTube Videos.Sesame Street also has some great videos. Search School, Kindergarten and first day of school.)


Here are some tips we put together to help with the adjustment…

Play it up in the weeks beforehand. Talk about new friends, new toys, new activities, a special cubby just for them, special kid-sized chairs and tables. Listen to them and reassure them that it's going to be great  If you've been preparing them for school so far, you've calmed their nerves about things they could be nervous about-- yes they will eat; yes there is a bathroom; yes there is quiet time (but they don't have to nap); yes they will get picked up-- then this is a new adventure that they are ready for! Walk by the school and play area (if possible). If the school has a way to meet the teacher beforehand (even just getting a photo) can help. If they need supplies like a backpack or lunch box, let them choose it to give them a sense of agency. 

Start a bedtime routine early. Kids thrive with repetition at bedtime, so if you can, start a few weeks beforehand implementing a post-summer routine to take you into fall.  

Meetup with new school buddies. If you can have a playdate with other kids in the class it will help them with the transition. If you can meetup and go together with a school friend that may also help. If you're a PSP member you can ask on the group for other kids going to your school. 

Role Play School.  Play pretend school.  Make the day fun and with all the elements that school will have (play time, circle time, lunch time, recess, etc.)   

Create a Good-Bye Routine. If there's a new secret handshake you can create, funny faces you make as you leave, or any other type of ritual that you can have to keep things consistent it can help your child more quickly acclimate to the new surroundings. You might want to rehearse the "Hi-5" or routine the night before.

The Night Before.  Before bed the night before talk through the morning routine ("we'll get up, have breakfast, get dressed, get our gear together, then walk to school") so expectations are set. (You might also want to put together a "Morning Routine" chart with times that things should be happening). Set the tone of what good-bye will be like. Make lunch the night before if you can-- and let kids help. Let them pick out the clothes they want to wear. Start the bedtime routine early and get the lights out early.

Set out what everyone will wear the night before.  To keep the nerves from devolving into a "I don't know what to wear" battle,  have everyone pick out clothes the night before. 

First Day Of School-- In the morning,  give yourself an extra 15 minutes and leave early. Try not to rush around-- that will just get everyone more tense. If they can help you fix their lunch (gives them a sense of control), let them help. If you can, get to school a bit early so it's less overwhelming with all the other kids your child may not know. If you can bring some 'lovey' that makes your child more comfortable, let them (unless not allowed by the school).

Remember the First Day of School Photo! Consider doing something that can become a tradition. Hold up a sign with their grade.  Here are some great ideas!

During drop-off stay positive and upbeat. Be prepared for them to be teary and upset-- reinforce when you leave (and don't stick around too long-- that just makes it harder for both of you) that they will have fun, make friends, and that school is good for the whole family. Don't ask if it's okay to leave; just be firm and say it's time for you to go. (And don't try to skip out without them knowing--tell them you're going). Also, tell your child when you (or some other caregiver) will return to pick them up.

Give them a "one friend" goal. Tell them to make a new friend each day and to introduce you to that new friend. It can give them a "something" to do that diverts them from their nerves. 

Back up and let them find their own space. Don't interact unless you absolutely have to, making them comfortable without you. 

Adjusting quickly--a Photo Idea. One thing that helped my new preschoolers was to take photos of the students and teacher on the first day of school, load up the photos, and have her tell me the names of the students as well as what her new 'friends' were like. (Many times the class will wear name tags which helps you learn the names). Somehow seeing the kids on the computer at home made it more a part of her life instead of "that place" she has to go. She also got to know the names of the other kids quickly which helped her feel more comfortable with her classmates. (NOTE: I also put them up on a photo sharing site and sent them out to all the other parents to help their kids as well. This requires a bit more planning (collecting other parent's emails) and more energy, but it's well worth it).

What about moms and dads that might have a hard time adjusting?

Keep your own emotions in check. You may be torn and feeling anxious yourself, but realize that the teachers have done this all before and know how to redirect their energies to something more fun. Your child will pick up on your nerves and your mixed emotions. Deep down you know that this is good for them; let that confidence show. It will be okay; the school knows your number if something happens or they need you.

Do something fun that makes you feel good. The first day of school may be more difficult for you than your child, with mixed emotions of relief, joy, and terror. You can't be with them forever-- school is a great way to help them grow up without you, as hard as that is right now. Get teary after you leave your child if you feel the need (I still do and my oldest is going into 5th), and spend the time doing something for you; my guess is that you could use a little more TLC.

 FINAL REMINDER:  Teachers are experts at managing transitions. Rely on them to know what things to try with different types of kids. Trust them to be your guide; they will know how to help your kids.

Good Luck on the First Day of School!



 Samantha on her first day of preschool14 years ago!


Other resources:

Helping Your Child Adjust to Preschool

Your Child's First Day in Preschool

Cures for First-Day Jitters

Tips to calm your child's first-day jitters