Starting school is a different experience for everyone and there are some things that can make it better. For younger kids especially, you can:
1. Read books on starting school – from Dumpy to Franklin to Caillou – there is a plethora of books on how it feels to start school and what to expect. Kids learn a surprising amount of stuff from books and re-reading them before and for the first weeks of school brings reassurance and pleasure. One of our favorite ones is “Suki’s Kimono” by Chieri Uegaki, where Suki happily wears to school a kimono that was a gift from her grandmother to the consternation of her sister who wears more modern clothing. Delightfully told and gorgeously illustrated is a wonderful tale of being true to who you are. For a fuller section of books on back to school we recommend, see our http://www.pinterest.com/mybesthelper page.
2. Review what they did over the summer – many kids are stumped when other children or their teachers ask them what they did on their holidays. A quick reminder of anything cool or a bit unusual that they can excitedly describe (see earlier blog post on ideas for that) helps them feel prepared and they can excel in a situation where otherwise they appear tongue tied.
3. Let them bring one special item – school supplies or a small toy that they chose. While focused on lists supplied by the school, we often forget a small-not-required-fun something that makes them feel loved and special. It need not be a new thing, but something that they want and makes them feel special is helpful to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed. The one thing to remember is that it needs to be something that will not be a disaster if lost or broken. One of our kids went to school with a key chain with a cool insect trapped in an amber stone only to return in tears as one of her classmates deliberately picked it up and proceed to crash it with a stone. The boy was reprimanded, but the key chain was not replaceable and the memory still causes tearful eyes for her.
4. Organize play dates with classmates – getting kids to spend some one-on-one time outside of school helps create better connections within school. If they are grade 3 or below, the adults often need to help set these up and get them going, so get to know the other parents and take the initiative – the other parents are often grateful to be approached!
5. Discuss your own memories – good and bad – as this helps kids realize that it needs not to be perfect and reduces their fears. Get them to connect to extended family by asking grandparents, aunts and uncles about their memories from school.
After they are back from their first days, to avoid monosyllabic responses, don’t start with the overwhelmingly open ended “So, how was your day?”. Instead you can go for “Who did you play with? What was your favorite activity? Why did you enjoy it? Was anything surprising? Did anything make you sad? What changed in the school? What/who did you look forward to seeing again?” Specific questions can encourage even the most tired and reluctant little kid into a lovely conversation. With some kids, to get to an answer, you have to get them to draw what they liked the most about their first day.
Alexandra T. Greenhill, MD, mother of three CEO and Co-founder myBestHelper