How to Prep for the First Day of School?

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Many little ones are about to start a long journey of schooling in the coming days. Here are some tips on how to get ready and make the most of it:

Arrange a tour
If possible, arrange a tour of the school with your little one to introduce the place. Meet the teachers, talk about the environment, where they will go potty, where they will have snack, some of the activities that they will do, friends that they will meet. Make it as positive as possible but don’t fake it. Be genuinely excited for them, they will know when you are trying to hard sell it!

Talk them through what to expect
Will they have to wear a uniform? When will mama pick them up? Will daddy do drop offs? Will you pack them a snack or is lunch served? Be as honest and transparent as possible, the more you talk about it, the more your child will settle faster as they know what to expect. Imagine walking into an entirely new situation blindly – children too need the assurance and prep.

Don’t shy away from the hard
So often, we want to protect them from all the hard things and so we try an avoid the hard conversations. What happens if you miss mama at school? What happens if you don’t understand the teacher? What happens if you don’t know where to go? Instead of avoiding the topic, empower them. Talk them through situations that might come up and help them learn what can be done and that they are capable of finding solutions. It will also amaze you to watch them become, the beautiful and different ways that they will problem solve and how much this will build their confidence and self-esteem.

Prep together
One of the best things you can do to prepare them for school is to let them take control and ownership! Shop for backpacks and water bottles together, label their things together, or even shop for snacks together to bring to school. For my daughter, because she wasn’t really talking yet (and definitely would not talk to a stranger teacher!) it gave her immense comfort to know that if she needed anything, mama had sent it to school with her already. It was as little as knowing that if she was cold, she could get a jacket from the teacher because we had packed one in the bag that stayed at school.

Let them have a say
If they can bring a comfort toy/picture to school, ask them what they would like to bring and where to keep it. What color backpack would they like? Which shoes would they like to wear? I made up a uniform for my daughter for school (I’ll write another article on why!!) and it was so much fun getting to shop for it together. She picked her pinafore because it was soft, pink, and with lots of pockets. This also meant that every morning, there is no battle to get dressed because it was her choice. If there is a formal uniform, perhaps you have some amount of choice in style- involve them as much as you can and where there is allowance to. What this means is that while she can’t bring junk to school for a snack, she can choose if she would like to bring an orange or strawberries for a snack in the fairy or robot container.

Drop-offs matter
If it is possible, let someone else drop her off that she might not be as attached to but still comfortable with. For us, it was daddy and it also worked really well with our schedule. Also, try to not carry them in but let them walk in. It sounds silly but it’s much easier to separate from the nice warm comforting hug from being carried to bye bye see you later.

Another biggie, don’t do a long goodbye even if they cry. The longer you drag it out, the harder it will be. Be empathetic, be kind, be loving, acknowledge that they are so sad but also be confident and instill confidence that they will be okay if you leave because you trust the teachers to care for them.

Give them wins
Celebrate the little things and as much as possible set them up for a win. For example, for many little ones, school is a huge adjustment as they learn to settle into a new routine and also offers much more stimulation than they are used to. A lot of times, this might also involve them coming dangerously close to a complete meltdown as school gets off so close to their nap/lunch/crazy time. If your child is finding it particularly difficult to cope, then don’t be afraid to adjust to see what would work for your child and family. Remember, everyone is different.

For example, school gets out at 1 but they are starting to fall apart at 12 and your child is inconsolable by the time you pick her up. See if you can pick up earlier so that your child is leaving on a win, not a complete meltdown. If they leave happy, they are much likelier to come back happy the next day!

For our daughter, it was adjusting the amount of days she went to school. Five days was overwhelming and exhausting for her, so we cut it down to three days and she absolutely thrived! As her “stamina” built, we worked her up to more days, always stopping to check in with her and working together to have a conversation with her, the teachers, as well as see what would work for our family.

Give it time
Be patient. They might melt down the first few days or maybe only on the third day. You will feel like a part of your heart is broken forever as they scream for you and you walk away, you will also check your watch every few minutes to see if it is pick up time or obsessively check the ringer on your phone just in case they need you to come. Give it time, mama. I’ve been there. Knew so much of this in theory but oh my heart, have I also so very been there. These days, I’m like, what?! It’s pick up time already?!?!! I swear she just left for school!

Trust the teachers
This is the biggest and the hardest one. Trust that the teachers will care for your little one. Trust that they will comfort them and look out for them. Trust that they will feed them and hear them. Trust that someday, all you will hear is how amazing their teacher is and all the fun things they got to do at school. You picked this school lovingly and it really does start with you. If you trust the teachers, they will know. Similarly, if you are hesitant, uncertain, afraid, nervous, freaked out, that’s okay too, but also remember that you are their anchor and their “person”, and if you’re scared, how are you asking them not to be scared? Your confidence momentum matters.

If you go in thinking there’s no way she’s going to make it to the end of the day, then they too will think, there’s no way they are going to make it to the end of the day. But if you trust them, if you trust the teachers to learn to be their “person”, and if you trust your child’s amazing ability to adapt and grow, you will nurture the gift of establishing healthy boundaries and the start of building a tribe and community for your little one.

*All photos but the first one courtesy of Garden International School’s Early Years Centre.

Racheal, aka Kacaumama, is a child & family development specialist by trade but her favorite part is being a mama to the most curious, fiercely independent, joyful little two-year-old foodie – who she hones most of parenting techniques and workshops with. Follow their adventures on FB (Racheal Kwacz Workshops) and instagram (@rachealkwacz)!

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