Preparing Your Child for the First Day of School
Hey Friends, I’m Sarah Baldwin welcoming you to another “Sunday with Sarah.”
It’s early September and many of you will be sending your child to preschool for the first time in the coming days, so today I’m going to give you a few tips on preparing your child for that special milestone!
I’m here to make sure that the first day of school is as pleasant for you as it will be for your child.
To start, here are some ways you can prepare your child BEFORE the First Day. Try to make connections with the teacher, your child’s classmates, and the other families in the class ahead of time.
Most Waldorf early childhood teachers will make a home visit with the child before the first day of school. Many parents worry that the teacher is coming to judge the child’s home life, but this is not at all true!
The benefit is to make a connection one-on-one between teacher and child in the child’s own home environment which is familiar and comfortable. Teacher and child might read a book together, or do a puzzle. The child can show the teacher his favorite toys and where he plays outside.
Of course, if your child is not going to a Waldorf program this might not be an option that’s offered. BUT, you can always invite the teacher to your home for lunch or for tea, and he or she might just say yes. Other than home visits which I would initiate, parents rarely invited me to their homes, but any time they did, I always felt greatly honored and welcomed the opportunity.
If a visit to your home is still not a possibility, then do make a point to visit your child’s classroom before the first day of school. Teachers are usually in their classroom in the weeks leading up to the first day getting their rooms ready for the children. If the offer hasn’t already been extended to visit the classroom ahead of time, ask if you can come visit.
When you visit, you will, of course, introduce your child to their teacher. Have the teacher show the child around, show her where she will hang her things and put her lunchbox. Show the child where the bathroom is, all the toys she will get to play with and visit the outdoor play area.
Have the teacher describe what the first day will be like in as much detail as possible. The more a child knows what to expect on the first day, and the fewer surprises, the less anxiety there will be.
If possible, try to meet the other kids and their families ahead of time. It will help a child so much if there are familiar welcoming faces in the class on the first day of school.
Many schools and programs will arrange a picnic or potluck prior to the first day of school for the families in a class. If such an event has been planned for your class, by all means go!
It really does take a village to raise a child, and the families in your child’s class will be part of your village for this first year of school. It’s a great gift to children to start building your community at the outset of the school year. If your teacher or the school hasn’t planned such a gathering, you can suggest it. If the teacher or school is still not open to planning such a gathering, take the initiative and plan a potluck on your own or with another parent from the class.
Ask the teacher for a class list with email addresses and extend invitations. You can gather at a public park or someone’s home.
The Night Before the First Day
Plan a calm and peaceful evening the night before. An early dinner time, relaxed bath time and time for connection and stories before an early bedtime. Help your child to feel calm and relaxed the night before. Be close and be present.
Get organized the night before. You can pack your child’s snacks or lunch ahead of time with your child. Choose the first day of school clothes they will wear and lay them out.
I recommend choosing comfortable clothes that kids can move and play in, like sweatpants, shorts or leggings.
Most early childhood teachers don’t like blue jeans. They can be stiff or tight, they can fall down, and are cold, heavy and slow-to-dry when they get wet.
Be sure to pack and dress them in clothes that are appropriate for the weather. Even if it’s a warm day in early September, make sure they have a sweater, fleece, or sweatshirt in case the weather should cool off.
If your child is going to a Waldorf preschool, they will likely be spending a lot of time outdoors
In my Waldorf classroom, I asked that every child have a rain jacket, rain pants and rain boots to be kept at school – not only for rainy days, but also to walk down to the stream and to play in the mud.
Set the breakfast table the night before and plan what you will have for breakfast.
So now you have some ideas on how to prepare your child for the first day of school ahead of time. Next, I am going to give you tips on how to make that hard goodbye on the first day of school easier for you and your child. But before I do, if you are finding this video helpful, please be sure to like this video and subscribe to the “Sunday with Sarah” YouTube channel. If you click the little notification bell, you will be notified when I post a new video on the first Sunday of each month.
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So now the big day has finally come! On the morning of the first day of school, rise early, allowing yourself plenty of time so that you are not rushed in the morning. Children feel anxious and tempers can flare when we are rushing. Allow plenty of time to get to school at a leisurely pace.
Even if you are experiencing your own emotions and separation anxiety at the thought of saying goodbye to your child, stay calm and centered, projecting trust and confidence in child’s teacher, and certainty that your child will be okay. Meditate in the morning before your child wakes, if that helps!
When you get to school, after greeting the teacher and helping your child hang her things, (in most cases I recommend not staying more than 10-15 minutes the first day – but ask the teacher what she suggests). But know that the longer you stay, the longer it will take for your child to engage with the other children and the morning’s activities.
When it’s time to go, offer a big hug and keep a positive and matter-of-fact attitude, even if your child becomes emotional. Do not get emotional yourself or project worry about your child. If your child sees that you are okay, they are more likely to trust that they are okay.
You can say:
"I know that it’s hard to say goodbye, but I know that you're going to have a special time today. I'll be back soon to get you at the end of the day."
Even better is to create a morning drop-off ritual that you repeat day-after-day. As I’ve discussed in past videos, creating rhythms and rituals is so beneficial for children and parents, helping children to feel secure in knowing what comes next. I loved this idea from Christina, a Waldorf early childhood teacher and the host of the podcast Little Sprigs:
She suggests saying something like this to your child when you arrive at school every day:
“I will hold your hand and walk you to the door. I will wait until you’ve taken off your jacket and hung up your backpack, then I will give you a big hug and three kisses. After I say goodbye and am walking away, I will blow you one more kiss. Be sure to catch it and put it in your pocket, where it will stay with you all day!”
Repeating this little script daily will give your child so much comfort and confidence. But THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is when you leave, and after you’ve blown that last kiss, do NOT turn around again and don’t look back. Walk confidently to your car. If you have tears streaming down your face, don’t let your child see them!
Over years of teaching preschool and kindergarten, I have seen what happens when a parent lingers in the parking lot or hovers by the door of the classroom, listening for her child’s tears. I’ve seen the anxious look on Mom’s face, wondering if her child is okay. And her child is at the window seeing all this, too, and getting even more anxious and worried that something is wrong.
I know how hard it is to leave your child for the first time and to say goodbye and to cross this major threshold of school. But I am here to assure you that 99% of the time, as soon as the parent is out of sight, the child has stopped crying and is happily playing within five minutes. And in the other 1% of the cases, the crying has stopped within 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, that poor parent, having walked away that morning from their crying child, has suffered a miserable day, worrying about their child all day, while the child has been happily playing and making new friends!
So, Happy First Day of School, and congratulations on reaching this major milestone!
Thank you so much for tuning in today. I really appreciate the time you took to watch this video. Don’t forget to subscribe, if you haven’t already.
If you have a comment or question for me, please post it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to get to it. I may even answer it in a future video!
Thanks again and see you next month!