Attitudes about starting school can vary widely from age to age. Use these tips to help your child feel more confident at each stage.
This may be the first time your child attends school, or if he has been in daycare or playgroups, the first time in a more formal school setting.
Preschoolers are often worried about practical issues such as, “When are you coming back? Where is the bathroom? What if I can’t open my lunchbox? What if I don’t want to nap?”
Plan to stay around the classroom for a while for the first few days to help with any transition issues, if you can. If your child doesn’t want you to go, look for something you know your child likes to do. Young kids often like physical materials like play dough that they can work with their hands.
Turn to the teacher or guidance counselor for assistance if your preschooler won’t let you leave. Many preschool teachers have been dealing with separation issues for years, and if you picked the right school, you are leaving your child in good hands. You can often call later to check on your child.
Some preschoolers may have trouble eating or sleeping and melt down on the way to or home from school. Some may be angry at their parents for sending them to school and have trouble sleeping on Sunday nights. This phase is normal as kids are adjusting to a lot of new experiences, and usually short-lived, but if it continues you should consult with your school.
Kindergarten often means the start of a new and bigger school. Kindergartners have many of the concerns of preschoolers about leaving home, plus some new ones.
There are many new things for your child to adjust to in kindergarten. There may be more children in the class and on the playground. The school day itself may be longer, and there may be many new friends to meet. Kindergarten becomes more comfortable once kids get used to and understand the routines.
First & Second Grades
The initial transition is usually a little easier for students in these grades because they know the school and its routines. However, they may have some initial separation problems, like missing Mom or missing their friends from last year’s class. Some may feel sad about leaving their old teacher and not want to start school with another teacher because they are worried they may not like her. Some may also have trouble letting go of the last days of summer and starting a more structured routine. If children are entering a new school in these grades, you will want to introduce them to it just as you would a younger child, but do it an age-appropriate way.
Third through Fifth Grades
At this age, kids may really feel they “own” their school; they know how to find their way around, and are generally excited to return. Their big issues are adjusting to a new teacher, and studying and doing homework again after the summer. They may like their teachers less, because more work is expected.
Some children may feel a bit lost academically, as they may not think they remember everything they knew when school ended last spring. It’s useful to remind them that the new school year starts with a review of last year, and it may be helpful to go over homework routines to get them off to a good start. It may also be very useful to review memos from your child’s teacher together to make expectations clear.
Some students in the fourth and fifth grades may be switching classes for the first time, and this can be both exciting and a little scary, so be prepared for plenty of discussion. Students may need to figure out strategies for keeping track of homework assignments from different teachers, and adjust to different teaching styles. Parents may need to adjust to the fact their children do not wish to share the details about school that they used to when they were younger. This is not a rejection; it’s developmentally appropriate, but it can be challenging!
Moving to a New School
If you’ve moved or your child is switching schools, much of the advice in this article will help. In particular, you may want to do things to help your child feel physically and emotionally secure and comfortable. Review the route carefully. If you tour the school before it starts, go over the floor plan find the bathroom together, and find their classroom as well as other classes in the building. Meet as many people as you can in advance. This is important for your preschooler and your fifth grader too.