About the first days of school? Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that no matter how much you prepare, no matter what routines you have in place, it is going to be stressful, both for you and your child. Whether you are dropping off your daughter for her first day of kindergarten or it’s her first day of law school, there is just something about that first day of school. I think it’s because it feeds on our most common fear: the fear of the unknown. And it is this fear that creates butterflies in the tummies of even the most confident kids who can’t wait to get back to school.
But don’t freak out; I did promise you good news, and there’s lots of it. First of all, this day represents one more giant step towards your baby becoming the strong, confident individual that you are bringing him up to be. Let it happen. In fact, encourage it to happen. On this day, tell your child how proud of her you are and how much confidence you have in her. Our children feed off of our emotions; if you believe in them, they’ll believe in themselves. If you are one of those lucky parents whose child says, “It’s Ok, Mommy, you don’t have to come all the way to my classroom. I can do it myself,” let that little person go and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. I am not going to lie to you and tell you that the first day drop off is going to be that easy for everyone, but I can promise that even the most teary-eyed student is fine within ten minutes, max. Why? Because as teachers, we know how hard this day can be and have more plans, games and tricks up our sleeve than you can imagine, which brings me to the second bit of good news about the first day of school.
Instead of the one-word response of “stuff” or “nothing”, you can expect for the majority of the year, this week your child is likely to actually tell you what happened at school. Take advantage of this phenomenon by asking questions that demand more than a one word answer. Instead of “How was school today?” try, “What was your favorite thing that happened today?” Whatever you ask, make sure that it always has a positive spin to it; avoiding questions like, “It wasn’t that bad, was it?” Even if things don’t go so great, remain optimistic while skill being sensitive to how your child is feeling.
As part of your conversation about the first day, find out about all the forms that need to be completed and returned ASAP. No matter what your child tells you, there are forms…and lots of them. I tell my students that filling out the forms are their parents’ homework while their homework is to nag them to do it. There are so many important things we need to do that first week and collecting forms is our least favorite. I’ve even gone so far as to promise my class a pizza party if we can get everything signed, sealed and delivered within the first week. Don’t be the parent that prevents the pizza party. Seriously. It is bad enough feeling anxious and unsure during that first week, but to be singled out as the one kid who didn’t bring her forms back? The worst part is, you’re not there to explain that it was your fault. Your child is the one left feeling like they are in trouble for something they didn’t do.
The final bit of good news? Knowing that for the next ten months, your child is once again in a safe and caring environment. And by that I mean, (I am going to say this in the nicest way possible) please leave. Go home. Grab a latté. Go to work. Whatever it is you need to do, go do it. Somehow children always know when their parents are hovering around or spying on them during recess. Think about it from their point of view: if you’re not sure everything is going to be ok, why should they? Kids want to learn to be their own person, to take risks, and learn how to solve their own problems, something that is very hard to do when your mom or dad is checking up on you.
When my grade 7’s walk into my classroom this week, you know what they’ll find on each of their desks? A personalized letter written by a former student. I watch their faces as they walk in the room, scared and unsure. The first bit of relief I see is when they find their name at the top of a letter and realized that they are in the right place. As they start reading, their faces relax even more and maybe even smile and laugh. You see, those letters answer a lot of the questions and calm a lot of the fears that they had when they walked in, along with the knowledge that the author was feeling the same way exactly one year ago. Those two things seem to be just enough for my students to realize that they are not alone, that they will be ok, and that they are in the right place.