Back to school can be exciting, but overwhelming. Check out this blog post from the Scholastic Parent Staff featured on Scholastic.com.
Whether your child is just beginning kindergarten or starting a new grade as a returning student, there’s lots to be done to prepare for the year ahead, including checking in about their fears, anxieties, and concerns.
As summer winds down, it’s natural for kids to experience nervousness — after all, your child is entering a structured group setting after months away. Some children will accept the change with joy, while others may need a bit more hand-holding to acclimate.
“Children enter the school year with different skills, goals, and social-emotional aptitudes,” says Heather O’Connor, a 3rd grade teacher in Connecticut. “Teachers know this and strive to foster a strong relationship with each student from the moment they enter the classroom community.”
O’Connor encourages parents to reach out to their child’s teacher before the first day of school with questions or concerns. Since parents know their child best, this communication sets everyone up for a successful year ahead.
“Back-to-school will always be accompanied by a certain amount of nervous excitement or anxiety, but as a parent you can minimize fear of the unknown by being positive about school,” O’Connor says.
The below tips from O’Connor can help your family make a smooth transition into the school year ahead and give your child new perspective on the joys of the classroom.
- Visit the school or classroom before the first day.
This is especially important if your child is returning to in-person learning after periods of remote learning. Recently, O’Connor taught 3rd graders who had been out of the classroom for three years.
“Many of my students’ last normal year was kindergarten,” she says. “Also, many parents have never been inside of the school building because access is denied — they’ve only seen the classroom virtually.”
If your child’s teachers do not invite families to visit ahead of time, you can still take a trip to the school to see the building and the playground.
- Read books about starting school.
Stories with characters your child can relate to — especially those with characters attending their first day of kindergarten — are useful for relieving first-day jitters and providing a boost of confidence where needed.
You can also check out these comforting books about the first day of school. You’re sure to find a read-aloud that allows you moments to pause and ask your child what they’re feeling or thinking about in terms of the year ahead.
- Talk to your child about their feelings about school, friends, teachers, and new activities.
Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is a popular topic among educators today — and is being integrated into the curriculum in many school districts. SEL refers to the ways in which children build healthy relationships with themselves and with others.
This framework of self-awareness can begin at home. When discussing back-to-school, you might gauge your child’s thoughts about the classroom. Ask them what they are looking forward to and what they are interested in learning, along with any concerns they might have. (Some children might have worries about being bullied, for example. Scholastic has resources for discussing bullying with your child.)
Reading together is a great way to start the conversation. Sofia Sanchez’s You Are Enough is a best-selling book with a universal message: We all belong. It’s the perfect read for empowering your child to embrace who they are as they start their first week back at school.
- Set intentions with your child for the school year ahead.
Just like adults make intentions for the new year, students can do the same for the new school year. O’Connor, the 3rd grade teacher, recommends choosing a “focus word” with your child every month that represents their intention.
“Since children are still learning the concept of time, set a word for each month,” she says. “To reflect their back-to-school experience, September words might include friendship, perseverance, or kindness.”
Parents can then use this word to start conversations at home about your child’s classroom experience and progress.
“This allows parents an entry into conversations with their child,” O’Connor says. “Ask questions like, ‘What’s one way you lived your word today, friendship?’ Your child might reply, ‘I saw someone standing alone so I went over and asked her if she wanted to swing with me.’”
- Practice, practice, practice your reading during the summer.
Set up a book nook at home over the summer to develop a reading routine by fall. This way, you and your child (or just your child, if they’re already reading independently) will have a place to read when they get home from school.
“You definitely want to keep it clear of any distractions,” suggests O’Connor. “Make sure the space includes a shelf or basket with books that your child may want to read next. Consider books in the same series or from a variety of genres: Poetry, graphic novels, historical fiction, mysteries, and biographies are all important for your exposing your child to new words and worlds.” Here’s how to set up a reading space for your child this summer.
In addition to providing access to an array of literary options, be sure to keep a paper and a pencil nearby so your child can draw or write about their book if they wish.
- Include a note with your child’s snack or lunch.
O’Connor suggests this special touch to let your child know you’re thinking about them.
“Sometimes parents draw quick sketches of their child’s favorite book characters or a joke from their favorite funny book to guarantee a smile,” she says.
You may want to make this a daily practice to help with the transition from summer to semester. But heed O’Connor’s advice: “Use a sharpie so that the ice-pack doesn’t smudge your words.”
- Go school shopping.
Designating items as “back to school,” like an outfit or backpack, makes preparing for the school year a ritual and can stoke excitement.
You and your child can pick out new books during this time as well — and the titles don’t necessarily have to be about school. Refreshing their library at the start of each school year can be an annual tradition with the intention of starting anew and resetting your child’s mindset.
“Your child might inscribe the inside cover with what they’re most excited about in the new grade,” O’Connor says. “At the end of the year, they can add some of their favorite grade-level memories. Now you have a keepsake.”
- Encourage your child to pursue a passion project this year.
Gauge your child’s interests at the end of summer to see how their curiosity has evolved and what’s new. Ask them what topic they really want to learn about in the school year ahead.
Book sets are a great way to pinpoint books and topics that allow them to continue exploring their passions. Maybe they want to read the Harry Potter series or dive into an entirely new series that piques their interests.
“This opens up another opportunity to create excitement around learning,” O’Connor says. “Ask your child what they already know and what they wonder about. Your child can research the topic to become an expert.”
Most teachers will build in time for their students to showcase new learning, O’Connor adds.