I remember the first day of school when Mrs. Carruthers gave us a candy bar in exchange for our name and address, when Mrs. Cottam scolded me for not dressing warmly enough, when the bus picked up my last child for kindergarten and when my first child called to report on his college experience. The beginning of a new school year is a memorable time for children (and parents). It can be exciting, dreaded, anxious or a mix of all three. Help your child enjoy that first day by observing 10 R's.
Review the classroom
Schools are usually open during the last weeks of summer, and it is a good time to visit your child's classroom, lunchroom and bus area. If your school holds a meet and greet for students and teachers to get to know each other, be sure to attend. It will help both you and your child to have as much information as possible before the year starts.
In the weeks before school starts, check out school websites for lists of needed supplies and purchase at least the basics. The night before school begins set out equipped backpacks and plan the day's outfit so you won't be scrambling more than eggs the next morning.
Reflect on the past and anticipate the future
The Sunday before school begins our family holds a family meeting to review schedules, routines and goals for the new year. We discuss past successes and highlights of the previous year to reassure children that great times are around the corner. We also participate in a special prayer and then write down thoughts and feelings for children to refer to throughout the coming year. This tradition helps to calm nerves and increase anticipation for a bright and happy school year.
Young children almost always have butterflies about the first day of school and helping them anticipate what to expect can alleviate anxieties. Great back to school literature abounds to help children relate to characters undertaking new experiences. First Day Jitters, Franklin Goes to School, Pooh's First Day of School, Junie B., First Grader (at Last!), and Middle School, the Real Deal are all excellent resources to help ease jittery nerves.
wRite a note
Write your child a note expressing your love and confidence and slip it into her lunchbox or stick it on her new folder. While 'tweens may act embarrassed at such a gesture, they secretly appreciate the encouragement and love.
Whether you tell a particular bedtime story the night before or a make special breakfast the morning of that first day, establish some back to school rituals your child can count on and look forward to. Every year when they walk in the door my children know homemade chocolate chip cookies and a listening ear will be waiting for them. It's a tradition my mom established that I cherish and thus continue with my own family. Rituals bind families together and provide security and warmth at a time that can be challenging.
Regardless of your child's begrudging attitude, pull out the camera and snap a photo of him on the first day of school. Make a sign with his age and grade and have him hold it when you take the picture to help you remember the details. Don't forget to snap a few shots of the neighbor kids at the bus stop. Someday the kids will treasure the memories those pictures capture.
Rearrange your schedule
If at all possible, arrange your schedule so you can be present when your child leaves and comes home that first day. It is a pivotal time for her and you don't want to miss out on all the details. If you are a stay-at-home parent, stop the housework or step away from the computer at least 30 minutes before she comes home so that you can mentally switch from your own agenda to your child's. Being there for her goes a long way to communicating your love.
Be fully engaged as your child reports about his first day. He will likely be providing all kinds of information about events, people and feelings. As you reflectively listen you will glean important facts as well as perspectives. If you have more than one child, be sure to set aside time to listen to and understand each one.
When that first day on the job is over, sit back and relax a little with the kids. Enjoy a good dinner before starting to fill out all the paperwork, and know that you've all taken your first step toward a fantastic new year at school.