The first day of school can be a little terrifying—for children AND their parents! As an educator, you can make this transition as smooth as possible by keeping a few things in mind. By easing stress students may have about so many changes happening at one time and ensuring parents you’ve provided a safe environment for students, everyone will find the first day of school a lot less scary that originally imagined. Here are a few classroom approaches you can take to calm those first-day jitters and get everyone’s school year off to a great start!
Preschool and Kindergarten Strategies:
Take It Slow!
Sometimes, it’s best to introduce little ones to big changes at a gradual pace. If children are starting preschool for the first time, classes can be split up with half of the class coming for the first part of the day and half of the class coming for the latter part of the day. This can provide a greater variety of pickup times for parents and ease stress over hectic schedules while also allowing little ones time to adapt to spending time with people they don’t fully know yet.
It’s Not a Goodbye; It’s See You Later!
It’s important to establish that students’ parents aren’t leaving forever but simply coming back in a few hours. Helping families establish goodbye routines (a wave, hug, or kiss goodbye) is a great way to give students a proper send-off and reassure little ones that parents will return. It also helps cut down on lingering parents and acts as an opportunity to teach responsibility. Yes, mommy and daddy are leaving, but it’s to complete work just as students will be responsible for their own preschool jobs. Once complete, reassure children that parents will be back to pick them up and congratulate them on jobs well done!
Keep First Days Familiar!
A strategy as simple as allowing children to bring their favorite stuffed animal to school with them is a great way for children to still feel connected to home. This little piece of home will provide comfort in a way you can’t without knowing the child yet. Another great alternative is having parents get involved by selecting and framing a family photo to take in for the first day. This can either be stored in cubbies or put on display at desks or in the front of the classroom where students can see them. By providing children with pictures, parents will feel more involved and assured that students have something to cling to while they are gone.
Keep in Touch
Many times, simply providing a line of open communication between you and parents will help ease parents’ nerves. Ensure you not only provide your contact information and that you know the best way to reach parents, but also that parents are aware of how best to contact you. Knowing you are responsive and only a phone call away will reassure parents and rid them of those needless first-day jitters.
Though show and tell is not quite the same across grade levels in elementary classes, it is always a great way to start classroom discussions and let students know they are not the only ones who are nervous! Having something familiar to talk about, whether it’s a family photograph or summer memento from a family vacation, will go a long way in loosening students up to feel more comfortable in a new learning environment.
Break out the Yearbooks!
Sometimes, sharing that you lived through the same experiences students are getting ready to go through is a great way to bond and make yourself more accessible to students. Bring in your old scrapbook or yearbook and share it with your students. Tell them about your positive experiences to reassure them about their own. It’s important for students to recognize that everyone goes through and adapts to life changes.
Warm up with Ice Breakers!
Knowing a little more about your classmates always makes a classroom feel more welcoming. Especially when students find out they have so much in common! Make sure you allow time at the beginning of class for students to break into small groups and learn more about each other. Walk around and join the groups so that they not only get to know more about you, but also see you as being on the same level, as opposed to a scary authority figure!
Encourage Parents to Write Notes!
Opening a lunch box to find a note from Mom will go a long way in decreasing first-day anxiety. Encourage the parents in your classroom who are worried about separation anxiety to write goodbye notes to send with children. It will calm children who feel stressed to be able to pull out the note, read it, and know their family is not far away.
Make Parents Feel Welcome!
Having parents and incoming students visit the classroom before the first day of school is a great way to allow both to see the environment before they dive in. Set up times with parents to visit the school and classroom so they can meet with you before school starts. The scariest part is the unknown and putting a face to a name can do wonders in quelling unnecessary fears. Most schools will welcome the opportunity to give parents a quick tour.