by Virginia Lozuke of Montessori Farm School
The very first day of school can be one that is full of big feelings - for parents and kids alike. It is a monumental transition. We reached out to Virginia Lozuke who is the head of school and lead teacher at Montessori Farm School in Durham NC, to see what her advice is for helping ease the transition to school for our little ones. She has had nearly 20 years of experience teaching preschool and kindergarten in the Montessori primary classroom. This means she’s had 20 years of experience helping parents and kids transition into the school year. Here are our questions and her answers:
What are some things parents can do in the weeks before school to help ease the transition for young ones who are going to preschool for the very first time?
Your child is incredibly attuned to your feelings, particularly anxiety, so I always tell parents that a smooth and confident transition begins with them feeling good. Get in touch with the school and ask all the questions you need answered to feel as comfortable as possible. Administrators and teachers are there to put your mind at ease and to make sure that you and your parenting partner feel comfortable with your choice. When you take the time to ask your questions, you will be more likely to be able to project good feelings about what’s next for your family.
The next thing I would suggest, is to think about anything that your child might be nervous about.
- Are they unsure about snack? Have a couple of special “dry runs” where you make choices together, prep the food into their containers, and have a picnic together.
- Are they nervous about drop off? Do a practice run or two where you drive by the school and role play the drop off. Keep it light, high five when you finish and take a picture or two. This takes a little of the mystery out of it, and celebrates and commemorates their bravery.
- Are they wondering about their teacher? If you have a chance to meet in advance, which ideally you do, ask if you can take a picture or two with the educator. You can also email them and find out some things your family may have in common. Any teacher would be happy to share their favorite food, favorite animal, funny childhood story, etc… Then, in those weeks leading up to school you can look at pictures of the new teacher and chat about how you all like otters, and pizza, and more.
If you have even more time you can make your very own “getting ready for school” book. In it you can put pictures of the school and the teachers that you have either taken in person, or from the school’s website. Fill the book with positive statements and maybe even the things they can expect on the first day of school. Let your child decorate and personalize it.
Speaking of books, you can also find great resources at your local library. I recommend Daniel Goes to School, from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, to reassure your little learner that adults always come back.
Are there things that we can do on the first day of school to help a child feel more comfortable?
Here are my tried and true recommendations for the first day:
- Give yourself extra time for your morning routine.
- Have clothes decided on and laid out the night before.
- Have the backpack packed and snack ready to go the night before.
- Make breakfast easy, but eat together if you can.
- Have a “parting routine” and stick to it. One suggestion, kiss, hug, fist bump and out of the car. If carline doesn’t allow for a kiss and hug at drop off you can pull over before the line and get your hug in.
- Try to stay upbeat and project that confidence you worked on above.
- Don’t linger- after the parting ritual leave as you planned to. That can be a hard moment, but if you stick to the plan you made for parting, it actually helps your child adjust more quickly and know that they can depend on the second part of the plan…pick up!
What do you suggest if a child is starting a new school, but has been in daycare or at another preschool?
Do a little research about what will be the same and what will be different. Be honest about the changes, but also reassuring. Allow time for questions and things your child might be wondering about that hadn’t occurred to you. Here is an example conversation:
Child: Will my best friend, Alice, be there?
Parent: Alice will not be at the new school and I imagine you may miss her. There will be new friends to meet, and we can make a playdate with Alice for next weekend.
Child: Do I have to nap there?
Parent: Actually, no! Your new school doesn’t require naps and lets you do art in the afternoon!
Child: Will we still have rainy day dance parties at the new school?
Parent: That’s a great question for an open house! Let’s ask your teacher together. We could even write it down, but first, go get the speaker because I think a dance party is just what we need right now!
Anything else you'd like parents to keep in mind as their littles ones start this new chapter of "preschool"?
Keep your afternoons and evenings light for the first few weeks. There may be higher emotions for all as everyone adjusts to all the newness and excitement. Ground in nature whenever you can, snuggle more and get great sleep. You’ve got this!