Helping Children Embrace Change: First Time At School

By Colleen Brunetti, M.Ed., C.HC.

For some of you, the first day of school is just around the corner! Whether it be pre-school, or kindergarten, that big transition can leave both parent and child a little uncertain. Here are some tips to ease the transition on the big day!

1. Create a story
Tell the story of what will happen on the first day of school, keep it simple and concrete, such as: “You will wake up and get dressed and have breakfast. Then I will drive you to school. We will hang up your backpack, I will give you a big hug and kiss and go. You will stay and have lots of fun with new friends. Then I will come back and get you and you can tell me everything you did!”

Repeat this story often, daily or more. I did this with my son when he was three and getting ready for preschool. He often requested, “Mama, tell me the preschool story!”. On the first day of preschool, he buried his little head in my neck and whispered the request again. I told the story choking back tears and high-tailed it out of there so he couldn’t see me cry. It was the best thing I could have done for him, to prepare him that way.

2. Read books
There are many wonderful books about first days at school. Here are a few favorites (hint – get some tissues to get you through the first few readings).

  • Mrs. Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, By Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff
  • The Night Before Preschool, By Natasha Wing (Look for her other titles, such as The Night Before Kindergarten, and The Night Before First Grade)
  • The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn

3. Establish routine
Create a picture chart showing what the child will be doing each morning to get ready. This helps a great deal in easing children’s fears. Often, it isn’t going to school that makes them jumpy. Rather, it is the unknown or change in routine that throws them for a loop. So create a strong routine that is easy for them to understand, and watch them thrive! Here’s the one we used at our house for the first several months of kindergarten – you can easily modify it to match your routine. Consider adding photos of your child completing each step, or letting them cut out pictures from a magazine to illustrate.

My friends and I joke there are two types of mamas: those who cry on the first day of school as their “baby” goes off, and those who cry on the last as their “baby” completes a big milestone. I’m a first dayer… what will you be?