The transition to a new school year can be an emotional time for both parents and children. For many preschoolers, this may be the first time spent away from home and will mark a huge milestone in your child’s new life as a student. While the process will be different for every family, there are a few points that are important for all parents to keep in mind as they plan for a positive start to the school year.
I cannot stress enough the importance of adequate sleep for your child’s school experience. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 10-12 hours of sleep per day for children between the ages of 3 and 10 years old. The link between sleep and learning is well established, with multiple studies linking sleep to memory consolidation. Read more about this here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130226081155.htm. Additionally, sleep plays a major role in your child’s ability to regulate emotions and focus attention. Many behavior problems can be linked to insufficient sleep and some researchers are even correlating sleep patterns with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD. Read more about this here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/opinion/sunday/diagnosing-the-wrong-deficit.html
I know that it can be especially challenging to implement an early bedtime routine during these late summer weeks when bedtimes generally fall within daylight hours, but it is worth the effort as you prepare your child for the first day of school.
Routines are important for young children in their lives at home as well as at school. Establishing a consistent drop-off routine will help ease the transition from home to school and help your child know what to expect. Talk with your child ahead of time about what will happen on the first day of school when you bring her to the classroom. In our classroom we have a flexible arrival time, allowing parents to bring their child in at their convenience during a 40 minute time frame. Especially on the first day it is nice to plan to spend a few extra minutes in the classroom with your child, but it is also important to follow through on your predetermined “goodbye routine” when it is time to go. Your child will look to you for cues on whether or not it is safe for him to stay in the classroom without you. If you look sad and worried, your child will pick up on that very quickly. If you continually extend the “goodbye routine”, your child will learn to manipulate your actions in this way as well. Establishing a routine and keeping it consistent will support your child in his emerging independence.
Be present with your child and talk to him about his school day. Most preschool-aged children share very little information, so you will need to rely on information from the teacher in order to ask your child more specific questions. Listen to your child and honor her feelings while keeping in mind that children tend to add or omit critical details, especially when they are feeling emotional about something. For example, a comment such as, “No one would play with me at school today.” could refer to a two minute exchange in which a child asked another to play tag, but the other child wanted to play on the swings instead. It is important to stay in touch with the teacher when you have questions or concerns about your child’s school day. The beginning of the school year is also an important time to learn about the philosophy and programs in your child’s school and get to know the teachers as well as other parents in the classroom community.
Your child’s early school experiences will set the stage for his attitudes about school and learning going forward, and it is a huge responsibility to be trusted to support young children on this journey. Throughout their school years, parents must be advocates for their children, while also empowering them to become advocates for themselves. Strong relationships between parents and teachers are based on trust as well as the knowledge that we are working towards the common goal of guiding children in the important work of becoming their best selves.