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Adventures in Early Childhood: Supporting the back-to-school transition

From Erin Carlson

Can you believe it's "Back to School" time already?! Summer vacation is soon over for kids of all ages, but it's an especially exciting time for the 3 through 6-year olds I'm used to working with! Some children are just getting ready to begin their first ever school experience as they enter preschool. Other children are preparing to begin kindergarten. In either situation, it's a new experience with new people, a new environment, new experiences, and new emotions!

Children who are at preschool age are still steadily developing emotionally. Some children may have never been in a group setting away from their parents, so entering preschool may be scary. It's beneficial for children to know where they will be spending their day as they get ready to branch out, so visiting your child's classroom and meeting the teacher and other families in the program can help your child feel safe and secure about the transition.

Entering kindergarten is a big step in a young child's life! Even children who have previously gone to school in an early childhood program think it's a pretty big deal to be old enough to go to "big kid school." Even though children are, for the most part, excited about starting kindergarten, the excitement is often mixed with other emotions. Especially as the school year start date gets closer and closer, children may feel scared, worried, sad, and anxious on top of their excitement. A child may be scared to be in a new environment with new faces; he may be worried he won't have friends at his new school; he may feel sad about leaving the people he loves at home, daycare, or preschool; and he might feel anxious as all these emotions meld together in his tiny body.

With either preschool or kindergarten children, you can support their emotional health and help them ease into the transition by talking often about the changes that are happening in their lives. Children's emotional development and well-being is supported greatly by letting them know what to expect, so discuss with them the details about where they will go, who they will see, and what their daily routine will look like. I'm sure most of you who have children entering kindergarten have attended the orientations that have taken place, and that is helpful in giving children a look into what to expect for school.

Routine is also important for a child's well-being and emotional health. With the start of school comes the beginning of a new routine for many families, and we all know how a change in routine can take some getting used to. Begin your school day routine with your child prior to the first day of school in order to help eliminate any issues or difficulties when school starts. Many children will be getting up a lot earlier than they are used to, so it's good to start early and practice. On the first day of school, make sure you allow enough time so your child is not rushed... you don't want to add to the anxiety he may already be feeling!

Once school begins, especially in the first week or two, make sure you set aside time each day to discuss your child's day with him. Ask him what his favorite part of the day was, what books they read in school, how lunch went, and who he played with. If you see your child struggling with discussing details, set aside the discussion for later. Don't push it.

Best of luck to all of you during this exciting time!