Whether or not children have attended preschool or kindergarten readiness programs, the first day of “real” school can be emotional —for both parents and kids alike.
Still, there are strategies parents and schools can use to make the First Day of School exciting rather than traumatic. And Diocese of Orange Catholic grade schools offer ingenious ways to help ease the transition.
“We have the parents and the child take a picture together” on the first day of school,” said Sonia Ramirez, assistant principal and teacher at Santa Ana’s St. Joseph School.
“The picture is printed and taped to the child’s desk as a reminder that their parents love them and will pick them up.”
Parents are encouraged to participate in the morning prayer, then go to the school hall to socialize with the other kindergarten parents, Ramirez added.
Children’s’ behavior on the first day of school varies wildly. It depends not only on previous classroom experience but
also on parental attitudes, conduct and expression, explained Mary Flock, principal of St. Bonaventure Catholic School in Huntington Beach.
“We see all sorts of different behavior,” Flock said. “If a child has never been on campus before, he or she can become frightened. In other cases, it’s the parents who are emotional.”
To properly prepare for school, Flock explained that parents and their families should take advantage of every introductory opportunity the school offers. These programs may include new student orientation, where parents and students-to-be can meet their teachers, or summer programs during which families get to know each other for off-campus fun.
“If a school doesn’t offer anything, visit the school campus on Sunday after church and walk the grounds, talk about what school will be like and read a book together
on campus so that children understand the correlation,” she suggested. “Many times, after church we’ll have donuts and coffee, and this is a good opportunity for children to socialize – they can play together, and parents can see how their kids interact with others.”
Classroom strategies for kindergarten students at St. Joseph School include “desk pets” that help students calm down and remain seated, Ramirez noted. A “Jesus corner” offers a comfortable area where students can listen to relaxing music.
At home, parental date nights can help kids get comfortable with other adults and authority figures, Flock said. “What will ensure children’s’ success is knowing they will be in safe hands. They must know that they are not being abandoned.”
Flock emphasized that parents must instill some independence and responsibility in their children.
“Make kids find their own shoes, because in school that’s what they’ll have to do,” she suggested. “When you go grocery shopping, ask the child to bring the bags. Let them carry their own backpacks, because in the classroom no one will be collecting their lunch or belongings for them.”
In addition, establishing weekday routines can help kids get excited rather than anxious, she said. A week or two before school starts, bedtimes and wakeup times should align with the school day. And kids will enjoy practicing, by packing their things and choosing their outfits.
“If you don’t have to rush on that first morning, it can be calm, exciting and fun,” said Flock.