This summer, we are exploring the many emotions experienced by ourselves and our children on a daily basis. Take a look at our previous blog posts on empathy, jealousy, boredom, and disappointment. This week a guest blogger and kindergarten teacher, Alison Crubaugh, has an encouraging word and practical tips for parents as many of us battle feeling unprepared entering into a school year with many unanswered questions.
As a Kindergarten teacher, every spring I have families ask if their child is ready for 1st Grade. There is a natural concern and desire for parents to want their children to be prepared for the next grade. In light of brick and mortar schools closing and parents (and teachers) being thrown into a world of virtual learning, I have seen that concern from parents increase. Be assured the teachers and staff are anticipating a new beginning to the school year. Elementary teachers are aware that more students than in previous years may struggle to say “goodbye” to their parents those first few weeks of school. Our approach to beginning the school year will reflect this change. Older grades are also anticipating students who, under normal circumstances, may have no problems saying “goodbye”, experiencing anxiety or fear at the start of this year. As teachers prepare for this fall, the emotional needs of our students will be at the forefront. This will be a transition back to school that is unprecedented. Your child’s emotional needs should also be at the forefront of your mind as well. The academics will come. As teachers, we anticipate students who have not mastered all the previous grade level material. We are aware some content areas were never taught in a traditional sense. It is okay. We are preparing and adjusting to fill in those gaps. Don’t spend this summer worrying about if your child is prepared for the next grade academically. They are prepared. It might look different than previous years, but they are ready for the next grade. To help your child be prepared academically, the best thing, the most important thing, you can do this summer is read. Read to your child and with your child. Have your child read independently. If your child is not yet reading, they are still a reader. Read together through storytelling, read the pictures by labeling what you see, study the pictures in nonfiction books to discover something new. Read daily and your child will be ready for the next school year. Spend time this summer, especially the weeks leading up to the return to school, exploring the emotions of returning to school. Don’t start the night before school starts. This is a big transition as many students have been away from school for five or six months. Here are some ideas to help you and your child prepare for the return to school.
- Create a social story to read the weeks leading up to the return to school – Include how your child will get to school, things they will do at school, and how they will get home, reassuring them they will see you at the end.
- Visit the school – you will probably not be allowed inside but you can help your child be familiar with the outside/location. For older elementary students, talk about the areas of the school. Do they have a special wing for each grade level? Where is the art room or gym in the school? Help them to realize they are more familiar with the school than their emotions may be telling them.
- Create a goodby routine – For example, hug, kiss, I love you and then mom/dad leaves. Keep it short and sweet. As a teacher, I see how dragging out the goodbyes makes it more difficult for the child. I understand it is difficult to leave your child in tears, but staying an additional 5, 10, or 15 minutes will not calm your child, it will only build up the inevitable of you leaving. Teachers and pupil services will be on hand to help your child regulate their emotions. But to do that, the parents must leave. Discuss this routine with your older children, too. They might surprise you and want a hug goodbye to start the year. Maybe they want the hug and kiss at home before you drive them to school. Talk it through with them.
- Create a morning routine – For some children a visual schedule can be extremely helpful. Have pictures showing the steps for how they will get ready in the morning.
- Role play – Practice what the morning routine will be and how/where you will say goodbye. You could also role play asking a friend to join in a game or how to ask to join others in an activity.
- Talk about their feelings – If your child has been in school before there will be excitement but also apprehension about the change. Emotions can coincide together, and that’s healthy. Encourage your child to talk through the different feelings towards returning to school.
- Understand it will take time to transition smoothly back to school.
- As a parent stay calm, but don’t pretend – Your child will read your anxiety. If you are anxious about the return to school, they will be too. Do your research to calm your own anxiety. Find out what steps your school is taking to keep your child safe. Most school districts have a school or district wide nurse. They are hard at work this summer working with the school and state to make sure students are returning to safe environments.
- Be patient with teachers/administrators – We don’t have all the answers, especially in this situation. This is uncharted territory for staff as well. Ask questions, reach out to your child’s teacher, but understand they might not have the answers either, and that’s okay.
- Don’t make promises to your child about what they will and won’t be able to do at school. Special classes, lunch, recess, and classroom set up may all be very different. Many administrators don’t know what the fall will look like. This school year will be different. To what degree depends on your State, County, and/or school district guidelines, which no one can predict.
I hope these wise and timely words from Alison leave you feeling prepared to navigate the waters ahead. At the end of the day, remember to extend grace to yourself, your child, and your school’s teachers/administrators. We are all in this together, and we all want the best, safest environment for our children.
Tiffany Raley, M.A.
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