Transition to School
Intro from Debbie Houston, Head of Virginia Chance School
You are helping your child by being a role model and example, by being an empathetic listener and supporter and by being an encourager. If you want your child to be confident and positive and able to take new risks, then you will model that same behavior. You will help by listening to your child and giving her the time to share (or not share) her day. You will help your child as you encourage them in their new class, with their new teachers and new friends.
But what about YOU? You are helping yourself as you focus on how you can do those things to help your child, because when you do, you become a better parent, listener, supporter and encourager. Secondly, as you allow yourself to feel your own emotions you become better at processing them and being able to let them go. So go ahead and cry, just not around your child, so they don’t pick up your emotions and try to tote those and their own. Thirdly, as you go through another “letting go” of your child, you learn to trust others to care about your child too and you learn to trust your own child. You trust they will use their words to let others know what they want or need (they certainly do that with you!); you trust that they will play with someone (they certainly play at home, at the neighbor’s, at their cousin’s house and at camp), and you trust they will learn.
This school that loves and values children, gives them a voice, creates thinkers and problem-solvers, and meets children where they are and challenges them to grow and learn beyond what you can imagine trusts your children too. And remember, you are a lifelong learner and growing too! So I encourage you today to focus on trust.
How to Help Your Child Transition to a New Class or to School
Feelings of great excitement, anxiety, anticipation, relief, and fear are common...in your child and in you! If you are a parent of a child who has already been in school, then you join those who might be counting down the days until your life gets back to a bit of a routine! If you are a parent of a child who is starting school, switching to a new class or grade level, or starting Kindergarten, then you might be feeling a bit anxious. ALL of those back-to-school feelings are normal, and everyone processes feelings in their own way. As your child prepares for the first day of school, I want to provide you with some ways to help your child start the year with positive and eager anticipation and to help them feel comfortable and at ease. Please know that being anxious in a new situation or transition is a normal feeling. Even returning students can feel anxious because they will be in a new class, have new classmates and teachers.
You can help—Here are 5 ways:
Connect emotionally with your child. Hold them, sit next to them, rub their back and reassure your child that you will be rooting for them, supporting them and that you will be at carpool to pick them up, at home waiting for them, or will see them right after work. Write a note for his backpack and have him write a note or draw a picture for your laptop bag or purse. Find a small object for her backpack or tote bag that reminds you of one another (the picture of your family at the beach, one of the rocks you found on a hike together, a tennis ball to remind him that you will play tennis together as soon as you get home, the book you have already picked out for read-aloud that night). You can make matching friendship bracelets to wear while you are apart or draw a heart on his hand with a marker to remind him of your love. Talk about how when you are apart, your hearts stay connected and your love never leaves her. Also, practice saying goodbye! Establish a routine of how you say goodbye—“I love you; you love me; I will see you at 3!” “I go to work; you go to school, at night, we have fun together—that’s our rule!” “Have a great day; I love you in every way!” and the tried and true, “See you later, alligator” and its reply, “After while, crocodile.”
You have visited the school and walked his or her path to the classroom, and you and your child have met your teachers. You have seen the new classroom so talk about what you saw there that might be fun to play or do. In addition, help your child connect emotionally to his new teachers by talking about the teachers: “Ms. Corinne plays guitar just like daddy does.” “Mrs. Vokurka and Ms. Isham will be so surprised that you can already write some of your lower case letters.” “Do you think your teachers would like to have a picture you painted at your summer art class?” “Ms. Jessie and Ms. Rozie have a Lego table in their room—they will love to see how well you can build with Legos.” You have your child’s schedule in your Opening Conference Packet. Talk about their day, telling them what is going to happen. Talk about what she already knows and likes, what he wants to do or learn this year and one thing he wants to do in his classroom. In and outside the building, Virginia Chance School has been busy making preparations to be just right for your child’s first day, so point out how everyone is getting ready for the new school year.
Build on your child’s successes in the past—in and outside of school. Reminders of past accomplishments can motivate them for new ones in the future. “You love to have fun and learn new things—that is what you will do each day” “You already know how to share and play with other friends, so you will do that with this class too.” “You had such a fun time in Basketball last year—I wonder if you would like to do that again.” “I remember how well you handled that tough situation on the playground and how you worked that out—you have that skill for anything you need this year too.” “You read so many books this summer and you have grown in your reading skills—you will enjoy your new literature groups this year.” and “You are such a big girl now that you’ve had your third birthday—you are ready for this.” are all ways to talk about what your child has done and can do. Treating your child as a capable young person will help them see themselves that way.
Many of you will shout “hallelujah!” when carpool begins on that first day; others will want to shed a tear or two. To be most helpful to your child, process your own emotions away from them. If they see you are sad and hear anxiety from you, then they will note that school is so sad and scary for you so it must be for them too. For parents, how your own school experience was or how you remember school and the first day may continue to be a part of your thinking today. Perhaps, it is letting go that is the most difficult part of your feelings. Feelings of great excitement, anxiety, anticipation, relief, and fear are common for parents, children and even grandparents! I want to assure you that you are sending your child to a school where we relish loving your children, supporting them emotionally, and help them feel safe and ready to grow. Here we treat your children and you with dignity and respect. So while they are away from you, they are being loved by us! So please, while they are at school, take care of yourself! Go get coffee (treat yourself to that high-calorie one!); call your significant other to talk it through, meet a friend for lunch; connect with another Virginia Chance parent!
And one more very practical way to help your child:
Back to school rituals are important to your child. Rituals give them a sense of tradition and also helps prepare them. When you give yourself extra time in the morning and make the effort to prepare for going to school the night before, children feel calmer, valued, and they feel prepared and less anxious. Rituals of school pictures on the first day, a special read aloud book the night before, a phone call to a grandparent, a time to snuggle and talk about your favorite part of the summer and what they want to do at school are ways to establish the specialness of starting school. It is important to maintain bedtimes because tired children are less able to regulate their emotions. Get ready the night or day before too! Let them pick out their clothes and lay them out the night before to avoid struggles in the morning; prepare the lunch together and load the new lunchbox (you can tuck in a note or picture!); let them get their back back or bag ready with all of their supplies loaded and ready to go; and please, find those shoes and put them by the door! Being ready will help their morning (and yours) be calmer and smoother. When children feel prepared and that they will have what they need, then they are ready to put their energy into their first day of school! One more be ready: be ready and waiting in carpool at the end of their school day. They will be ready to see you. Please know that they may not want or be able to tell you anything about their day. A few directed questions may help, “What center did you like best today?” “Who did you sit beside for snack?” “What was the most fun on the playground?” Bombarding your child with questions is not helpful so if they do not want to talk about their day, wait a while, and ask again later (after a snack, nap or downtime or even at bedtime).
I promise you that our faculty and staff will be working to help your child be successful in every way here—socially, emotionally, morally, physically and intellectually. The way your child will be treated with dignity and respect at Virginia Chance is like no other school. It won’t be long until your child has made the transition to a new class with new friends and is begging to go to school - even on Saturdays. You might be begging for them to go too!
Looking forward to an exciting year with your child and with you,
Head of School