“If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders.”
—Abigail Van Buren (the original “Dear Abby”)
It’s still July, but it’s not too early to think about the beginning of the school year. Taking a hint from the stores filled with school supplies and back-to-school specials, we can set the stage for our children to start school with their feet on the ground, happily pointed in the right direction.
I’ve heard many a parent say that the beginning of school each fall is the “new” New Year’s Day: a good time to make positive changes. The following ideas might be incorporated into your back-to-school resolutions.
Help Your Child Know What to Expect
For the first-time preschooler, a tour of the school before the first day of class is essential, not only to meet the teacher and see the classroom, but also to become familiar with the bathroom, nap room, office staff, etc. Let them know where they can go for help or to ask questions. Perhaps they can play on the playground and explore the school. Explain what the day will be like: drop off, lunch, recess, and pick-up. You may wish to make several visits during the week before school starts.
Every school has some type of orientation, and, for the youngest, a period of adaptation. For your preschooler’s first days away from home, the teacher may request that you be available to pick him up early if he tires of the demanding schedule. Young children have difficulty with the concept of time. They need to experience how long the day is and discover that you will return later… much later. Of course it helps if your child has already experienced being away from you at daycare or at a friend’s house.
Be aware of your own challenges in separating from your child. Children pick up on parents’ feelings, so make peace with your own doubts or concerns. If your child is having difficulty with a new routine, take a look at yourself, too. Seek out other adults or parents for support and ideas for this new challenge.
Routines Make Everything Easier
Whether starting in a new school or returning to a familiar one, it’s helpful for children to know the territory. Predictability – knowing what to expect – is the bedrock of a child’s security. It’s time to start thinking about the morning and evening routines that will work for you and your family. If you establish un-rushed schedules, everything works better and everyone feels better.
Summer is a good time to begin to let your child learn new things and become responsible for many tasks previously relegated to parents. She might begin to dress herself, help prepare her lunch, feed the dog, or learn to pour her own milk.
Remember, young children are not little adults. While adults are goal-directed and thinking ahead, children live in the present. That’s why they don’t always follow your agenda. They may become more interested in the buttons on their coat than in putting the coat on. Because it is easy to get frustrated with these situations, many parents mistakenly think the children are purposely “driving them crazy.” If you schedule ample time, it’s easier to keep your cool and help your child re-focus or assist him with the task at hand.
The Night Before
- Help your child put out clothes for the next day.
- Help pack his backpack for the next day, including permission slips, library books, etc.
- Talk about the plans for the day – after school activities, pick-up arrangements, etc.
- Structure bedtimes so that your children have adequate sleep: 9 to 10 hours (and 2-3 hours of naps) for toddlers; 10 to 12 hours for children aged 3 to 12.
- Keep the bedtime routine the same (baths, stories, etc.); make it uncomplicated so that it doesn’t take the whole evening.
In the Morning
- Get yourself up early with time to spare. (Parents say things work best if they get up first to prepare themselves for the day. Having a leisurely breakfast allows everyone to enjoy the morning. It is well worth the effort to get up 15 minutes early to avoid the hassle of being late and needing to rush.)
- Pack lunches if you did not do so the night before.
- Sit down to eat breakfast with your children, setting a good example.
- Stay positive, present, and pleasant. Hopefully there is time for the unpredictable “catastrophe” such as lost mittens, spilled milk, or bad weather.
So, now is a good time to adjust our schedules and routines. The more organized and prepared we are, the easier it will be for our children to get off to school on the right foot – every day!
“From an early age children want to be independent, but in this era of continual rushing, parents thwart them by being too eager to do things for them. If you will take the time to teach your child to do things for himself, the rewards will be great for both of you.”
—Elizabeth Hainstock Teaching Montessori in the Home
—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.