New school supplies are labeled and neatly stacked on your dining room table. A fresh pair of running shoes sit in a box and jeans two sizes bigger than last year hang in the closet waiting to be hurriedly pulled on at the first sign of a crisp fall day. Your child is set for back to school but is he emotionally ready to face the challenges a new school year can bring?
Making the transition from one grade to the next can be difficult for kids as they navigate unfamiliar classrooms and adjust to new teachers. They may be separated from old friends and faced with making new ones. Your support is crucial at this transitional time and you need to be aware of signals that your child may be experiencing anxiety or having difficulty adjusting to the academic and social changes a new school year can bring.
We’ve all seen mothers crying at the kindergarten door (perhaps you were one of them!) as their babies march into a classroom for the very first time. The teachers look on, sympathetic yet stern. They know that kids take emotional cues from their parents. Jan Wells, a primary consultant says, “It’s the parent’s attitude towards the start of school that sets the tone. Repeating positive statements like, ‘school is going to be so exciting, it’ll be full of adventures and you’ll meet new friends’, helps the child feel positive too.” Wells suggests that parents act on opportunities to attend introductory functions, like a tea or open house to get to know the teachers. “You’re trying to reduce the number of unknowns by showing your child that school is a safe place and you’ve already established a good relationship with his teacher.” Easing your child into a back-to-school routine about a week before helps with the transition too. Wake him up a few minutes earlier each day, pick out some favourite clothes to wear, enjoy a leisurely breakfast together and most importantly, say goodbye in a light, reassuring way.
Kindergarten to Grade 1
Making the transition from kindergarten to grade one is usually not as difficult as some parents think. Surprisingly, children are eager to go back to school because it’s already been a fun experience and they’re excited about seeing their friends again. It might take a few weeks before kids realize that expectations are greater. Brian Anderson, an elementary vice principal and counselor says, “The realization that they are moving from a kindergarten environment that is more play centered into a grade one environment that is more academic is sometimes hard for them to adjust to.” Another factor that you need to consider is the increased stamina and energy level that’s required for a full day of school. For the first few weeks, your child will be extra tired, so remember to pack a healthy lunch and not to schedule too many after school play dates or activities until at least after the first month back.
Peer Pressure in Younger Grades?
It’s not unusual for a six-year-old to suddenly wake up with a stomach ache and not want to go to school. Unfortunately being bullied is a fairly common occurrence even at such a young age. A visit with the principal is definitely in order but make sure you have all the facts before you go. Wells suggests that families set aside some uninterrupted time to give their children an opportunity to talk about their day, ask questions or simply relax and spend time with you. If your child seems withdrawn, has trouble sleeping or shows signs of nervousness, see your family doctor to explore what may be the start of anxiety or depression issues.
Puberty, What Fun!?
Last year your son might have thought girls were yucky but his year he may find them interesting. The later elementary years bring not only increased homework but also awkwardness as puberty sets in. Conflicts between friends can arise when one wants to play baseball and the other would rather spend time with a girl during lunch break. Vice Principal Anderson’s school offered options at a recent grade seven dance. A separate games room was set up next to the gym to give students an oppotunity to socialize in a different way. “Some kids were happy to play video games they brought from home and other kids really wanted to be out there dancing. It’s the school’s job to understand and provide for those kinds of developmental issues.”
Goodbye Grade School
Perhaps the biggest transition your child will experience is leaving elementary school for high school. Fortunately there are programs in place to make it easier to climb the next step up the education ladder. Anxious feelings about leaving elementary school for junior high or high school tend to disappear by the time September rolls around. It’s important that students bring closure to their elementary years by celebrating graduation and taking part in other special activities planned especially for them.
Studies show that a child’s education is enhanced when parents are involved with the school, even in a small way. Though it may be more difficult for single and working parents to take part in daytime school activities, there are many volunteer opportunities in the evenings on parent advisory committees or driving sports teams that you might take part in. The educational years are full of growth and change, but with your support, your child will pass through them with flying colours!