Guest post by Kate Jordan-Downs of Kindercare
Back-to-school time isn’t just for the backpack and #2-pencil crowd. Whether you’re sending your little one to preschool for the first time or preparing older siblings for a full school day in the fall, the season’s new routines can be a challenge for babies, toddlers and even parents.
Change is a big deal for little ones. Here are five ways to make the transition easier for everyone.
- Remember: Change is good. Great, even.
Change can be stressful at any age, but it can be especially difficult for babies and young children who thrive on predictable routines and have a hard time understanding why things are different. Fortunately, new environments nurture children’s curiosity, foster flexibility and teach resilience. All of these are key factors for success in school, not to mention life. Help your child adjust by talking about the change in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Share the puzzle with your brother. You’ll have to share things at school,” try “You’re going to make so many new friends at school this fall. Can you show me how you’ll share things with them?”
- Be a super-model.
You are your child’s first teacher, and they’ll look to you for how to respond in new situations. “It’s natural for parents to be nervous about leaving their child in an unfamiliar setting,” says Kate Jordan-Downs, Director of Instructional Support at KinderCare Learning Centers, a national early childhood education leader. “Because your children take their cues from you, the more you model confidence and excitement, the more comfortable your child will be.”Jordan-Downs also recommends bringing your child to visit their classroom before they start so they can meet the teacher and become familiar with the environment. It’s an opportunity to support your child and reinforce that everything is going to be just fine. And don’t be afraid to ask the teacher for guidance and updates about how your child is adjusting and to share what aspects of your child’s development are important to you. Are you struggling with potty training at home? Ask your child’s teacher for tips. Is there a handwashing song children sing during potty training? Learn the words so you can sing along with your child at home.Be sure to ask how you can integrate classroom activities into your home routine too. Would sitting on the floor to read a book together help your child prepare for circle time?“You’re forging a new path,” Jordan-Downs says. “It’s nice to have a guide to help lead the way.”
- Learn routines.
Part of what makes change stressful is that big bad beast: the unknown. Letting your child know what to expect at school can help tame the beast. Describe what a new activity will look like with child-focused details. Highlight anything that’s familiar, like a friend or setting. Say things such as, “We usually read books together in the snuggle chair, but today we’re going to sit on the floor. That’s what you’re going to do at school.” Visiting your local library during story time is another way to help your child adjust to listening to someone other than a family member while in a group of children.Help your child know what to expect from his new school routine with a picture schedule. Make sure to cover both home and school activities like going to school, circle time, lunch, nap, going home, dinner, playtime, bath time and bedtime rituals. Review the schedule with your child and help familiarize her with the new routine.If someone other than a family member has never cared for your child, start to ask friends or relatives to babysit for a short period. Let your child know he or she is safe and that you’ll be back. Refer to your picture schedule to help your child adjust to your absence: “You’re going to stay with Auntie Myra now, but I’ll be back after naptime.”
- Don’t lose sleep.
Consistency is king for kids, and keeping bedtime the same during vacations and weekends makes for mornings that are more peaceful and fewer drama-filled days. An easy trick: plan your day by planning back from bedtime to keep precious sleep a priority. After all, sometimes backward planning makes for forward thinking. Make sure you have a good bedtime routine. While you don’t have to be a stickler for time, know that certain rituals help cue children that it’s time to get ready for bed and go to sleep. Whatever your routine – hugs, bath time, brushing teeth, two stories before tuck-in – start it at least two weeks before school starts. Stick to your family’s rituals and everyone will sleep better.
- Keep talking.
Keeping the lines of communication open is important now and in the future. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Allow him to express himself. Help him come up with strategies for handling difficult emotions. Talk to your child’s teacher about the practices he or she uses in the classroom. Is there a quiet corner children can go to when they’re upset and need to moment to calm down? Perhaps you can set up something similar at home.Amidst the change, be to keep younger siblings in the loop. Talking about big brother or sister going to school will help prevent little ones from feeling left behind when that first school bell rings. Encourage older siblings to talk about their school experiences with their little brother or sister. Dig out the photo album and share your own memories of school days.
Back to school is a time of change, but with a little planning and reassurance, it can be a fun and exciting time for little ones!
About KinderCare Education®At KinderCare Education, they believe that education creates brighter futures. They are passionate about creating a world of learning, joy, and adventure for more than 161,000 children every day. Their devoted family of education providers leads the nation in accreditation and includes KinderCare® Learning Centers, CCLC®, Champions® Before- and After-School Programs, Cambridge SchoolsTM, Knowledge Beginnings® and the Grove Schools®. To learn more, visit them online at www.kindercare.com.