It’s that time of year when parents are inundated with back-to-school reminders and instructions on everything from updating emergency contact lists to making sure they purchase binders with the correct width.
Much of the activity around preparing for the first day of school tends to focus on those children who are indeed going back to school. But in these early weeks of the school year, we should also think about children who are entering preschool or kindergarten for the first time.
Amid all the hustle that includes shopping for uniforms or scheduling last-minute vaccinations, parents should also take time to consider their young child’s thoughts, expectations and concerns about entering school—whether it’s the local elementary school or a new classroom in a center he or she already attends.
Will the child have a chance to visit the classroom before the first day and meet the teacher? Has the teacher or someone at the school reached out to learn more about the child? Are there opportunities to meet other children who will be in the class? These are the kinds of questions that parents should be asking about their child’s first school and first teacher—and are especially important for children who have not had classroom experience.
Transitions can be challenging for young children—but they tend to experience more of them during their typical school day than older children. A young child might have multiple care plans during the day because many schools still don’t have full-day kindergarten, and working parents sometimes have to shuttle their children between preschool and child care in the middle of the day. Having early childhood educators who understand how to smooth these transitions and make classrooms, centers and home-based programs warm and inviting is an aspect of quality that is sometimes overlooked, but that can make a difference in whether a child has a successful start in school.
Skilled teachers work with families to find solutions to transition challenges, and they talk with children to prepare them for new experiences and changes during the day so children can build confidence and competence. Early educators with the right training and experience can sense if a child is feeling stressed and will know how to foster relationships and find activities in the classroom that lead to learning and help the child overcome shyness or problems with separation.
A child entering preschool might also be starting a new after-school program or riding a school bus for the first time. So in the midst of choosing the right lunchbox or figuring out the carpool procedure, think about the new school year from a child’s perspective. Talk to school leaders about their plans for easing children and parents in the school community. Do their teachers communicate with the other caregivers that children have during the day? Do they collaborate to use some of the same routines, terms or learning materials that children will recognize?
Preschoolers are eager to gain some independence, but at the same time they find reassurance in experiences or classroom materials that feel familiar. Teachers who can provide this balance will provide both children and their parents with peace of mind.
Valora Washington is CEO, Council for Professional Recognition. The Council for Professional Recognition promotes improved performance and recognition of professionals in the early childhood education of children aged birth to 5 years old.