Going to school for the first time—whether as an infant, toddler, or preschooler—is often met with mixed emotions for children and parents. Parents enroll their child in a group care setting such as childcare, preschool, or Head Start for many different reasons. Some need childcare in order to work, while others may be seeking socialization opportunities. Regardless of the reason or age of the child, the transition from home to any out-of-home care is a significant transition that is stressful for children and parents.
Parents and caregivers should pay attention to a child’s temperament in preparing them for the school transition. If a child is slow to adapt at home—for example they are sensitive to changes in their routine, clothes, or food—they may also have a hard time with transitioning to a new environment. For children slow to adapt, it can be helpful to gradually introduce them to the change. Older children may worry about change or a new school which can result in different reactions, such as withdrawal, aggression, or regression in skills. For example, a once potty-trained child may start having accidents. Tasks that a child once independently performed such as feeding themselves, they may now ask a parent to do. Give children time to adjust and support them as they transition, their independence will return once they are comfortable in their new setting.
Depending on their age a number of different strategies might support children’s adjustment:
- Read books about going to school. Regardless of your child’s language skills, you can talk about what is happening in the story and how the characters are feeling, opening up natural conversations to ask older children how they feel about going to school.
- Engage in make-believe play scenarios about going to school with dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys that can help children share how they feel.
- Visit the new school and classroom together, taking time to play on the playground or in the classroom. Observe what your child enjoys about the new classroom and remind them what they are looking forward to about their new school or classroom.
- Communicate with the classroom teacher about letting your child bring in a familiar object from home and put pictures of the family up in the classroom.
- Be prepared to have a longer drop-off the first few mornings to help ease the transition. Start a good-bye routine to help comfort and prepare your child for your exit.