Young Children Need Special Back-to-School Attention

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As the vacation season winds down and parents are getting their children ready to go back-to-school, their thoughts turn from swimming and campfires to backpacks and books. Gone will be the warm summer nights and kicked back schedules to the rigors and structure of the classroom. For young children especially, this can be a tough time, but parents can do a lot to make their transition easier.

For the past 25 years, Kristen Waterfield has worked with young chil- dren. First as an elementary school teacher, then as the head of a private pre-school, and most importantly as a mother. As president and CEO of the Malvern School, one of the most successful, nationally-recognized private pre- schools in the nation, she knows a thing or two about the emotional needs of children. “Over the years I’ve talked to many parents who have asked me just what they should do to help their children cope when they send them back- to- school. Of course, much depends on the child’s social adjustment in general, but for very young ones, it is important to anticipate their fears, and work systematically to alleviate them,” said Waterfield. “Since our students range from infants to six-years of age, we have a lot of experience with what works and what doesn’t as far as helping them transition from camp to the classroom. Young- er children are generally more emotionally immature and may have difficulty separating from their parents, so with such a long break over the summer, it is even more important to address those potential anxiety issues before they become a problem,” she added.

Waterfield recommends that parents begin a plan before the summer ends for their children’s return to the classroom. “What I tell our parents is to start by creating a checklist with all of the things they should do before the school year begins. Things like talking about how much fun school is, how they will get to see their friends soon, and generally being positive about the entire school experience. It is important to begin doing this planning at least a few weeks before the school year starts.” Diane Morgan, who is the director of operations for all of the 23 Malvern Schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, also believes that preparation and planning are essential. “One of the reasons that we see very few issues with our students when they start the new school year is because our teachers work with parents to help them before school begins,” she said.

“There are some very specific tips I would give parents in general for the back-to-school transition. The Malvern School operates year-round, so starting in August is often an excellent step to get children back in routines if that opportunity is available. Some oth- er tips include: re-establish good habits at least a few weeks before school. This can mean setting up a regular time to go to bed and wake up, and even eating meals during the same times that the child would eat them in school. I would also get them involved in a variety of activities in the morning, so they will get accustomed to attending early classes, and organize their school supplies in a designated spot in their room that they can see. It is also important to make the child feel they can handle the separation from their parents in a mature way, even though they are still young. During the school year our students practice writing their names, tying their shoe laces, writing down their addresses, and other simple actions that make them feel independent and secure. Parents can also practice this at home before school starts. This will help them feel less dependent on their parents once they leave home and head to school,” Morgan added.

“I always tell our parents to do the little things that show how much they care,” said Waterfield. “I always put photos of me and their dad in my kids’ lunchboxes, or write little personal notes and hide them in the pockets of their pants or jackets. I make sure I pack some of their favorite healthy snacks as well.” By taking the time to plan ahead and prepare young children for the new school year, parents can positively impact their emotional well-being and overall back-to-school experience.