So how did it go last week with the transition from the lazy days of summer to going back to school? I enjoyed many wonderful photos of FB friends’ children, all decked out in lovely outfits and holding new lunch boxes. This is the fun part!! It really moved me to notice the growth and changes in the children over the year as was recorded in their photos. I always use to say to parents in the kindergarten, “Every few months a child changes significantly and seems to be a whole new person standing in front of you!” And that idea was reinforced by seeing the “new” children who had grown right before our eyes from their summer experiences.
TRANSITIONS: Except for the most adventurous of families, this transition back to school, or to school for the first time, is usually a little rocky. Putting on my Mom hat, I remember how hard it was to get children to go to sleep when it was light outside. No matter how hard we tried to get on a good routine before school started, in actuality it took us a few weeks to get rockin’ and rollin’. Teachers often lie awake the night before school starts as well, full of excitement, wondering if we are fully prepared. And one is never fully prepared for all the wonders the first day brings. Life is like that – messy and not perfect – so I thought today I would brainstorm some ways to perhaps smooth things out a bit and I am hoping you offer your wisdom to the mix in your comments.
FAMILY TIME RITUALS AND NUTRITION: Some new parents to Waldorf schools feel they could never live up to the expectations of the teachers there. Believe me, the teachers are in the same boat you are in with their own children and our lives are not perfect (not by a long shot), but we have found that strong routines and planning are worthwhile because life is just sweeter when things are not as stressful. Having strong rituals, especially in the morning and evening can create a “cushion” for the day. Being up, dressed and ready to go as parents is almost essential. Since I often seemed to have some last minute getting ready to do (and couldn’t think with my children’s “help”), my husband made a nice ritual of playing card games with the children before we took off. TV in the morning detracts too much from the beautiful lesssons the teachers are preparing to bring to the youngsters soon. I had to ask one of my children’s teachers for help to plan my mornings with her because I had one of those children who wanted to run the show and one’s own children can push your buttons even if you are a trained teacher. Many families have one of “those strong ones” and I am thinking of the friend who suggested I write about back to school. One of her twins could definitely run the show unless she has changed since I taught her! Having the breakfast table set before the children get up (they could help with this the night before) and knowing what the menu will be for the week, takes the stress away of “I want this!” and “I want that!” in the morning. Twenty minutes of menu planning per week saves hours of stress. The class children know what we are having for snack, “Bread and fruit on Monday, Rice and carrots on Tuesday……” which eliminates any discussion. Of course when you are planning your menus, it is nice to have some feedback from the children. If they participate in the planning they have some “buy-in”. Nutrition is key for your child so make sure they get the best diet you can possibly provide, adding new foods a little at a time. For young children, offering tiny amounts sometimes helps (think bento box). Then sit together, perhaps with some flowers (dandelions) on the table, say your family grace, or something aloud about gratitude (children learn by your example), and look around and smile at your beautiful family before you all head out in different directions.
CLOTHING/BACKPACKS: Having the child’s clothing picked out and ready to wear the night before is a lifesaver. I use to roll up little outfits for my son and put them in his drawer (shirt/shorts, underwear socks). He could pick out one of the “rolls” and get dressed. I enjoyed the fact that he was color coordinated but know first hand that teachers love it if your children come in “colorful” outfits that they have chosen themselves. My daughters made things a little more complicated. One week it would be, “I only want to wear pants!” and then another it was, “I only want to wear a dress like my teacher.” So for the girls we would pick out the outfit the night before. I had one tomboy and one fashionista, but they were both particular. We would lay out everything, right down to the hair accessories, on the chair. I did a lot of “pre-teaching” (casual conversations ahead of time about how things would go i.e. no changing our minds in the morning, no french braids unless pre-planned, etc.). And then there is a question of the shoes. Find a way, if you can, of always having two pairs of shoes (that fit) for each child and find a permanent, fixed place to keep them. I have seen people keep them on a mat by the front or back door, on a rug in front of the fireplace, or in a specific spot in each child’s closet. This will save you many minutes of stress (and this is coming from a woman who likes to leave her shoes wherever she goes and forced herself to be more organized when she had young children). The same goes for backpacks. Check through them the night before (children love to help with this) and make sure they have bottled water, snack, whatever hat/jacket suit the weather, and in winter the extra clothes. At the Waldorf School we want the full winter gear with snow pants because we go out every day. We encourage the children to dress in layers (warm undershirt/shirt/sweater) because that way they can peel off or add a layer to meet the temperature. At the preschool where I worked, the playground was shady and much colder than the temperature announced on the tv/radio, so children often came to school, early in the school year, without enough clothing. Many children do not even know when they are cold so we often take the children’s hands to see if they are chilled. Lunches can be packed the night before, all ready in the fridge, for the transfer to the backpack. Even toddlers like to have a backpack or lunchbox like their older siblings. I was just with my niece tonight who is a 2nd grade teacher in a G&T program here in Denver. She is married to a businessman and they have two sons 9 and 11. She puts up a list for herself and the kids in the garage, on the way out the door, that lists all the things that they need to have in the backpacks or in the car for their daily activities (school, sports, etc.). I was glad to see that not only old ladies, but busy Moms can forget items that are needed for the day. Good idea to post reminders!
EVENING ROUTINE/SLEEP: A strong routine at the end of the day is vital as well. Hopefully after school the children can play, and then perhaps help set the table and get dinner ready. Older children have after school activities (sports, music, etc.) but hopefully they are not over-scheduled. After dinner, grade children may have some homework and will need you to “look on” and offer some encouragement. For younger children, the evening should all be “downhill” after dinner with clearing the table and getting ready for bed. Parental teamwork is so wonderful and you single parents out there deserve kudos for your extra work. I am all for grade children having their own alarm clock and setting it the night before. I am thinking of the older child of the friend who suggested I write about back to school, who would be perfectly capable of setting an alarm, and getting up by it. Sometimes toddlers are in the habit of staying up late at night to see working parents and spend time with them. This habit really needs to go by the wayside when your child starts preschool. Our school doctor recommends for the little ones to get 11-12 hours of sleep per day (including nap). I had my children sleeping by 8 p.m. (which meant the bedtime routine had to start by 7-7:30), and they took naps. They naturally got up at 6 a.m., which is early, but that worked for us. Some of my young parent friends put their children to bed at 7 or 7:30 for the night and often these children sleep until 7 or 7:30 in the a.m., and usually they don’t take naps. Each family needs to find a schedule that works for them, older children being able to go to bed later, but just make sure your child gets the opportunity to sleep well. If you have several children, don’t let the younger ones talk you into letting them stay up as late as the older ones. Studies have shown that young children who are even only “slightly” sleep deprived (by an hour) are performing at a much lower capacity. Sleep is a priority with children. We need enough of it too or else it is hard to meet our days with enthusiasm. Family time, grownup time, personal development – it is always a balancing act – and a good night’s sleep for us allows us to keep going strong.
SEPARATION ANXIETY: All but the boldest children display a spectrum of anxious feelings on the first days/weeks of a new school setting. If the parent is very strong about the way things will go, treats these first days calmly and naturally, the child will adjust more quickly. Most children are happy once the parent is gone and they become engaged in the day’s activities. Children up to 7 are still symbiotic with you, so depending on their temperament, are likely to express a little worry, or a great deal, upon parting from you as a new experience. Sensitive children sometimes cry a little EVERY DAY up to, and including the first few grades. It is all normal. The more courage you can show your children, the better they will do. With young ones, do some pre-teaching about how the day will go. Hopefully they have met their teachers, seen their classroom and learned about the activities that will occur. Pre-plan with them how the first mornings will go, “First let’s look at the garden, then we will say hello to the teachers, look at the nature table, and get out one of your favorite toys. When we say goodbye we will (have 3 kisses, 1 kiss and our secret handshake, etc.) and then I will go. And then you have to really GO. Much worse than your going is the anticipation of your going. So GO when you say you are going to go. Tears are normal for young children and your child’s teacher is trained to handle their discomfort. Most little ones like to be comforted by the teacher (all the sudden with Mom gone you look ok as a substitute), but some children might just want the teacher close by, with an interesting activity going on to watch. Make sure your child understands the schedule so they know when to expect you to come. Another of my nieces told me that she told her son she would come after recess but they went outside twice. So he thought she was coming the first time they went out and was disappointed. So she is going to go over the schedule with him again. A few children every year show some significant separation anxiety. I have never had a case where I felt that the child couldn’t work through it. We have to acknowledge who our children are, love and support them as they are working through hard things, and then rejoice with them when they accomplish this task. This will provide them with the confidence that they can do anything “even if it is hard”. Remember, your teachers are there to talk with you and help you. When I said this recently to one of the parents I had in my class last year, she said, “I don’t want my child’s teacher to think that I am one of THOSE parents”. We are all “one of those parents”, especially with our first child. Try to have a few words with your child’s teacher each day as you come and go to get to know him/her. If your child continues to have a serious issue, you can ask for an early conference. Otherwise you will just get to know your child’s teacher over time and they will get to know you and your child. Then when conference time comes, there will be many wonderful things to share. It is a good idea for your teacher to know things about your child that might affect them during the school day (they didn’t sleep, the pet died, etc.) so they can be shown some extra TLC if needed. Stay involved and in touch with the school and your child’s class and teacher. Your child will benefit from this.
GETTING INVOLVED IN THE CLASS: Once your child is settling into the school routine, help them feel invested in their school/classroom. When you have time ask them what they would like to bring to their class/teacher. It doesn’t have to cost much (you could ask the teacher if a small item is needed), or cost anything at all (a few flowers from the yard). Your child will start to think outside of themselves and will feel proud of their classroom and their involvement in it. I will let you know that kind words said in person, or in a note, are cherished by the teacher. So if the time comes when you want to thank them for something they have done for your child, they will be deeply appreciative. They want so much for your child to be successful. Remember, your child imitates you, so if you see a child some morning “losing it”, don’t say, “Janey sure is loud!” but you might say to you child, “Janey is having a hard morning. I hope she can play and have fun soon.” Showing your child how to be a good citizen in the class will help them get along. And in these first weeks, at pickup time, make sure the environment is what your child needs. My oldest wanted to be quiet on the way home and have a little snack in the car. My girls were more boisterous. But they all responded with a smile when I told them I was happy to see them
REINFORCING FAMILY: Reinforcing family is very important to children. No matter how hard of a day they have had, now they are with people who “get” them 100%”. Children do take out hard days/times on you with their behaviors. As a teacher I see that young children often wait until they see Mom or Dad to cry or complain (usually about something that happened hours ago). I guess we can be thankful that they trust us enough to show us their full colors. “I am important to my family and they need me” is an important idea to convey to your children, and that means providing each child with some appropriate chores (from setting the table, helping to pick up toys when they are young, to feeding the dog, and sweeping the floor when they are older). I taught my children how to do their own laundry when they were about 10-11. There are even jobs young ones can do. I found as a preschool teacher that often the happiest children were ones that a could do things for themselves. They were the first ones ready to go outside and felt pride that they could get themselves ready. As soon as you think your toddler can put on their shoes, sit them down and show them how (many times). During the times you do things for your child that they already know how to do, for one reason or another (button their coat, put on their hat, etc.), treat them with the utmost care and concern. The way you touch your child informs them of how much/ how little respect you have for them.
A NEW WEEK: So bumpy or smooth, tranquil or treacherous, no matter how your first week(s) of school went, plan with your partner (and then your children) how to make things go more smoothly this week. When you are working, work hard! Make your lists and menus and keep up the routines. And then when you are playing, play hard! Go to the park , go on nature walks, visit friends, and laugh with your children. When everything is going along well, then you can surprise the children by throwing all the plans out the window and doing something fun like camping in the family room. A relatively smooth life with children requires hard work and planning, but oh, how full and rich it can be! We all know how humbling it can be at times also, but in the good moments there is nothing to compare to the hugs, kisses, smiles, and the growth and development of the child/family. Try to find moments to replenish yourselves as parents. You are doing the work of heroes.