The first day of school is daunting for most kids, but it can be especially hard for children who recently joined a family through international adoption. Even if they attended school in their birth country, the schools in the United States will be much different. There are many things to consider when preparing your children to head back-to-school. Here are ten tips to ensure success.
- Prepare your child. School can often be a little less scary if a child knows what to expect. However, don’t tell your child, “Oh you probably won’t have a test on the first day of school,” because this year my second grader was very disappointed when he actually did have a spelling test on the first day of school! Discuss with your child the rules and expectations and go through the school’s student handbook with him. You can even role play or pretend play different scenarios with toys or puppets. The library has children’s books and videos about the first day of school available or you can search the internet for social stories or videos. Then after reading or watching the show talk about how the characters must have felt on their first day of school and lead into a conversation about some of the fears that your child may have. If your child is going into Preschool through third grade many teachers recommend Natasha Wing’s books The Night Before series. Some other first day children’s books include The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, Amelia Bedilia’s First Day of School by Herman Parish, Little Critter: First Day of School by Mercer Mayer, Chu’s First Day of School by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex, and Franklin Goes to School by Paulette Bourgeois.
- Establish your routine early. Start working back into a schedule wll before school starts. Especially if your child has been allowed to stay up later or sleep in later during the summer. Find a morning routine that works for everyone. If there is only one bathroom and three children need to get ready in the morning make sure there is a schedule for showers, brushing teeth, etc. and practice this so that the kids are familiar with it on the first day of school. Have your child use a timer, show him how to read the time and empower him to keep organized and stay on schedule.
- Tour the school. Set up a time to walk through your child’s school and become familiar with the environment. It is helpful to point out where the different places in the school are such as the library, bathrooms, gym, school nurse, office and give examples of why they might need to go to those places. Make sure they know where to put their things and if they will be using a locker make sure they know where it is and how it works. Practice walking from the door to the classroom and then to other parts of the building. Give your child the opportunity to lead the way so they feel confident that they can do it on their own.
- Meet your child’s teachers. Set up a time for your child to meet their teachers, principal, social worker and any other staff that they might see on a regular basis. Many schools have a “Meet the Teacher Night” or an “Open House” the week before school starts. It’s nice to see familiar faces on your first day of school and it’s important for your child to know who to go to if they need something.
- Let your child help pick out their school supplies and school clothes. Don’t wait until the last minute to do this because it can be overwhelming with the large crowds and can be frustrating if everything is picked over and you can’t find what you need. Allow your children to try new school supplies, especially any items that they have not used before such as a protractor or calculator so they are comfortable using them in class. If they will be wearing new clothes make sure that they wear them or try them on before the first day of school to make sure that they fit and are comfortable. A new outfit or something special that they helped pick out can boost confidence and help a child be excited for their first day.
- Talk to your child’s teachers about special needs. Talk to your teachers about behaviors or special accommodations that may be needed. Children who were adopted internationally pick up their new language relatively quickly but a new language can make school even more difficult and scary. Public schools are required to have ENL or ESL services for children learning English. Ask your teacher for more information about how this program works at your child’s school and what services are offered. If your child already has an IEP, make sure that the services are in place and your child’s teacher is aware of any changes. If your child does not have an IEP, but you think they will need one, make sure to start the ball rolling as soon as possible.
- Plan your child’s meals. Meals are an important part of every day; make sure to provide healthy choices that will provide your child with energy throughout the day. Have your child take part in deciding if they would like to eat the school lunch or pack their lunch and allow them to help. Make a special trip to the store and have your child help pick out foods that they would like to bring and let them help pack their lunchbox. If they want to buy a lunch at school read the school menu and help them decide what they want. If you send the money into school they can help put the money in an envelope and put it in their backpack. Ask about lunch times and if they are given a snack during the day or if you can send in a snack. If your child has food sensitivities or issues such as hoarding make sure that your teacher is aware and there is a plan in place for meal times.
- Discuss transportation. Discuss with your child how they will get to and from school every day. If they are a bus rider, make sure they know their bus number and discuss the bus rules. If your child will be picked up from school, have a safety plan in place and talk with your child about only leaving school with a parent or specified adults such as grandparents or a Nanny.
- Connect with friends. Find out if your child knows any of the other students in his class. You can call parents you know in the area to find out if their child is in the same class. Schedule a play date to allow the children to play before school starts. Having a friend in their class can make a big difference!
- Don’t forget to breathe! Parents and children both need to remember to take deep breaths, especially around back-to-school time. Practice taking deep breaths with your child so that they know how to help themselves calm down if they get stressed. Lead by example by telling your child when you are feeling anxious or upset and let them see you taking deep breaths and calm down. You can help your child practice taking deep breaths by using a balloon, counting while breathing in and out, or by using a visual aid such as blowing the candles out on a birthday cake. This is something that they can do at their desk at school without drawing much attention that will help them calm down and refocus on school work.
However, despite all of the planning and preparing, something may still go wrong or be forgotten. Hopefully your child’s first day will go better than my youngest first day of first grade this year, when he was sent home because he had a stomach bug! Just remember to take a breath and roll with the punches, tomorrow is a new day!