Back to School! How to Prepare your Child and Yourself!
Prepare for back to school
Whether your child is entering kindergarten, starting at a brand new school, or returning to early elementary school after a long summer hiatus, here are some tips to help parents prepare for the start of a new school year.
- Build a positive connection to starting school. You can do this by talking about it as an adventure or an opportunity to make new friends, be in a new classroom, or have new experiences. Perhaps your child is shy and doesn’t take comfort in everything being “new”. Remind them how they will likely have the same classroom all year, see the same classmates and teacher every day. Suggest they can help pack their same favourite foods for lunch. Think of other familiar constants they can participate in or relate to. Have them pick a family photo they can keep in their backpack. Some teachers allow kids to keep them fully visible in their cubby space or in a designated area in the classroom.
You could also ask older siblings, cousins, or kids who are already attending your child’s school, to share their favourite memories and best tips! For kids starting in kindergarten or starting at a new school, visit the school and explore the playground to build comfort and familiarity with the space. If this isn’t possible, try showing your child pictures or videos from the school website.
- Get a head start on learning expectations by teaching your little sponge some foundational skills, or refresh skills from last school year. Practice writing, drawing, math, or crafting in a familiar place, such as the kitchen table/island, a desk or table and chair of their own (in their bedroom for example), or another “learning” space in your home. Visit the Ontario Ministry of Education website to learn more about preparing your child and developmental milestones.
If you are having concerns about your child reaching developmental milestones, speak with your family Doctor. If you suspect or know your child will require additional classroom support for a learning disability, health condition, or special consideration, try and contact your school principal and/or teacher early to make a plan for a supportive and collaborative start to their school year. A transition meeting can bring together stakeholders in your child’s education to help plan for a successful learning environment.
- Get organized BEFORE school starts, so you can focus the entire first week on your child, and not the stress of filling out forms, registering for online school programs, and scrambling to figure out transportation and childcare needs. Remember parents, this may all be new to YOU as well!
Your school should send you an email to an online portal with your child (or family) profile, where you can update contact information, fill out medication forms, register for school cash online programs and more! Some schools also use an online platform where you can register and receive online updates on schedules, special events, and important information. Check with your school directly to see what portal they use.
You should also receive a communication (mail or email) from the bus transportation provider for your child’s school, so you can know when the bus is coming on their first day. Be prepared for this to change within the first few days/weeks as registration for new students finalizes and bus routes get firmed up.
You may also want to sign up for your school’s attendance app or become familiar with their attendance program. Most schools will require you to report all child absences during the school year, including late arrivals. Finally, if you want to volunteer in the classroom or on field trips, a vulnerable screen check is required if you will interacting with other children in the classroom. These reports can be done online or through your local police station. Depending on your area, they can take weeks to do, so try and get it done early!
Child Care Needs
Finally, have you thought of your child’s before/after care needs? These may change during the year with a job change, a move, or another type of life change. Find out if your school runs a before/after care program through your region’s OneList, or look to a relative or childcare in your area who may pick/up drop off children at school.
Or plan ahead to adjust your schedule (where possible) to accommodate pick-up and drop off times at school, or by the bus.
A special note on pick up and drop off during busy times – your school may have restrictions on entering the parking lot right before or right after school. They may also offer a “kiss and drop” program in the morning shortly before school starts, where you can drive up to a designated area and a volunteer will safely help your kids out of the vehicle and onto the schoolyard. Find out before school starts what your options are.
- Make sure your child has the right “stuff” for back to school. This may include learning supplies if needed, indoor and outdoor shoes, a labelled thermal lunchbag (there are no fridges to keep lunches cold), a labelled water bottle, sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, jackets or spare clothes as needed, and a backpack large enough to hold everything they need (probably not the cute tiny ones they wore to preschool that are shaped liked wee animals). For very young children in classrooms of up to 30 kids independence is key, so velcro straps if they can’t tie laces, and coats with buttons if they can’t do zippers, or spray or rub on sunscreen instead of creams.
Bonus suggestion: include a special note, picture, or keepsake in lunchbox for their first day, to let them know you are thinking of them and are proud of how grown up/big/clever/brave/special they are!
- Self care – starting school or sending your young child back to school after the summer can be an emotional experience for you as well. Consider taking a vacation day on the first day of school and plan a day of reflection or self care, however that looks for you. For example a long bike ride or walk, visit with a friend, yoga or massage, or a favourite activity your enjoy. Plan a special dinner or activity that evening that makes your child feel like their first day is a proud milestone to be celebrated. And remember, take pictures and write down anything special about the day before you forget, and I guarantee it will become a tear jerker memory in the years to come!