Ease Those August School Jitters with Family Fun
As the summer days grow shorter and begin to fill up with school shopping, school physicals, and getting the family organized for the fall, your preschooler or kindergarten child may be showing signs of anxiety about making that BIG transition to being a BIG kid who goes to school. What can parents and grandparents do to help?
If moms and dads and others want to help ease their child’s fears about school—or perhaps their own!—play can be an effective way to get everyone in the family to relax and look forward to what’s coming. For many children, it’s the first big transition they will remember for the rest of their lives. It’s a good time for parents to add lots of unstructured playtime during the last few weeks. Those playful hours can have a big payoff in relieving their child’s stress.
Try increasing these activities in the last few weeks before school starts:
- Play school at home. This can be one of the best ways to demystify what is going to happen when school starts. This lets your child rehears in the emotionally safe environment of your own home. You can keep it simple with lots of pretend props, or you can create a rough replica of the classroom somewhere in your home that can be a center of play.
Using toys you already have (or fill in with some new ones), create a library corner, a place to do art projects, a block corner, a pretend kitchen, and a pretend house corner. Play with some of the typical rituals (like signing in upon arrival), but let your child direct the play as much as possible. If there is an older sibling who already goes to school, he or she will likely embrace the role of teacher.
- Encourage lots of play with blocks, floating objects, and simple art materials. These are some of the core activities in high quality early childhood classrooms. One of the great things about blocks and other toys that encourage open-ended play and experimentation is that kids can do so many different things with them—and feel successful every time. Whatever your child chooses to make or try, you can reassure her that this is a lot like what she will do in school. This can go a long way in alleviating fears—and perhaps even transform them into excitement about going to school.
- Get together with other families with same-age kids and play. One of the biggest predictors of school success is a child’s social skills. The more experience they have playing with other kids, the more likely they are to manage comfortably the cooperative play environment of the classroom. Use some of those last weeks and days before school to increase the amount of play with peers—and remind your little one that playing with friends is “just like school.”
- Talk a lot during play. When you talk to your child and listen to his responses, it helps build his vocabulary and models the appropriate use of language. Both help kids become stronger readers down the road, but the important thing for now is that your child knows many common words that she will use in school—for example, colors, shapes, sizes, and names of objects. When you hear her use the words in her own conversation, make her feel good and build her confidence about what she knows. “Boy, you know so many words, it’s like you are a school kid already!”
- Help kids turn a favorite toy into a trusted confidante. Kids will often tell their favorite stuffed animal things that they don’t tell mom and dad—even when mom and day are right there. This can be a great way to get kids to talk about their worries so parents can address them. Parents or grandparents can take the role of the stuffed animal friend and ask questions to get the child to talk. Remind your child that their stuffed toy is ready to listen any time—even in the car or on the walk home from school.