By Alison Rothschild '85, Lower School – Early Childhood Director
The start of school can be a challenging transition for both young students and their parents. You can help your child adjust to their new learning environment by supporting the separation process. The goal of separation is to help your child become an independent learner at school. There are two main factors that will help your child achieve this goal:
- Clear and consistent information from all parties
- Leaving the classroom when your child shows signs of readiness
With these in mind, here are four helpful tips for helping your child transition into their first school experience:
1. Limit engagement.
At the start of the year, your presence in the classroom may be necessary. During this time you can support your child by limiting participation in school activities. Try bringing your own activity to engage with such as quiet work or reading while you sit in the classroom. Your child may come to you; however, the less you engage with your child, the quicker they will begin to develop bonds with the teachers and students. If your child does come to you, gently remind them that the educators present are there to support them. You might reply with "This is your school. Your teacher (name of teacher) will help you."
2. Do not force participation.
Try to limit urging your child to participate in class activities if or when they are choosing not to do so. Often, children gain confidence and independence simply by watching. As long as your child is watchfully engaged, learning is taking place. Your expectations about your child's level of participation in class may add to your child's anxiety. Allowing a child to "just watch" is a great gift that will help ease the separation process. It is only a matter of time before they will join in.
3. Watch for signs of readiness.
When your child begins to gain comfort and confidence in school, you will be able to leave the classroom. Signs of readiness include: engagement, participation in classroom activities, and fewer check-ins with their adult. Trust is at the core of this transition. Follow cues from your child as well as cues from the teachers. When the time does come, say a quick goodbye to your child and leave the room. Do not sneak out, as that contradicts the clear and consistent communication with your child.
4. Know that tears are normal.
Crying is an appropriate way of communicating frustration for young children. Crying does not necessarily mean that your child is not ready to separate. As difficult as it is for parents, discomfort and tears are not harmful and they are often a necessary part of the process.
The separation process, while sometimes difficult, will help your child gain a sense of autonomy and ownership over their learning experience. With support from both parents and teachers, young learners will separate when they feel most ready and begin to experience the joy of exploration and growth in their new learning environment.