Preparing for the first day of school: Elementary
The preparations to return to school shift when your child is in Elementary. Gone are the fears about being away from their parents. In their place are new ideas about their peers, their teachers and their classroom that they may not have been able to articulate earlier. As you help your Elementary aged child to prepare to return to school, keep in mind how development is different at this age, and plan accordingly.
Elementary students need to take ownership, but not necessarily the reins. Your Second Plane child has a new set of motivations. They want to be in charge. Like younger children, they want to know that their input is meaningful, but they are better able to describe the specifics of how that might look. So now, instead of reading the preparation materials from school for what you need to do, read through them to understand what is expected of your child. Whenever appropriate, read your child's school's start-of-year information with your child, and use this as an opportunity to discuss their goals for the year and what they think they may need from you to achieve them. Ask your child to prepare their own list of things they'll need on the first day of school, then let them compile things on their own, checking in with them to ask questions about how they want to manage their own belongings. Use the days leading up to the first day of school as an opportunity to model a new means of communicating with your child. This is a time of checking in, letting go, and checking in again. Ask them to prepare their belongings, based on what you've discussed together, and then ask them to come show you what they've prepared.
Elementary students need your support in learning to advocate for themselves. Talk about what questions they have as they prepare for school, then look together to see if those questions are answered in the materials your school has provided or if you can help them to write their own emails to their teachers asking for more specifics. For many children, talking to other adults to get their questions answered may come easily. But for many children, this will be the first time they've had the chance to take the lead in talking with their teachers. Use it as a chance to model the grace and courtesy of email communications, to practice how to present a question and what kind of timeframe they can expect for a reasonable response. Together, you'll be practicing stepping back to let them first try to resolve issues on their own. This is a perfect opportunity to practice.
Elementary students need positive models for social engagements. Your child's peers will take on an increasingly influential role in their day to day values and experiences. That's a positive step as they move toward independence, but it's still one they'll need to reflect and unpack with you. Use these days leading to the first day of school to talk about what friends they expect to see at school and how they think things may be different or the same as in previous years. They may not have the information to describe these interactions in great detail yet, but you are setting a habit of talking with each other about their friends and those experiences. You are helping to make evident some of the issues your child may not yet be able to articulate and, in doing so, you're letting your child know that home is a safe space to talk about their social lives and to think through the kind of friend they want to be. While you may not have the same influence during the day anymore, your child needs to know that you are a trusting and trusted resource to help process through what they're practicing on their own.
Elementary students can be both goofy and wise, sometimes in the same conversation. Expect it. Your child is trying different roles. Sometimes they'll need you to be in charge and sometimes they'll need you to back off. This can be a challenging time to parent as a result. Slow down and follow their lead, without changing your expectations of them. You might find that the process of preparing for school is one that your child wants to manage independently, and then be surprised to see them seem to flutter away from that same process. Keep your patience high and your temper in check. While Elementary students play with their own roles, they need you to be the steady reminder of what your family values. Instead of telling them what you need them to do, articulate what needs to happen and ask them how they see themselves accomplishing it.
Your role now is to give your child the resources to take ownership over their own contributions, the freedom to do so, and the safe place to land if it doesn't go well. While the idea of going to school may be old hat, they'll still have a range of emotions about what will happen this year, with these friends and in this classroom. Let your time preparing for that first day to be rich in conversation and equally rich in compassion.
And remember, as you're standing back and letting your Elementary student take the lead, that your partnership with their classroom teachers and caregivers is no less important than it was earlier in their lives. You are working together to support your child developing wings, but you are not only working through your child. Reach out with the questions you have as a parent, and ask for the guidance you need to navigate these waters with your child. There will inevitably be times when adults need to step in to guide what happens next for Elementary students. Let your child take ownership, but remember that you are working together as a part of a larger community of adults with whom you should be in regular communication about how that ownership is unfolding. These early days of the school year are certainly not too early to build that partnership. And when the problems arise, as they are sure to do when humans are involved, you'll be better suited to solve them together if you take the time to build the relationship now.