See You Later! Saying Goodbye in Early Childhood
Depending on your school, the first day of Early Childhood may take a number of different structures. You might be invited to escort your child into the classroom, or to visit for a short period before parents leave and children remain. You may be asked to start the regular school arrival procedures, stopping at the door to the classroom or driving through a carline from which your child will be escorted. Your child may be at school with a smaller number of children as they transition to the entire class community coming together. Each serves a different need,and any of these (or other structures) might be in place in your child's school.
Whatever the plan for the first day of school, make sure you've already prepared yourself for the logistics. Then, consider these ideas to help make the morning run more smoothly.
Talk to your child about what to expect, but not too soon. Children in Early Childhood have a limited understanding of time, and preparing them for the first day too early can increase their tension. If the first school event is on a Monday, the previous Wednesday or Thursday is sufficient time- just a few days but not too many for children to get confused. If they are a returning student, remind them of what arrival feels like. If they are starting new, imagine with them what the door to the classroom might look like or who they are likely to see who is familiar to them. Keep the conversation brief, focused and upbeat. Ask your child what they would like to know, but don't seed anxiety by prompting about fears. "What questions do you have?" is more positive than, "Are you worried about the day?" If they initiate concerns, remind them simply that school is a place designed for them to grow and learn and that you have chosen it for them because you know how well they will be cared for there.
Be on time. Really. Children need more time to acclimate to new spaces than adults do, and the time allowed for arrival is critical to support this acclimation. A child who arrives after the buzz of the class has already begun immediately feels like an outsider to the community. Support them by giving them the time their teachers have identified for a healthy, paced transition.
Return on time. Early Childhood children will notice dismissal happening, and will wonder when their parents or caregivers will arrive, often as soon as they notice other children leaving. If you have other arrangements with school, like an after school program, be sure to let your child know before they go to school that they will stay after the regular school day. While it may seem common sense to you that they'll stay at school until your workday is over, if other children are dismissed earlier and your child is not expecting to stay, the shift to an after school program may be more challenging.
Offer a quick, loving but confident "goodbye." While you should stay as long as you've been invited to, you should leave as soon as it's time, too. If you want to chat with other parents, wait for them outside of eyeshot of your children. If you need to talk with the teacher, do so later in the day or stop in the office on your way out to leave a message. Let the time of transition be focused simply on supporting your child in making a confident move from your car or your side to their classroom. Say goodbye once, and avoid looking back over your shoulder to ask your child for "one more kiss." Even if you don't feel quite ready to go, your child is looking to you for cues about whether they should feel ready to stay. Your nostalgia may read as hesitation. You've chosen this because your child is ready. That's a good thing.
Whatever other questions you have, or hands you need held, or tissue boxes you need to borrow, remember that your child's school community is open to creating the kind of partnership with you in which it's safe for you to say, "This is hard." While you shouldn't interrupt the teachers while they're focused on the children, you can reach out to the office or to other parents to begin building the community that you sought when you chose Montessori. You'll need it all year long, maybe more so in these first days, and even if you're one of those parents who's old hat at these kinds of transitions, you can be a shoulder for another parent who might be experiencing it for the first time. We're in this together.