Preparing for the First Day of School: 0-3
Whether this is the first time your child is headed to school or you're preparing for your youngest of six, the first day of school evokes all kinds of emotions. You may be feeling anxious about leaving them, or excited to have a little more space to breathe and think during the day. You may be looking forward to learning more about Montessori or wondering whether all those things you've heard about floor beds and standing diaper changes might just be the most enchanting bottle of snake oil you've ever purchased. You might be feeling all those things at once.
We all have.
First, breathe out. While your child's first days at school will be extraordinary and memorable and wobbly and wonderful to your family, children all over the world, in all sorts of communities, from all sorts of families, have done this before and thrived. Notice all the big emotions, talk to your partner or other caregivers about them, but remind yourself that you're part of a much bigger community of parents and advocates and Montessorians who have done this already. You're going to be ok.
Then, take some time to prepare the logistics for the first day. Here are some ideas:
1. Read all the information you've already received. Really. Read it. Chances are, the questions you have about the where and hows and what to brings are already in the materials your child's school has delivered to them. In fact, there's often so much in these materials that it can be overwhelming to get through. Wait until your little one is napping or make some time with another caregiver so you can read through all those handouts and emails, with your notebook and calendar in hand, without distraction. Even if this is your fifth child to go to school, it's the first time your child's school is opening in the midst of so much change. Read the information as though you've never seen it before.
2. Make a list and check it twice. What has your child's school requested for the first day of school? Prepare your child's bag a few days before. You may be asked to send in sufficient diapers for an extended period of time, wipes or cloths and changes of clothing. Preparing these early helps in two ways. It makes sure you feel confident about what you'll need that first day and it gives you the chance to notice what you might need to work-around with items that will be stored at school instead of home.
3. Review your school's guidance for the first morning drop-off. Will you be invited to stay in your child's class for a few minutes or will you need to be prepared to say goodbye at the gate? Imagine what that will feel like, and prepare yourself for the routine. Some schools schedule a transition period, during which parents remain for some window of time. Others will ask that you support classroom routines as quickly as possible. Be sure you know what to expect and, if you have any questions, ask before that first day of school.
4. Practice confidence. Your child may transition to their classroom with ease. They may demonstrate some anxiousness or fear. You might think all is going well, and then hear a cry behind you as you head down the hallway. Any one of those reactions is reasonable and predictable. Remind yourself that you have chosen this school because you trust the people and programs there, and breathe. For these first days, your confidence is critical for supporting your child's understanding that they are safe in their new space. If you're feeling unsure yourself, talk to your child's teacher before that first day. Ask how you can best support the transition they've designed. And ask what supports are in place for parents who might have a harder time that first day. There may be a coffee spot in the school office, or a place on campus to take a walk or sit down on a bench for a while. There may be other parents to connect with, or simple assurances from the administration that they really will call you back if they see something in your child's experience that's beyond what's predictable for the first day of school. When the butterflies in your stomach seem to be throwing a dance party, the relationship of trust and partnership you build with your child's other caregivers can help turn down the volume.
5. Practice the transition, without the transition. Get up and make the commute at the same time as you will on the first day of school. Understand traffic patterns and how the process of getting out of the house might be different at a different time of day. How will your morning be different getting yourself and your little one ready at the same time? If you have older children, who will be responsible for which parts of your morning routine to make sure everyone gets out on time and with as little stress as possible? Practice the process concretely- it's not enough to think it through. A test run will help you to notice, beforehand, what you need to be prepared for that morning.
Finally, remember that transitions are hard even when they go well. Give yourself extra time (even if it means setting that alarm for earlier than you hope you'll need in a few weeks.) You'll need the time, both to make sure you're feeling in control of the process and to make sure you have the emotional resources to respond in a loving, assuring way to your children. In just a few weeks, this will feel like old hat. But until then, give yourself the space and the grace to slow down, to breathe before you respond, and to acknowledge that this is new for your child, even if you've done it five times before with your older ones. Something will inevitably go differently than you'd imagined. Prepare for that too, by acknowledging it. You're modeling for your child how to feel in wobbly times. Do it for your little one, and you're likely to feel more comfortable in it yourself as well.