10 Steps for a First Trip to School
1. Talk about it. A few weeks before school begins, casually incorporate making the journey to school into conversation. If this will mark your child’s first time riding the school bus, consider asking an older sibling, cousin, or neighbor to tell her what it's like.
2. Practice the route. Take the trip a few times to make it more familiar. Practice walking if your child will join older siblings, or drive if he’ll travel by bus or car. Some districts even provide an opportunity for kids to inspect and ride the school bus in advance; see if yours is one of them.
3. Connect with a friend. If your child will be boarding the bus, see if the school can provide you with names and numbers of classmates on the same route and schedule a few playdates over the summer. Or, if busing isn't an option, ask for names of parents in your area who may want to carpool. Either way, your child will have familiar faces to look for on the first day.
4. Start the night before. In the early evening, have your child assist you in laying out clothes, preparing a bagged lunch, and packing his school bag. Having some say in the decision-making will help him feel more in control.
5. Watch friendly hands. In preparation for the first morning, show your child how to draw a clock with hands set for five minutes before the time you need to walk out the door. Hang this handy helper next to a real clock and show her how to check to see if the big and little hands match up. All major tasks (breakfast, washing up and brushing teeth, getting dressed, and packing her school bag) should be accomplished by this time. Then it's shoes and jacket and out the door you go.
6. Make a blast-off area. Pick one spot near the door to collect all the bits and pieces your child needs for school. A shelf, basket, or small rug can delineate the spot. Add a hook for his jacket and a folder or bin for any papers — homework, school permission slips, notes for the teacher — that he might need to grab on his way out.
7. Have breakfast together. Mornings are sure to have hectic moments, but try to carve out 15 minutes to sit down for breakfast together. Your little one learns by example that breakfast is essential, and the conversation you share will be a sound foundation for the day to come.
8. Check the list. Before the first day, have your child help you create a short list of the top important tasks to do each morning. You might include: brush teeth, comb hair, have breakfast, get dressed, make bed, put lunch in bag, and give lots of hugs and kisses. Have your child cut out pictures or create drawings to illustrate each step. You can laminate the chart to turn it into a reusable checklist and hang it on his bedroom door.
9. Keep emergency information at hand. Now is a good time to review important information like home phone number, address, and what to do if approached by a stranger. If you touch on this information periodically, it will be both fresh in her mind and less scary. Also, make sure emergency contact information — and any important health alerts — are permanently tucked into your child's school bag. Try indelible marker or a laminated card attached to an inner clip.
10. Follow up. As the days and weeks pass, you'll surely ask about school, but also inquire about how the trip to and from is going. Make sure your child feels comfortable on the school bus or safe walking home with older kids. Checking in from time to time makes it more likely you'll hear about an issue before it becomes a problem — and will keep you connected.