The first few weeks of each school year inspire a world of emotions in your child. There’s the excitement that comes with all that’s new—the move to a higher grade, the change of teacher and classroom, the faces of kids he may only have seen at recess now sitting at his work table or near his desk. It’s a time of great expectations and possibilities.
Of course, there can also be some apprehension mixed in with all that expected joy, and some kids experience real anxiety. It’s important to acknowledge those feelings in your child and let him know that they’re legitimate and common. But staying upbeat and positive about the journey he is about to embark on is also key to encouraging enthusiasm and optimism. Susan States, a teacher at Coolidge Elementary School in Enid, OK, recommends talking up all the cool things your student will learn and do in his new grade.
To help you prepare your child for this school year, we talked with teachers from around the country like Ms. States about the milestones you can expect your child to encounter. We also sought their advice about ways you can enhance the school experience at home. The teachers brought valuable classroom expertise to the task. Here’s what they told us.
Kindergarten to 2nd Grade
Making the Adjustment
The novelty of school is fresh at these grades, and your child is likely bursting with eagerness. Still, there may be butterflies. Help her make the transition, even after the school year has started, with these simple ideas:
- Get a sneak peek. Together with your child, visit the school before the first day if you can. This will help him feel more comfortable. “Meet the teacher and let your child get a picture of what the day will be like,” says Ellen Benton, a coordinator for Lenoir Public Schools in Kinston, NC. Look at everything from your child’s perspective. As you walk up and down the halls, point out the cafeteria and nurse’s office, telling her, “That’s where you’ll eat lunch” or “Here’s where to go if you feel sick.” Don’t forget: “There’s the bathroom.”
- Read about it. Choose books about starting school, such as The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, suggests Benton. “Children don’t always know what to ask or how to express themselves,” she says, but if you’re relaxed and reading together, your child might open up about how she feels about school. Use the pictures in the book to trigger questions such as: “Where do you sit in your classroom?” or “What do you play at recess?”
- Create a secret signal. Some children have a difficult time saying goodbye on the first few days of school. Then again, yours may be comfortable, even if you’re not! If you think either of you may experience a bit of separation anxiety, make it easier for you both by creating a parting ritual. Try a wink or a kiss—something intimate and quick. Resist the urge to linger. Teachers find that kids get into the flow of school after you leave.
3rd Grade to 5th Grade
Gearing Up for Academics
Most kids have mastered the 3 Rs at this point and are ready to enter the age of reasoning and abstract thinking. You can take advantage of that stage by connecting school life with home life.
- Lead by example. Though your child is older now, continue to read to him out loud—just as teachers do in the classroom. This reinforces reading skills and can also open up discussion topics for both of you. To strengthen writing skills, Mark Benoit, a teacher at Bay Farm Montessori Academy in Duxbury, MA, and father of his own third grader, picks a topic that interests both him and his son, and then they jot down a few notes and compare. For math? Benoit encourages incorporating it into everyday life so your child understands its value in school. “If you’re doing a home maintenance project, ask your son to measure with you,” says Benoit.
- Bring lessons to life. Find out the upcoming topics in your child’s classroom, suggests Alexis Jiles, a fourth grade teacher at View Park Prep Charter Elementary School in Los Angeles, CA. Then help make her studies come alive. If she’s going to be studying your state’s history, for example, visit a nearby battlefield. Learning about the ocean? An afternoon at the aquarium is perfect. Making classroom education a part of your home life can help get your child excited about learning.
- Empower them. If you give your child more responsibility at home, he’ll likely be more successful in school. (Your life might get a little easier, too.) Let him organize what he needs for school each day; he can keep a checklist by the door to help. Or encourage him to pack his own lunch. As kids take on tasks at home, their maturity spills over to the classroom—which teachers appreciate.
6th Grade to 8th Grade
Facing Social Pressure
Your child’s social life moves into the limelight. Her focus may at times seem to shift away from academics to making new friends and trying to fit in. She’ll yearn for more independence, too. Try to incorporate these ideas to strike a balance that works for you both.
- Make a plan. This is the time to talk about peer pressure and how your child will handle tricky situations. “Middle schoolers have more responsibility and will be making decisions without you,” says Susan Yarborough, a teacher at Blythewood Middle School in Blythewood, SC. Discuss certain scenarios, even if difficult, such as being offered alcohol or drugs, and help your child plan her response now so she doesn’t fumble for the right words under pressure.
- Encourage a connection. The world opens up to middle-school kids with a wide variety of activities, and they are hungry for a sense of belonging. Take a look at the school’s website together and check out possible clubs your child may want to try, suggests Yarborough. Or invite a friend over to look for new activities to explore together. “Kids are more likely to join with a friend,” she says, and once they do, they have an instant social group to connect with.
- Get inside information. Does your child have an older friend who just completed the grade your child is entering? Invite his family over for a cookout, or meet at the pool. Your child can find out firsthand about homework expectations, what to wear, and all the aspects of school he might not want to ask you. You can also check if your school has a peer mentoring or buddy program for incoming students.