It's getting to be that time of year. Spring is giving way to summer warmth, which for many programs signals the end of the school year. For many preschool and kindergarten children it is time to say good-bye to their teacher and friends. Whereas older children can't wait for that last school bell, younger children can be seen crying at the door!
Not surprisingly, preschoolers make a deep connection to their classroom "family" and can have difficulty at this time of year. Don't be surprised if your child seems sad, but isn't able to verbalize what the problem is. Some children will even appear to regress to an old behavior, such as separation anxiety or misbehavior. This is all quite normal and should be treated with compassion and sensitivity.
The regressive behavior can arise because children are beginning to realize that they will be graduating to a new class and they are supposed to be more "grown-up." So what do they do? They try being little again just to be sure that they will always be your little one! This is a good time to reassure your child that in your heart he will always be your little one … no matter how big he gets!
Just as ritual and celebration helped your child transition into this year's program, similar steps can help her transition out. Of course, her teacher is doing many activities to prepare the class as well. But to further ease this time of change, take a page out of the teacher's book and do some of the same activities at home. Here are a few to try:
  • Talk it over. One of the most distinctive traits of human beings is their ability to describe the present, remember the past and plan for the future. By inviting your child to talk about his experiences over the past year, you can help him recognize and evaluate the changes that have taken place. This also helps your child begin to think about the future, too, when he will go to a new classroom. Ask your child to remember special things about the school year, such as things he made, what he learned, places he visited, songs he sang, games he played, the favorite books he read. You might also ask him to remember the things that were "hard" this year. This will help him gain perspective about something that might have been difficult in the beginning of the year, but is easy for him now.

  • Look at me now! Did you take photos of your child during the school year? Bring these out for a shared time of reflection. Place the photos on the rug or a low table for easy reference. Invite your child to help you arrange the photos in sequence, from left (beginning of school) to right (end of school). Ask your child to notice how he has grown. You might ask: Do you look different now than when you started school? How have you changed?

  • How many days? How often does your child ask you how long until some thing happens? Children want to know how long until a birthday or until we get to Grandma's house, but usually your answer doesn't help. That is because most young children are just beginning to understand the concept of time. So if your child asks: "How many days until the end of school?" You can answer by saying: "Let's count down and see!" Help your child make his own personal end of school "count-down" paper chain. Your child can use 1-inch by 8-inch strips of paper to make the links. Have him make one link for each remaining day. Hang the chain in his room or the kitchen and have him take one link off each evening. The next time he asks how many days of school are left, you can count the remaining links together.

  • Plan a visit. If possible, visit the new school or classroom so that your child can see what lies ahead. Invite him to notice the kinds of activities the children are engaged in. Consider if there are any ways your child can start experimenting with some of these skills now. One suggestion teachers typically make is for parents to encourage their child's independence over the summer vacation with such things as dressing, setting the table, helping with cooking, and calling friends on the phone.

  • Coordinate summer play dates. Your child may like to get together with class friends during the summer months. Ask his teacher if it would be possible to make a family address, phone and e-mail list. Offer to print it up and distribute it for her. The teacher will appreciate the help. It is a very busy time of the year for her!

  • Make a gift. A handmade gift will not only make a teacher's last day of school memorable, it will help your child feel he did something special for someone he cares about. The possibilities are endless. He might want to draw a picture or make a card. He can use a small paper plate to make a frame for a photo of himself "so that the teacher can remember me!" Consider gathering all the families together to make a cooperative handmade gift. Children might draw self-portraits on paper or cloth and put these together into a "memory quilt" to give to the teacher. (Note: I still cherish mine from 1983!)