It happens every autumn, as predictably as trees begin to shed their brilliant leaves. Some young children have a tough time starting school, others struggle about entering a new group, and even a few, returning to familiar programs, are conflicted about separating from home and family. On the one hand, they have a natural urge for independence, and on the other, an equally appropriate need to feel safe.

Experienced teachers expect it; some parents are surprised. "All he could talk about all summer was how great it was going to be to go to school, and now that we are here, he is clinging to my leg and crying." 

While there will always be some anxiety about starting school, and certain children will have a harder time than others, teachers can help to make the transition as pleasant as possible. Here are some suggestions:

  • Do everything you reasonably can to get to know each child and family before the big day.
  • Encourage classroom visits the spring before school starts.
  • Make home visits, and get to know the children and their families before the big day. Learn all you can about each newcomer through visits, chats with parents, and questionnaires.
  • Consider gradual entry, bringing in a few children at a time before the full group gathers.
  • For preschoolers in particular, welcome security objects from home -- a special blanket, family photos, a stuffed animal -- any or all of which can wait in the owners' cubbies for whenever they may be needed.
  • Encourage a parent or other close grownup to stay and observe for as long as needed. Then support both parent and child while they separate, at first for brief periods of time.
  • Discourage parents from "sneaking out" without saying goodbye; preferably they will depart with a special ritual of hugs and kisses.
  • The more respectful parents and teachers are of each child's individual readiness to separate, and the more congenial the adults are with each other, the sooner the child will feel safe enough to enjoy the wonderful resources of the classroom, including the joy and comfort of making new friends.