Surviving the First Day of School in the Milestone Grades
The first day of school always brings some jitters; but the first day of a new level – starting kindergarten, middle school, high school or college – brings the added fear of the unknown. Here’s how to get your kid ready for the transition (college-bound students, we talk to you directly!)
Surviving the First Day of Kindergarten
Parents, think back to your own experience. To many four and five-year-olds, school is uncharted territory. It’s big, it’s structured, it’s full of new people. If your little one has gone to Pre-K, a regular play group or other type of enrichment, the first day might be less of a shock; but even this won’t guarantee a perfect transition. Here are a few ways you can make it easier.
Attitude is Everything
Experts say it’s important to send the right message to your child: kindergarten will be a new way to learn, have fun and make friends. If you are nervous about this big transition and the pending separation, chances are your kid will pick up on that. Project a positive attitude and confidence in her readiness. Frame that first day of kindergarten as a hill to climb, not a mile-high mountain to scale.
Managing First-Day Jitters
The more you can familiarize your child with the actual classroom setting before the first day of class, the better. See if the school can arrange a visit with the teacher; drive by and allow your child to walk the grounds; walk to the bus stop together a few times. Seek out parents of classmates, if possible, and arrange a few playdates.
Early child development specialists also suggest reading your kid a few books on starting school. Visit the library or bookstore (a good learning habit on its own) and look for titles like I Am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child (Candlewick, 2004).
Prepare for Tears on the First Day of Kindergarten
You would think the first day of kindergarten is the end of the world for some children. Resistance, clinging, crying – many kids put on quite a performance that ruins that first-day picture. This separation anxiety is perfectly normal in young children. Don’t linger and don’t sneak out. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving a firm, reassuring hug and then leaving without looking back. Easier said than done, of course.
Just remember that the kid who clings and cries in the morning is often the one who doesn’t want to go home at the end of the day. It will get easier for both of you with a little first day of school preparation.
Surviving the First Day of Middle School
For most tweens, the first day of middle school can be a shock. They’ll likely be changing classes six or seven times a day in a much larger building. Even if they go to a small school, the level of work expected in junior high will be amped up. Make sure that they and you are ready.
Get the Right Middle School Supplies
Common Core aside, every school, teacher and course is different. Some schools want students to carry a single large binder for all classes. Some teachers might want a five-subject spiral notebook; others might require a composition book; a few might want a binder, a spiral and color-coded folders. Whew! If you can’t get a list of supplies in advance, call the office or look online.
While it’s OK to wait until the end of the first week, you’ll get the best deals if you shop ahead. If your state has a Sales Tax Holiday, take advantage! It never hurts to stock up on basic materials like ruled paper, pens and pencils. Highlighters, scissors, a pencil case and graph paper will also be used at some point. You can always hang onto them, set up an exchange with other parents, or donate them to classroom teachers to hand out to needy kids.
Organizing is Key
Having the right materials in hand is only one part of the equation; the other is keeping it all together. Whether your area starts middle school in sixth or seventh grade, this is the level when students get a crash course in being organized. Not all students “get it” right away. Some will have a hard time transitioning to lockers, or have difficulty managing them in the short time between classes. Here are a few ideas to bring along on that middle school back to school shopping trip:
- Color-coded binders and spirals for each class
- Adhesive labels for numbering binders to correspond with the order of classes (1 for first period, 2 for second period, etc.). This helps for quick between-class locker trips.
- Plastic carry folders or binders with built-in accordion files to keep tabs on loose papers. Not all schools allow backpacks in classes; this is a good alternative.
Whether your area starts middle school in sixth or seventh grade, this is the time when students will learn organizational skills they’ll use throughout the rest of their school career. Help them be prepared and take ownership of their learning.
Starting High School
Ah, the first day of high school: On the one hand, freshmen are back at the bottom of a pecking order; on the other hand, they have a chance to reinvent themselves and find a niche. If junior high was a tiny overcrowded fish bowl, high school is a 60-gallon aquarium. So how to you prepare your student to dive in on that first day?
Have the Basics
Orientation should give you and your child a good idea of what school supplies to bring on the first day, but most teachers won’t expect kids to be prepared. A spiral notebook and a pen or pencil are a great idea for jotting down notes and needed supplies, as well for as tucking in handouts.
The All-Important Locker
The high school locker is where all the action happens in teen TV shows. And it’s true. Lockers will be your kid’s home-away-from-home, so allow them to make it inviting and personalized. Grab a coupon and shop places like Target or The Container Store for cool adornments. Popular now: motion-activated locker lights that look like chandeliers, erasable magnetic note pads shaped like thought bubbles, and removable locker “wallpaper.”
Playing the Social Game
Your high school freshman will likely feel out of sorts for the first few weeks. Finding a new social circle will take some time. Since freshmen are nowhere near as “visible” as upperclassmen, at least the pressure is off. Still, most kids want to feel like they are in sync with the crowd, so take advantage of back-to-school sales and buy some trend-friendly new clothes and accessories.
Organizing for High School
Since high school is the proving ground for work or college, kids will have to ramp up their accountability: There is more homework, less-forgiving teachers and a lower tolerance for procrastination. Talk to your student about how she managed coursework in middle school – what worked and what didn’t – as a way to work out the best system. Color-coding binders by course can be a helpful visual tool. Set up the expectation of getting assignments done right after school.
Surviving the First Week of College
Their clothes are unpacked, that new laptop is set up, and your kid and his new roommates are already old Viber pals. But it’s tough to be truly ready for that critical first week of classes. Whether it’s a local two-year program or a prestigious university, college demands a high level of organization from the get-go. The solution is to stay organized yet flexible. A few deep breaths can’t hurt, either.
Know the Lay of the Land
Even if your child went to orientation or scoped out the campus (always a good idea), there are always surprises in store. That first-period class may have moved or been cancelled altogether. Remind your kid that she is not alone and getting lost won’t count against the final grade. Suggest she find a buddy to sit next to and compare class notes.
Everyone organizes differently, and some classes will require different systems and materials. Tell your child to be prepared for anything on that first day by bringing a spiral notebook and a pen for jotting down dates, first-day assignments and other important information. Or buy cheap cardboard two-pocket folders for each class for handouts.
It’s also helpful to snap pictures of syllabi with a smartphone, or scan and upload them with an app like SNAP2PDF: it turns handouts and textbooks into PDFs. Students can enter instructor contact information and assignment due dates into an app like Evernote, Google Tasks or Apple Things.
The Art of Buying Books
It’s better not to buy textbooks before classes begin. They may change, and a long wait in line will double when books have to be returned. Once your student gets a list from each professor, he can save time and money in one of two ways:
- Save time in line at the bookstore by getting there before it opens and waiting in line. Who knows who he’ll meet!
- Save money by investigating used textbooks online from an exchange or reseller like Chegg.com.
Required College Material: Self-discipline
College moves at a faster pace than high school and has more fluid deadlines. Your child might very well be given a project on the first day of class that is due in a month. Stress the importance of getting things started right away. That dorm mixer can wait – really! Urge your child to divide long-term projects into daily chunks, and to download an app like SelfControl to help resist the temptation to surf the internet.
Sure, it’s important to reach out on social media, but remind your child that nothing replaces real people in real time when faced with a new situation. Tell your daughter to be bold and pop in on a professor during office hours. Urge your son to prop open his dorm room door and get to know his neighbors. This is the time to make friends and memories that last a lifetime.
Each school milestone is both an end and a beginning. Help your child make the best of it by being prepared with the right school supplies and a positive attitude.