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Preparation can calm first-time student jitters
RAYMOND, Miss. -- Starting school is a milestone that can be marked by anxiety for first-time students and parents, but the right preparation can make the transition easier.
Beth Bell, a child and family agent with Mississippi State University Extension in Tallahatchie County, said even a child who has been in child care outside the home can be nervous about the unknown.
“Just because a child has been attending day care doesn’t mean he or she will not experience anxiety over starting school,” Bell said. “Even if a child doesn’t seem nervous about school, talk to him or her about what school will be like and specifically what is going to happen.”
Explain to children how school will be different from the home or child care facility and describe how their day will go.
“For example, tell them how they will get to and from school, whether they will ride the bus or be taken to school by a parent, family member or friend,” Bell said. “Explain that there will be other students in the class that they may not know but that they will get to know them very soon.”
It is a good idea to make an appointment to take your child to meet his or her teacher and get a tour of the school and classroom before school starts. If the child will ride a bus, ask to tour one of the buses, Bell said.
Give children the opportunity to participate in activities that help prepare them for school.
“Let them pick out some of their school clothes and other items they will use every day, such as their backpack and lunchbox,” Bell said. “If they will be taking lunch or snacks, ask them to come up with some ideas of foods they would like.”
Jennifer Russell, an Extension child and family agent in Leflore County, said parents should talk positively about the upcoming school year and make sure they address any specific fears the child has.
“It is always important to discuss good experiences your child will have as a result of attending school,” Russell said. “It also is a good idea to ask the child if they have any concerns about starting school.”
Parents can help prepare young children for classroom learning by engaging them in educational activities before class starts.
“Most schools will provide a yearly plan of what will be expected during the school year, so I strongly encourage parents to actively schedule time for children to visit the library, go to museums and do other fun activities that correspond with what they will be learning in the classroom,” Russell said. “Reading is a great activity. It reinforces listening and comprehension skills, and children’s books about starting school can lessen distress a child might feel.”
Children also can benefit from coloring, writing and other activities that develop the motor skills necessary for writing, Bell said.
“Give kids access to paper, markers, pencils and crayons so they can scribble, doodle and color,” she said. “Playing with sculpting clay enhances hand and eye coordination and exercises the muscles needed for writing.”
First-day jitters can be just as tough on parents, but remembering to focus on the positive aspects of this transition can ease parents’ minds.
“Instead of focusing on the aspects that make you nervous, think of it as a positive step forward,” Bell said. “This is part of the journey you and your child will make together. Try to enjoy it.”
Other ways to quell uneasiness include getting involved by attending school or parent association meetings and getting to know other parents at the school.
For more information about transitioning a child to school, talk to the child’s principal or teacher. Other resources include the Mississippi Resource and Referral Center website at http://earlyyearsnetwork.msucares.com, the American Academy of Pediatrics website at http://www.healthychildren.org, or the local MSU Extension office.