Feeling, Playing, Planning: Managing Transition into the New School Year

Today, our home’s morning routine reflected that which has occurred each weekday for the past five years: We wake up, scramble to get dressed and get some food into our children’s bellies (with varying levels of success), and try to get out the door (preferably on time) with as little fanfare as possible.

When we arrive at daycare, we manage the transition as smoothly as possible, as well, with varying levels of success depending on our family members’ moods on any given day. Come September, however, this routine—which has been the only one Riley has known his entire life—will change as he transitions to GDS.

You may be in a similar position to us, or you may be supporting your young Hopper to transition from one grade level to the next within our GDS community. Either way, we know that what happens in the hours prior to school’s start equally impacts the manner in which our children engage in their days.

Each child and family manages transitions differently. As we support Riley (and our other son, Taylor) through this upcoming transition for us, here are some things we are doing to ensure that the upcoming shift from a familiar pre-school environment and routine to a new one is as successful as possible:

  1. Following our child’s lead and affirming his feelings—whatever they are.
    Children experience a mix of emotions: excitement, anxiety, fear, ambiguity, and much more. Whatever the age, they do not always possess the self-awareness or vocabulary to express these emotions. We try to use our best judgment to gauge when to focus on the upcoming GDS transition, ideally striking a balance between bringing up the topic ourselves and allowing him to do so.

    Whatever he feels, we attempt to listen with our eyes and ears as well as affirm his feelings as perfectly natural. While we may feel tempted to frame the upcoming transition as a wholly positive one, doing so too forcefully may unintentionally dismiss his feelings of anxiety and worry. Instead, we ask clarifying questions about those feelings we observe him expressing: “What are you feeling excited about? Why are you worried?”

    Many times, negative feelings may stem from anticipation of the unknown. If that is the case, we try to let him know that we can visit the GDS website to learn more about the school with him and assure him that there will be time to visit prior to school’s official start. More information is usually better, and we can then frame the transition positively as well as realistically.

  2. Playing!
    While our summers continue to feel packed with work, vacation, and camps, we always make time to play with our children. Outdoor child-directed play provides ripe opportunities for us to further solidify our connection with them. Allowing time for Riley to choose and direct the play activity ensures that he feels seen and heard by us and affirmed for the many skills he possesses. We also know that outdoor child-led play supports healthy social, emotional, cognitive, and physical human development by reducing stress, boosting their immune systems, and supporting their emotional availability to engage productively in social interactions and learning. Even 15 minutes a day—no matter the age—can provide tremendous benefits to our children. The combination of these physiological benefits as well as solidifying our connection with him provides a strong foundation to engage in upcoming change resiliently.

  3. Developing a plan to engage Riley in his new routine before the school year begins.
    By nature, we are creatures of habit. There will be some shifts in our morning routine with our children attending two different schools and Riley joining me in my morning commute. Changing the habits he developed over the past five years will take time and support. Knowing that this process will look different, we plan to practice this routine a week prior to school’s official start. We will talk about expectations for wake up time, getting dressed, and eating breakfast, as well as getting out the door. As much as possible, we will provide supports for Riley to engage in these tasks as independently as possible. Can he pack his lunch or backpack the night before? Can he check-off each morning task as he completes them? How can he serve as a team player to help each morning in the best interest of our family?

Regardless of these activities, we just can’t predict how Riley will experience this upcoming exciting journey into our GDS community. The unpredictability of children’s development is among the most exciting and wonderful parts of being a parent and educator. Still, we’ll know that we did our best to engage him in activities and set a solid foundation for success.

What are some things you’re doing to get your child ready for the new school year? Share them in the comments section below!

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