Sunday, August 17, 2014

Happy New Year (in August)!

It’s that time of the year, when I wish I could avoid the signs that summer will soon come to a close.  It’s hard to wrap my mind around Halloween decorations when its 104 degrees outside — while at the same time, these sights remind me of another year of growth for my children, soon to be filled with opportunities for new experiences and friendships.  Each year I feel an equal sense of excitement and anxiety as the days of August slip past. 

For me, the first day of school marks my “new year”, filled with reflections of the year I’ve had and resolutions for the year to come.  Whether it was the first day I handed my ten-week old daughter into the welcoming and confident arms of her caregiver, or as I prepare this year to send our girls off to their last year of elementary and middle school — the first day is faced with mixed emotions.  I want my girls to soar.  I want them to have every opportunity to grow to love learning, establish a strong sense of confidence in their abilities, and to be prepared for that final day of school when they go out into the big, wide world.  I guess, honestly, I need to be prepared for that big day too.

For years as an early childhood teacher, and now as a director, I’ve had the opportunity to be on the other side of the fence, so to speak.  Developmentally, children need time to prepare for changes, especially ones as big as the transition to school.  I’ve found that a few simple reflections and adjustments to home routines can go a long way to benefit your child once school starts.  In turn, these will help you as you launch a great new year for your family.

First of all, consider your child’s new schedule and ease them into the schedule you’ll need to follow once school begins.  Before the first day of school, begin to adjust morning routines like dressing, eating and getting out of bed on time (this is coming from a mom of pre-teens).   Eating a good breakfast before school is critical for all ages, so be sure they are up and about early enough to have time for this important meal.  At the other end of the age spectrum are the little ones who wake early and then take a morning nap (in other words, mom or dad’s window to shower or check emails - one or the other, you don’t get both!).  I’m sorry to have to say this, but if the school program you’ve selected for your child does not include a morning nap, now is the time to begin to help them adjust their internal clocks.  The time you commit to their routines now will go a LONG way to encourage your child to have a smooth transition to a busy school schedule.

From the moment our children are born we are told that we are to help prepare them to leave us one day.  It’s so hard to believe that this day will come, but it surely will — and we’ll want them to be successful in their independence and ability to care for themselves.  Your child’s preschool is usually the first place they’ll experience authentic opportunities to put those self-care skills to practice.  While teachers understand that the development of self-care skills is a part of being a preschool teacher, it is important that parents begin to introduce and encourage these skills at home.  Skills such a blowing noses, putting jackets on, and all the bathroom tasks (pulling pants off/on, wiping, flushing, and washing hands) are important.  Practicing these skills in a familiar environment with you before school starts will help your child feel comfortable with new experiences and confident when facing challenges ahead.

When purchasing those cute outfits for your child, consider three things to help your child be successful.  First help your child dress for independence and mobility.  I’ve seen a few more overalls this season than in the past few years.  Outfits such as these require a lot of dexterity, especially for a three-year old who has waited until the last minute to run to the bathroom.  For girls, dresses can get in the way of a climbing child’s feet and drawstrings can be a hazard on the playground.  The shoes you select for your child should provide a good grip and be closed-toe.  Secondly, consider your child’s outfits as his “work clothes”.  A child’s work is play and play can (and should) be messy at times.  Understand that even with the best painting smock there will be paint, snacks, dirt, and many other things that will test your use of stain removers.  So save the special outfits for special occasions and send them off in “work clothes”.  Finally, please label everything.  I’ve heard crickets in my classroom when holding up hats, a mitten, sweaters, jackets, lunch boxes, you name it.  So either grab a sharpie or order some cute waterproof/iron on labels.

Now for getting YOU ready.  Whether you’ll be looking for a BooHoo Breakfast or a Mimosa Morning on the first day, the transition to school is a big one for parents as well.  Here are a few things that have stuck with me year after year.  As I prepare my children for the new schedule, I begin around August 1st to prepare myself, organizing items I need to pack lunches and fix breakfast more efficient.  I go ahead and plan a few easy or slow cooker meals for the first week knowing my children may need a bit more mommy time and/or a last minute list of needs for the classroom.  This is also a wonderful time to start traditions that will be kept for years to come.  For our family, this includes taking a photo of the girls by the same tree on the first day of school.  We also add a charm to their bracelets and present it to them to wear on the first day.  The charm usually signifies something special we did together over the summer.  There are endless ideas and whatever becomes your tradition, by intent or accident, will be treasured as the years pass by.  Finally, I have found that I need more tissues for the parents on the first day than for the children.  Creating to a to-do list and tackling those errands that
are easier to do without hungry, tired “helpers” in the back seat is a great way to pass the time.  

There are so many other ways we can make this transition smooth for the whole family, but these are just a few.  Just find what works for you and your family.  Let’s embrace this time and kick off the new year with a great start!

Christy Tornelli lives in Dallas' Hollywood/Santa Monica neighborhood with her husband, Carlos, and two daughters, Isabella (13) & Alessandra (10).  She serves the children of her community as the Director at The Children’s Center

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