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Independence: The First Day of School

The first day of school can be scary for a child and stressful for parents. The child has a new routine and new people to get used to. Help prepare your child for the first day of school by teaching independence.

For many children, beginning school ushers in a new era of independence. Helping children prepare in advance will give them fewer surprises in their first days of school attendance.

Getting up in the Morning

Depending on the household, some children will already be used to awaking at a regular time and independently doing a variety of morning activities in order to be ready to leave the house at a certain time. For others, the whole morning regime will change.

You can ease the transition for your child by helping them get used to the elements of the morning schedule in advance, whether this means awaking at a different time than they are used to, breakfasting more quickly, or just following a long sequence that might include:

  • Get up 
  • Make the bed 
  • Get dressed 
  • Eat breakfast and clear table 
  • Wash up and brush teeth 
  • Gather school things 
  • Put on outerwear

Things that can make a hectic morning schedule easier are: 

  • Checking the weather in advance in order to anticipate clothing and outerwear needs 
  • Choosing clothes the night before 
  • Having a special location for school things

Packing Lunch or Snacks

For a child who may be used to eating cooked lunches at home, the typical packed lunch focus on a sandwich may not hold much charm. A child who’s used to foraging whenever he or she wants a snack, may not be well prepared for limited snack choices. Many parents have had the experience of a lunch box returning home with barely anything eaten.

You can help your child by involving him or her in lunch or snack planning - perhaps even the shopping for school lunch items - and even the independence of their own lunch or snack preparation. This can also have the advantage of moving food preparation from morning to the evening before -- generally a more relaxed time. Insulated carriers make it possible to pack fare other than sandwiches, if that is what your child is used to and/or prefers -- items that will stay hot or cold as desired.

And then there may be a question of lunches from home vs. school cafeteria lunches. For one thing, children are naturally going to be curious about something their peers do. In addition, it may seem to them very like a restaurant. Purchasing lunch or milk tickets is another area of learning independent skills. Some parents are happy to have their child have hot lunch every day. If this doesn’t suit you for any reason, most schools list out a month’s worth of menus, and you could allow your child to choose one hot lunch a week or 3 a month or hot lunch every Wednesday (because you work late Tuesday night) or any other scheme that fits your situation.

Getting to School

Whether it’s learning school bus etiquette (greeting the driver, keeping hands to oneself, etc.), memorizing the walk to school and safely crossing streets, or being timely so that a parent can drop a child off on the way to work, for children who are having a first experience spending part of the day away from home on a regular basis, there are likely to be some new steps towards independence here. You may want to do practice runs of walking or driving to school, and at least some schools have an orientation day in which new students can explore the school bus and learn where it stops and how to reach their classroom from that location.

Doing Homework

Completing homework assignments is a typical area in which independence increases over time. At first, your child may be benefited by reminders and supervision. When you see that he or she is ready, you can release the responsibility to them, and just check their work for them, for example.

Written by Mary Elizabeth