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Gabby Loeb's first day at the Perelman Jewish Day School's Stern Center in Wynnewood, PA

The First Day Of School.
It is just around the corner.

-- Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston

The "Back to School" signs are everywhere reminding us that summer is ending and it is time to get serious. For many children and their parents, the fall brings excitement mixed with anxiety, particularly when it marks starting preschool or kindergarten. School may be the first time that your child is away from you, or the first time that someone other than a parent sets a new routine or places demands on your child. I am assuming that, by now, you have already chosen your child's preschool. Here are some things to keep in mind for a smooth start.

Familiarize your child with the school 

Many Jewish parents register their children with the preschool in their synagogues. This is a great idea, especially if your child goes with you to synagogue. The setting will feel familiar to them and they may know some of the children in their class. If you do not go to synagogue regularly with your children, you might want to go to synagogue a few times this summer before school starts and show them where the school is. 

If possible, it is helpful for your child to visit the school before the first day. You can show them their classroom and all of the great toys that they will have. Your child will be especially interested in seeing the bathrooms and their cubby, and meeting their teacher, if possible. If your child will be going by bus to school, see if you can take a ride with him before the first day and try to find a buddy with whom he can sit.

It is really helpful to let your child know what to expect regarding the kind of activities (naptime, snacks, circle time, recess). Following a routine may be new for your child and it might be helpful to share with them a sample schedule for the day.

Be a presence at the school

While it is important to the school for you to volunteer and be involved, it is much more important to your child. By volunteering in school, even if it is for one hour a week delivering challot on Friday morning, you will be recognized by teachers and staff. They will feel comfortable talking to you about good things and little concerns that they have before they become big concerns. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of your child in the school setting. You will have the opportunity to get a feel for the school - is it stressful or relaxed, are the children happy. Make sure to keep a low profile as you do not want to disrupt the school environment or, more importantly, get in the way of the separation process between you and your child.

Early in the year, let your child's teacher know how best to reach you. Let them know that they should feel free to call with any concerns and that you are their partner. You want to express support for them as a teacher rather than tell them how to teach; however, it might be helpful to let the teacher know important things that they should know about your child. If your child is on a medication or has a medical problem, make sure to let your child's teacher know the side effects of the medication or symptoms of the illness that are worrisome and what to do about them. If your child has a behavior problem or learning disability, you might want to let your child's teacher know the possible symptoms and how to respond, calm, or encourage your child. 

Keep in touch often in the beginning of the year to make sure that the transition is going well. It is not a great time to talk to the teacher during drop-off or pick-up as this is a very busy time. Ask the teacher when it would be convenient to talk.

The first day

Make the morning routine as stress-free as possible. Let your child pick out her clothes and choose what will be is his lunch the night before. If possible, allow a bit of time to relax and talk about the day before your leave, possibly over a leisurely breakfast. 

Let your child know that it is normal to be nervous or worried about being away from you. You might want to let him take his favorite toy or blanket with him to school so that he has something familiar during the day. Another idea is to start a ritual for how he can remember you and how he will know that you will be thinking of him during the day. I love the book "The Kissing Hand."  In this book, the mother kisses the palm of her child's hand and places his hand to his cheek. All he has to do is press the palm of his hand to his cheek to feel the warmth of the kiss during the day.

As you may recall in my other columns, you have to keep your own emotions in check. If you cry, so will she. If you smile, so will they. After you get back in your car or once the bus has turned the corner, you can cry all you want. When you are with your child, be strong and positive. Make sure not to prolong your stay in the classroom, even if your child is crying. You can play for a few minutes, but then, give your child words of encouragement, let them know that you will be back in a few hours, that you love them, and then leave.

Do not forget about safety. When riding in the car, your child needs to be in a child restraint appropriate for his size and weight and sit in the back seat. Many preschool children still need to be in forward-facing child safety seat and some have graduated to belt-positioning booster seats. If you are carpooling, make sure that you have enough restraints for all of the children in your vehicle and that you have installed them the night before. If your child is going home with someone else, check to make sure that they install their seats correctly. If your child's school is going on a trip or going by bus, inquire about how they will be transporting the children. For more easy-to-use information about child passenger safety, please look at the Children Hospital of Philadelphia's interactive website

Final note

The work of children is play. The most important goal of preschool is socialization, not learning letters or Jewish traditions. I know that we are all proud when our children can recite the motzi or read at an early age, but what they need to learn at this age is how to get along with others. They learn best about their world and experience life through play. Make sure that your child's school allows plenty of time for pretend and free play and that the teachers monitor the children well during this time. When your child comes home, take the time to play together. This low stress togetherness will be the best way for her to let you know about her day, the good the bad, the challenges, and the accomplishments. 

Best of luck for a wonderful school year. Please send us pictures and stories from the first day of school to consider posting on the website.

Previous Columns

Raising A Mensch Section Editor: Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston parenting @ pjvoice.com
Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston is a practicing pediatrician, professor of pediatrics and Scientific Director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She welcomes your comments, questions, contributions and suggestions for future columns.