It's that time of year again, and for most young children, there is a certain sense of trepidation about starting a new school year. As a former teacher, I can attest that even teachers have the first day jitters. Talking with your children about their feelings is helpful, and acknowledging their fears as a normal occurrence goes a long way towards alleviating them. Remember to stay positive, listen attentively and make suggestions as to how they can prepare for the day. If they have friends starting in the same school, organizing to go together on the first day provides built-in support for those first steps into the school yard.
Here are a few picture books that can help you start the discussion with your child. I am only highlighting a few of the books and resources available, a quick search of the online catalogue at Toronto Public Library will indicate many more.
Splat the Cat by Rob Scotten highlights the anxieties that many children feel about school. The illustrations are magic, almost touchable, and the antics caused by Splat bringing his pet mouse to school will delight the very young, who already know that cats are supposed to chase mice, not befriend them (a revelation to Splat on his first day). This is a lighthearted story that children can relate to on many levels. The details in the illustrations alone can keep children entertained for long periods of time.
For non-English speaking students, the fear and anxiety surrounding attending school for the first time are even more pronounced. Reading this book with your child will illustrate the issues that these students face, and perhaps put their fears into perspective. My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits introduces the reader to Yoon, a young girl who decides her name is much happier looking in Korean than English, as she struggles with the challenges that learning another language brings. Children will identify with her fears of fitting in, learning a new language, understanding the way school works and finding friends.
This last book title celebrates the way children can (and often do) ask the same question over and over. The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom find brother and sister Gus and Tess waiting for the school bus on the first day of school. With clever illustrations and a repetitive text, Tess asks, "Is that the bus for us, Gus?" as she notices various forms of transport coming around the corner. Her brother patiently answers the question each time. The illustrations in this book are alive with humour, adding to the reading experience. Other children join Gus and Tess at the bus stop and the author has added the complexity of having children from all cultural backgrounds illustrated in the story. This is a wonderful opportunity to discuss how children from all over the world and many backgrounds will be at school with your child.
Wishing everyone a calm, happy and exciting beginning of a new school year. And if you have a sure fire way of helping your child through their first day of school anxiety, please share them here!