Your child may have started school or gone back to school already, but here on the east coast (especially in New York City), school is just starting! My Facebook feed is bursting with adorable "First Day of School" photos from family and friends. Seeing all the photos took me back in time, Marty McFly style, to the days when all I had to worry about was what to eat for lunch and who to play with at recess.
Of all the "first day of school" memories, the one I remember the most is my first day of kindergarten at an elementary school in the suburbs of Long Island. I actually didn't start kindergarten in September like all the other kids -- instead, as a late transfer student from Queens, I started school in the middle of winter. What I remember most about that day was showing up to school in a winter coat, without a backpack or any school supplies. I remember the kindness of a curly, red-headed girl named Randi who helped me take off my jacket and hang it up on the wall. Then...I remember bursting into tears. Just sitting on the lap of my grandmotherly teacher (Mrs. Turnwall) as she comforted me while letting me sob big fat tears. Because I was shy. And I felt lost. And alone. And scared.
Eventually, I stopped crying and settled down to listen to Mrs. Turnwall read a story to the entire class. Thankfully, the class only lasted for half a day, so I didn't have to be at school for very long. Looking back now, I think I felt very, very out of place because of a few reasons: 1) I was a new student; 2) Everyone already had time to get to know each other; 3) I didn't look like anyone else (I was the only Asian student in class). I think that the shock of starting a new routine and the fear of being in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar faces was overwhelming. It was a lot for a 5-year-old to handle!
Starting a new school is definitely one of the biggest childhood changes -- and I think it's definitely important for parents and kids to visit the school beforehand and get a sense of the size and layout. But for transfer families who may not have time to visit the school, there's still value in emphasizing the positive, fun school things a child will still be able to enjoy (story hour! coloring! snack time!). Some of the biggest worries a child may have will be making new friends and liking the new teacher -- so it's also important to teach kids (especially shy ones) to try and find other kids with similar interests (who can turn into potential playdate pals), and to take time to listen and bond with the teacher.
Every first day of elementary school after that first day of kindergarten must have been easier -- because I don't have a solid memory of any of them! Although I never became BFFs with the red-headed Randi, I will always remember the sweet gesture that she showed me, a new girl who felt lost but who never felt really alone again.
Tell us: Do you have any memories about your own first day of (elementary) school?
Read more back-to-school musings:
- When (and How) Did You Find Out the Name of Your Kid's Teacher?
- Do Parents Really Need to Give Teachers Back-to-School Gifts?
Preparing for the First Day of School
Image: Back to School blackboard and school supplies via Shutterstock