Making the Transition to Full Day School

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The transition from kindergarten to first grade was a rough one for my son, who wanted to stay home with me instead. The day seemed too long to him and he resisted going to school each day.

Most kindergarten children attend school half day, with a few school systems using full day school, followed by children making the transition to attending school full day. The transition from part day kindergarten to full day first grade, from part day preschool or being at home to full day kindergarten can be overwhelming for some children.

Many children face full day school with enthusiasm and courage, but being away from mom for a long period of time or participating in structured activities for six hours leaves other children feeling tired and anxious. You can help smooth the way for your child.

Be positive about school. Avoid the temptation to say, “When you go to first grade you won’t be able to ….(throw temper tantrums, cry, have mommy tie your shoes etc.). Instead, talk about the fun your child will have. Tell your child about your favorite teacher.

Discuss positive changes. Talk about what else will happen during the new school year such as, “When you are a first grader you’ll get to…( stay up a half hour later, play T-ball, take gymnastics class, get your own library card etc.).

Limit changes. If possible, avoid too many changes at the same time. A child who outgrows a playgroup and advances to the next gymnastics class at the same time he starts full day school may be overwhelmed. If you add a new baby or move to a new house at the same time, your child may not be able to handle the transitions and will act out by hitting, kicking, or throwing temper tantrums, or turn the anxiety inward. Some signs of this may be bed wetting, regression in self help habits or nervous habits such as nail biting or tugging on hair.

Visit the classroom and teacher. Don’t wait until the first day of school. Go at the end of the previous year or as soon as teachers return after summer vacation. Point out the desks, book corner or anything else of interest to your child. Talk through the day as you look around the room. What do you think you’ll do in art? Reading? Science? Advise the teacher of any special needs your child has and if he receives any services such as speech therapy.

Help your child learn the routines. Walk to the bus stop, find out the procedure for ordering hot lunch and where children line up to go into the school in the morning. Read the school hand book so you are aware of any rules or regulations that apply to your child.

Re-adjust from your summer schedule. A week or more before school starts, begin putting your child to bed earlier and getting him up earlier. Wean him from any rest time or naps. Your child may be very tired as he adjust to full day school and need additional sleep the first few weeks.

Find a buddy. Find a child in your neighborhood or a previous school mate who is in the same class as your child. Arrange for them to walk to the bus stop or school together (with parental supervision). Encourage them to be after school play mates.

Practice good nutrition. Start your child’s day with a high protein breakfast. My son’s first grade teacher says she can tell by 9:00 which students had a good breakfast and which didn’t by how energetic and alert they are. Send an energy packed lunch and provide an after school snack of a piece of fruit rather than a cookie.

Exercise. Children need exercise to overcome mental fatigue. Most children run and play during morning, noon, and afternoon recesses. But some don’t. Take a walk or bike ride after school each day to help your child unwind from his day at school.

Make a morning checklist. Getting ready will go more smoothly if you follow the same routine each day. Sit down with your child and write out the morning routine on a piece of poster board. List making the bed, dressing, breakfast, brushing teeth, and packing his book bag.

Get help. If your child shows a high level anxiety several after a normal adjustment time has passed, has trouble concentrating, fails to form friendships or has other learning or behavioral problems, get help. Talk to the classroom teacher first. Find out what she has observed in the classroom. Ask for testing or referrals to specialists. You are the parent — trust your gut feeling.

Entering the world of full day school is a transition time for both mom and child. It is one more sign that our babies are growing up. Help them face full day school with confidence by preparing them ahead and smoothing out the transition. 

Katrina Cassel, M.Ed., lives with her husband, five of their children, and an assortment of pets in the Florida panhandle. Katrina is the author of five books.