Once again, it’s that time of year. It’s the night before the first day of school. Like the tide at the beach, slowly the school year rolls in for children around the globe. Tomorrow, it’s our turn.
For us, it’s not just a new year, not just a new class, or a new grade. For my children, it’s a new school. For the third time in their lives, they’ll be the new kids. They are in a new country – their third. For the first time, they’ll be learning in their first language, not their second – or third.
It’s that time of year, and my kids are nervous. They are full of questions. Most of which I can answer. Some of which I cannot. I do my best to reassure them, but I can see that they are still uneasy. Of course they are excited, but there are so many firsts tomorrow.
And so tonight, I try to reassure them, while I lay aside my own questions, my own doubts, my own fears.
We lay on the couch together and listen to a CD. This CD is a guided meditation for children, to help them relax. To help them let go of the stress, to help them calm their bodies and their minds. It works for one child, but in the stillness the other has time to think about the uncertainties ahead. For him, it is not having the desired effect.
We move into the bedroom for story time. Tonight, I’ve taken care to select a number of special books to help them with their big day tomorrow. They all focus on the themes of being the new kid, and facing the first day of school. All of the books but one that is. They request “Skippyjon Jones” by Judy Schachner, which leaves them giggling, forgetting their anxieties for the moment.
We end story time with “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, the story of a raccoon who is anxious about going to school for the first time. They ask if I will kiss their hands tomorrow. I tell them that of course I will.
My youngest goes to bed, eager to wake up. She has neatly arranged her new school things by her bed. New uniform, new shoes, new school bag. After spending four years in German Kindergarten, she is excited to begin her the first grade. She began her adventure today, celebrating the transition with a German school tradition – the Schultüte. This giant cone filled with treats and school supplies is a much anticipated tradition for children entering the first grade. In order to fully enjoy it, she opened hers a day early. She is finally going to be a first grader. She is excited.
I turn away from the room, and my oldest is in tears. He is nervous. School was not always a good experience for him in Germany, and he doesn’t want to face the same situations in a new school. Although I do my best to reassure him, nothing seems to stop his tears, and it breaks my heart. I know that this school is nothing like his German school, but I can’t convince him to look beyond his fears to the possibilities.
Finally his tears stop. I’m not sure I made him feel any better, but he is drifting off to sleep, counting the good things he’s experienced.
I leave him to dream, and I pray that they are soft dreams.
With the children safely tucked into bed, I allow my own doubts and fears to surface. It is not only the kids that are beginning a new school, I am as well. I will be attending conferences and events. I will be fielding phone calls and helping with school work. I will be reading the letters and emails that come home from the school. When a child changes schools, it is a change for the whole family. And as I learned in our two previous school years, when the child is struggling at school, the entire family struggles with them. I am relieved that this time, all communications will be in English.
My mind wanders through a multitude of questions. There are questions I can’t yet know the answers to. Have I done everything I could do to prepare them for this moment? Will they make friends easily? Will they be happy here? Then there are the questions I will figure out as we go along – Did I buy them enough uniforms? What time do we need to leave the house in the morning? When do I pick them up in the afternoon? There are hundreds of questions that run through our minds tonight. Eventually, we will find the answers to all of them, but morning will come and we must face the unknown, and all of our fears. All we can do is take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other and have faith that we will be successful.
When morning finally comes, both children are eager to begin their first day. In the bright light of a new morning, the excitement wins out over the doubts of the previous day. There is something wonderful about doing something for the very first time, including starting a new school. This is a day of possibilities, and they are ready for them. I am confident that this new school is exactly right for them, and as I leave them with their new teachers, I know that they will be happy and well cared for.
Today, I am sure that they will have a fantastic first day of school. But I’m making brownies. Just in case
Here’s what’s on my back to school reading list:
“This School Year will be the Best” by Kay Winters
“The Name Jar” by Yangsook Choi
“Do Onto Otters” by Laurie Keller
“The Exceptionally, Extraordinary, Ordinary, First Day of School” by Albert Lorenz
“The Night Before First Grade” by Natasha Wing
“The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn
Our children’s meditation CD is “Indigo Ocean Dreams” a collections of short guided meditations for children, with accompanying books (which are sold separately.)
How do you help your child prepare for a new school year?