- Early Childhood
Anticipating the start of the new school year is typically an exciting time for parents, students, and school personnel alike. In that way, this year is no different from any other, but because of current health concerns, certain procedures and practices are undergoing modification. Much work has occurred over the summer to ensure that all students will have the best educational experience possible while keeping safety, as always, the top priority. We care deeply about our students, your children, and are confident that the changes mandated by COVID-19 protocols will not interfere with your child’s exceptional experience of education at The Stanley Clark School.
One change for the coming year impacts the way Early Childhood (EC) students will enter the school. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have recommended that children’s exposure to adults in schools be limited to the extent possible. For this reason, parents of all students, including EC, are being asked to drop their children off in the car line and not accompany them into the school building. This practice has been the norm for Lower and Middle School students for some time, but EC parents have previously been allowed to walk with their children to their classroom. For the safety of all students as well as faculty and staff, this opportunity will be discontinued until the pandemic passes.
Separation from parents at the start of the school day can be difficult for some children, and every year we see a few students, usually at the beginning of the year, have a bit of struggle saying goodbye and getting on with their day. As tearful as those separations can be, our experience and our developmental understanding of all children of this age tell us that children begin to make a quick emotional adjustment as soon as the separation is accomplished, frequently within just minutes. For children, it does not matter where separation occurs, whether it be in the classroom, at home, at the school bus pick-up, or in the car line. I believe that parents who prefer to accompany their child into the school are doing so believing that they are being supportive of the child. It may serve, however, primarily as a support to the parent’s own insecurities, which we do not discount.
Many EC students have no problems with separation and that is probably due to the inherent temperamental differences among children. Nevertheless, for those children who do struggle emotionally, there are several strategies that can help mitigate their discomfort.
Create a Routine
Children adjust to routine. The new practice will begin the first day of school--this is good. As children learn that this is the new routine and that exceptions will not be made, then their adjustment will be rapid.
Have a standard format for parting. A hug, kiss, or pat on the head with wishes for a great day and specific reminders for that day (take your lunch, don’t forget I’ll pick you up early for an appointment, etc.) should be enough.
Limit Separation Time
Children can have discomfort anticipating separation. For this reason, it is important to keep the separation routine short and not extend the separation even when the child expresses concern. A short, confident, message of reassurance that they will be fine should suffice. The parent who grants the child another ten minutes with the parent has just lengthened the child’s anticipatory agony for another ten minutes. Remember, as soon as you are out of sight, their adjustment begins.
Allow for a Transitional Object
Some children are assisted by taking with them what psychologists call a transitional object, often a stuffed animal, blanket, or small toy that gives comfort. These “objects” function by being a bit of the familiar as they enter the less familiar--a bit of home at school, if you will. The school policy has always been that these items go only as far as the child’s “cubby” and don’t enter the classroom proper. That practice will continue. Some students also benefit from a “snuggly” at naptime. If your child stays at school all day, and therefore naps, you may choose to send an item for nap. The item should stay at school for at least a week rather than go back and forth from home to school and will be used only at nap time.
Children respond to recognition for a job well done. At pick-up, recognize their success and speak positively about their experiences and their growth. Attention is reinforcing and so we want to give more attention to their strengths than their expressions of fragility.
With patience and fidelity to these strategies, I am confident that our EC students will adjust quickly to the new routine. If you have any particular concerns or if your child does not seem to be responding well, I am at your disposal to discuss your thoughts in more detail.
About the Author
Director of Student Services