As I write this, I’m sitting in a stifling hot car, sweat dripping off my face, under my arms and pooling in places sweat should just not be. It’s 98°, 100% humidity and I had to turn the car off and roll down the windows to stop the engine from overheating. There’s a bunch of cars all around me- parents sitting and waiting, just like me, for our kids to be released. Yup, just another first day of school. The day starts with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. New teachers, new rules, new faces, and (gulp) even new schools. But that first day doesn’t have to be so scary or stressful, there are ways you can survive the first day of school- and even thrive, with the only sweat you break from the heat of summer. Here are some tips to help pave an easier day for you and your kids.
What to Expect on that First Day of School
This Guide to Surviving the First Day of School is divided into three sections. Even if your child is not entering those specific grades, the educational stage will most likely still apply. They all refer to public school. You can read the whole post or skip ahead to the section most relevant to you and your child.
- Kindergarten- Elementary or Primary School
- 6th Grade- Middle School
- 9th Grade – High School
Getting Through their First Day in that New School
Surviving the First Day of Kindergarten
This one is the biggie- and the hardest parting for parents more than kids. Some children may be clingy, while others don’t bat an eye.
The Essential Kindergarten Orientation
Go to the school orientation and meet the teacher. They will usually give you and your child a tour around their classroom, explain the cubby-hole system, where your child will put their things in an assigned place on a shelf. Find out where the toilets are located in the classroom. Usually, in Kindergarten, the restroom is in the class, so your child will not be leaving that class. In older grades, it may be down the hall.
During orientation, you usually have the opportunities to sign up for free or reduced lunches in the cafeteria, volunteering, and PTA- Parent-Teacher Association) and other opportunities. If you like to be in the know, consider signing up for PTA or volunteering- if even you have only an hour a month to spare. This is a great way to learn about what is going on in your school, the teachers and the dynamics. I volunteered for years and you get to be an insider when you help out. If the thought of helping out in a class filled with kids makes you break out in hives, they usually have quieter administration type positions too. It never hurts to ask.
Make sure you have a good wander around the school during orientation to familiarize your child with where things are like the front office, the cafeteria, the library, the gym, music, and art rooms too.
The Shocking School Supply List for Kindergarten
Also during orientation, the teacher will probably hand you a school supply list and maybe even a wish list that includes items the teacher may need. All schools are different, but this list can be shocking to the uninitiated. Budgets are tight everywhere- not sure if this is from bad management of money or prioritization, but this seems to be how it has been for years- and years- and years. A lot of teachers dip into their own salaries to buy classroom supplies- and those salaries are not phenomenal.
If this is your first kindergartener, that supply list will look bizarre- with things from Ziploc baggies to Clorox antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer to a change of clothes. When you purchase these things, aside from a pencil box and their lunch box and backpack (and that change of clothes- in case of bladder accidents), don’t bother writing your child’s name on everything. The items are collected by the teacher, stored in the class storage closet and distributed through the year to everyone. If you can’t get everything on their list- don’t sweat it. We are all on a budget as well, and they know this too.
- You can check out more about shopping for school supplies and other things you should do before school begins in the Ultimate Back to School Guide for Families.
During orientation, ask ahead of time if you can walk your child to class on the first day. Some schools allow this, others don’t. Find out before that first day.
The Kindergarten Stagger-Start
The great schools have a stagger-start week, where half of the kindergarten class goes the first two days, the other half goes the next two days and then they all go to class after that. This allows the teacher to get to know your child better in a smaller group and acclimatizes your child to this new situation. Other schools just have all kids come on the first day.
Walking Your Child to Class on the First Day
If you can walk your child to class, carry those school supplies yourself on that first day. If not, stagger them during the week in your child’s backpack. It is easier on your child if you don’t linger in their new classroom on that first morning. Teachers have experience in dealing with that first-day parting, and your child’s attention will be diverted to some activity more easily if you are gone. Just a quick hug and “see you later, kiddo” gives them that boost of confidence. They look towards you for signals- let them know this is okay- don’t cry or get upset until you are safely well away- then cry away, call up a friend a talk. Arrange a mom coffee morning on that first day and get together with friends to cheer yourselves up. Yes, parting really is sweet sorrow.
I had one child who seemed confident in the beginning on the first day but the teacher called me later to say my child was sad and needed to hear my voice. My other baby gave me a “bye mom,” and never glanced back. Children have such different personalities, and each child will be different on entering kindergarten.
If you have a friend who’s child is starting school for the first time, give her a call. Today can be hard on some parents.
Facing that First School Lunch
Make your child’s first day easier by packing their lunch. Food from home is familiar, whereas school cafeteria food is strange. They may eventually want to start trying that school food (or not). Let them choose what they want to eat for that first-day meal at school. Add a special note. Sure your child may not be reading, but a heart or even a smiley face will work. (I still add notes to lunches!). It lets them know you are thinking of them.
End of Day Car Lines & Buses
After school car line will be chaotic for a week before everyone settles into their routine. At orientation, you will probably be given a car line tag. Follow the directions on the tag (each school is different). Ask at orientation where the car line will be. In the after school car-line, kids are escorted to the cars and it tends to be very strict. You will be given an official form to fill out regarding who can pick up your child from school- anyone not on that list will not be allowed to pick up your child from school- ever.
For buses- the buses will run late- even super late, as the drivers have to check off every child before and after school from a list- and they aren’t allowed to let younger kids off the bus unless there is a parent there to pick them up (if you miss that pick up time, your child will be taken back to school!) Some schools require students to ride morning and afternoon for a specified period of time so the drivers get to know which child goes where and every child has an assigned stop.
When your child comes home on that first day, have a snack for them. Carve out some personal time together, where you can sit and talk. Ask them how their day went. Did they meet anyone? What did they do? What’s the teacher like. And really listen to their answers. This was a stressful day for them. A cuddle doesn’t go amiss. At bed time read them a story. Spend extra time. Some kids love school. Some kids don’t, but sometimes, like eating vegetables, it just takes getting used to before they are okay with it.
That First School Photo
A note on school photos. I have no clue what person thought it was a great idea to take school photos within the first few days of school- but with kindergarteners who are still adjusting to the school thing to start with, they tend to look terrified in that first photo. Don’t buy it and let them have it redone later at the retake day when they are settled in and more comfortable. Or just take your own photo 🙂
Bedtime reading before kindergarten: The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (try not to cry)
Surviving the First Day of Middle School
Your child has entered a whole new ballgame. Middle school, as Jeff Kinney noted in his Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, “is the holding ground.” Your child has reached the stage where they no longer need the hand-holding of elementary school, but they are not mature enough to be left to their own devices like in high school. And then you toss those unregulated adolescent hormones into the mix- kids are growing at an incredible speed, girls are maturing and probably facing their first periods (though many 5th graders already have) and bam- middle school mess.
Middle School comprises of 6th to 8th graders who are given freedoms that were heavily enforced in elementary schools: they are no longer constantly supervised; they walk to their classes on their own; they eat lunch with their friends. Some kids, who are still immature, go wild with this new freedom and don’t be surprised if you hear swearing among these kids- though they tend to shut it down when adults are around- don’t be too shocked, just let your child know that they better not be doing it (and sorry, but they probably are anyway). It IS a phase. They are testing their boundaries.
As they are in the boyfriend-girlfriend zone. This is a hot topic, and each family has their own rules- make sure your kids know what your family rules are on this matter. I was told this: in middle school, it’s not real dating. They just hold hands and sit at the same table at lunch. Being a highly suspicious mom, I’m not positive I can buy that and am pushing the friends-only agenda with no open negotiations until 16. Kids need to be kids. (They also need to remember that they are just kids and not buy into the stuff ultra-mature images the media tries to push at them. Nuff said.)
Friends & Middle School
Middle school can be a scary place for your child. They do need fellow friends to help them survive because it can also be a very lonely time too. This is also a time that bullying can escalate- given that unsupervised freedom time and usage of phones/texting. They need back up–they need friends.
If your child has friends from elementary school going to middle school with them, fantastic. They may not have a single class together but can commiserate on weekends and before/after school together. New area or friends moved away? Encourage your child to join a school club or sport. Middle school tends to have better pickings than elementary school, from basketball and track teams to SAVE (Students Against Violence), art & video clubs. They can also join competitions like a brain or math bowl. Get them involved to meet other kids. They may not become besties with anyone, but being a part of a group helps build their self-confidence. You can check out the school website for club listings or stop by the guidance office and inquire. Your local library also usually has youth programs where they can meet other kids their age as well.
Orientation for Middle Schoolers
6th Grade orientation is a must. Your child will get a class schedule and a map. Walk through the schedule as if it were a school day so your child will know what route they will be taking- and how much time it can take. Meet the teachers- like in elementary school, you’ll be handed a supply list. These aren’t as heavy handed like in kindergarten. Sometimes the list is posted on a board and you have to use your phone to snap a picture of it. You’ll also get a class syllabus- one that may need signing & returning by you and your child.
Teachers in middle school may also hand out their personal phone number/email with hours to contact for any homework questions. They may want you to sign up on websites like Edmodo to get the homework assignments or to log in to the student portal to access the text book. Let these teachers know if you do not have access (or only limited access) to a computer so other arrangements can be made. They assume that everyone has internet. Let them know if the case is otherwise before classes begin.
Make sure to sign up for parental access to the school portal so you can keep track of your child’s grades too. You can usually do this during orientation. Also, sign up for free/reduced lunches in the cafeteria and find out where the car line/bus area is and the bus schedule if necessary.
“You can always tell the six graders- they look tiny and scared.” – our son
That First Middle School Lunch
The first day of school, they will not just let your 6th grader figure out the logistics of the cafeteria. They have them report to class and the teacher will take them to lunch (How many parents breathed a sigh of relief there?). After that there usually isn’t assigned seating and they are free to sit with their friends in the lunch room (and sometimes even in a lunch area outside if they are really lucky) Have a nervous child? Pack their lunch the first day- something special and include a note from you. ‘I love you’ or ‘you are awesome.’ You don’t have to be Shakespeare to get your loving & supportive message across.
Keep Up the Pace
Unlike elementary school, middle school is fast paced. A bell sounds when one class period is over and kids are expected to reach their next class before that second bell rings. They don’t give them time to muck about in the halls. My son had classes across campus- one after the other when he was in 6th grade. I swear, I think they were just trying to keep him occupied!
Gym & Dressing Out
Middle school is the first year they will have to dress out for P.E. (Physical Education- gym). They have to change into basketball shorts and t-shirts you have to purchase beforehand, but they won’t be changing the first day (each school has their own specified dress code for gym class). The first day they will be learning the class rules, then they are assigned lockers to keep their gym clothes at school. When they do start changing for gym, send some stick deodorant (not spray) too. Showers are located in the locker rooms, but both my kids inform me that no one uses them- ever. If your child is lucky, they may get gym as their last class and can wear those smelly clothes home, otherwise, they usually bring them home on Friday to get washed during the weekend and take them back on Monday.
My daughter brings an extra shirt because she had hers stolen once and had to borrow someone else’s extra shirt. If you don’t dress out, you suffer the consequences as defined by the coach- this can mean extra pushups for the culprit or, as my son has reported, the entire class having to run an extra lap- and that makes for an unpopular kid.
Avoiding Trouble Zones
Troubles at school tend to start in the bathrooms- so tell your child not to dawdle in the restroom. Do their business and leave. No sane person would want to hang out in those stinky places anyway.
Your child will soon catch on to expectations, learn to jump into the sea of students to their next classes like Crush riding the currents in Finding Nemo. There will be bumps- nothing is ever a smooth path. If they have a teacher they don’t like, at least it’s for a short time each day, instead of on all day like in Elementary School.
Car Lines & Buses
If your child has a phone, it has to be turned off during school hours, but tell them to text you when they get on the bus (if they ride the bus). After school car lines in middle school tend to be fast paced. There are no tags with names like in elementary school. Kids hop in the cars and line moves on.
Buses will be late on the first couple of days, try not to sweat it or let your child stress out about it. The bus driver is learning a new route and who goes where. Make sure they know their bus number because at the end of the day it is up to them to find their bus in the school bus line up- no hand holding. It gets easier once everyone knows the routine.
At the end of day one, have a snack & a hug ready, even if they try and shrug you off in their cool-middle schooler manner (it’s an act, really). Ask how their day was. Who their teachers are. Is there homework, etc. Don’t be surprised if they want to crash for a nap- that first day is exhausting for everyone.
Middle school is where your child will learn to stand on their own feet, navigate problems and find new friends. Remember, even though they act like they are tiny know-it-all-adults, they are still young and learning from their mistakes. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your child. Ask them about classes, teachers & their friends. And always listen to them.
Bedtime reading before 6th grade: Any Diary of a Wimpy Kid book by Jeff Kinney- heck do the whole series
Surviving the First Day of High School
Your child has finally made it to high school. This is when a parent starts to sweat as they realize there are only four short years until their baby leaves for college or just leaves home. (Yes, I choke up just thinking about it). Enjoy every precious moment- and there may be lots of times you wish to forget too, as a lot of high schools teens have reached a rebellious, I-know-more-than-anyone else-including-you phase (and maybe they do, maybe they don’t.) Always remember, you are the parent.
Responsibility is a Big Word
Different from the other schools, high schoolers are looked at as adults and treated as such. It is already assumed they are responsible by this age- responsible for getting their homework done, making up assignments, contacting their guidance counselor themselves- no hand holding. It also means there are usually no warnings for bad behavior either and the disruptive kid is sent immediately to the dean. Other more serious infringements, like possession of tobacco, are dealt with by the police. (Your child’s school probably already has an officer on campus). Yes, your child may only be 14, but they are treated as adults here. High school teachers are focused on teaching, not policing behavior.
Friends & High School
Like in 6th grade, friends are important when starting high school. It’s always good to have someone who will watch your back. High school kids revolve in cliques. They start these in middle-school, hanging out with like minded people (for better and worse). You may have a child in a clique or one that floats from one group to the other or even a lone wolf.
While the middle school had slim pickings in the extra curricular department, high schools tend to offer everything- from drama to yearbook, robotics, art, debate, FFA, FBLA, Spanish, and everything in between. If your child is in the band, they are already part of a group. Definitely encourage your child to participate in sports or club activities, or both.
High School Sports
Some of the sports and cheerleading tend to start before school even begins, giving kids the opportunity to hang with their teammates during practice. Other sports will start straight away. If your child plans on playing a sport they need a physical done by a doctor- get your doctor to do one – they will give you a signed form to hand to the school coach saying they are okay to play sports. Sometimes they will do the physicals in school. Inquire at your child’s school.
High School Orientation
High School orientation for 9th graders is different. They don’t really want parents, around. Some schools will hold a pre-orientation for parents & students to meet teachers, and then a 9th grader orientation where other, older students show the incoming ninth grader around the school; cafeteria; library, etc.
Your child may not even find out their teachers until the first day of school when they report to their homeroom teacher as posted on the school website or list on the wall and are handed their schedules in their homeroom.
Welcome to the Wired World
On that first day they will learn all of their teacher’s expectations, and again, assignments may be handed out via the internet from the school website/teacher page. If you have no internet access, let the teacher know before school begins. Your child will be expected to do things that require flash drives and even give power point presentations (though they will be doing this in most 7th & 8th-grade classes too).
High School & Gym
If your child has PE (not all kids have gym class in high school), then they will have to change into their PE clothes- again, like in middle school, this won’t happen the first day. They are less self-conscious than middle school and may want a shower- these are open showers heads 6-8 spickets with one drain- just like you see in the movies.) make sure they have body wash & a towel. And definitely deodorant.
High School Lunch- A Whole New Ball Game
By this time in life, you will know whether you have a child who likes the school lunches or prefers them from home- if they want one from home- have them either make it themselves the night before or let you know exactly what they want (yeah, sorry, no lobster tail & steak lol-, but turkey with mayo or peanut butter & jelly!). If they are buying lunch, sign up online for free/reduced lunch or send some money with them to give the cafeteria lady. High school lunch selections can be more diverse than the other schools, with extra choices like salad bars, pizza, sub sandwiches, besides the regular hot meal menu on offer. These other items also cost extra! Be warned beforehand, or you’ll start wondering how your child can blow through X-amount of money in such a short time!
Car Lines & Buses
After school- if you are picking up your child from school, expect utter chaos. Remember- they just added Senior drivers to the game. What you thought was chaos at the middle school car-line now looks like an organized mess compared to high school. Though the traffic will flow in the basic direction- that direction is just ‘out.’ The bus will be late on the first day, but the kids on it all have head phones in listening to some band or the other and don’t seem to care.
After School Burnout
Your child will be exhausted when they come home the first day. If they don’t feel like talking, leave the chatting for the dinner table and maybe at night before bed. Do ask if they have any forms that you need to sign- there will be class syllabuses and the emergency contact forms for signing, but teens tend to enter this forget-mode and need a gentle prod every now and again. This IS the first day, so cut them some slack. You also may find your new 9th grader incredibly ravenous- like devouring an entire box of cereal hungry. Strange, but provide healthy food to be gobbled down after school.
High school has different requirements for graduating. These go above and beyond the old ‘show up for class, get good grades and see ya’ that us parents grew up with. Now they want them to take an online course, so many years of a language, and have a certain amount of volunteer hours fulfilled. The requirements vary per county/school. Find out what your child’s high school requires. Also, if your child is college-bound, they may offer mentors at your child’s school, to walk them through the college requirement/form-filling process. They may also ask your college bound teen to join student field trips to the areas various colleges.
Recommended reading before high school: The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins (haha, just kidding- you’ll be lucky if you can get your kids to read over the summer at this age!)
So you did it! You made it through that first day of school! Congrats! Give yourself a pat on the back and your child a great big hug, cause you have to do the same thing over again tomorrow. The good news is that it really does get easier. Routines are learned, your kids will make friends and next thing you know they are in 5th grade, 8th grade or even 12th grade, ready to start their next new adventure.
What do you do to prepare your kids for that first day of school?
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