Whether your child is heading to first grade or just beginning in an Infant Community, there are concrete, simple steps you can take to ensure your child’s first (and following) days at school are as successful as possible. Below, you will find advice that applies to any classroom as well as specific information aimed at the Infant, Casa and Elementary years; whilst it’s based on teaching experience in Montessori settings, I have no doubt much of it applies to other educational systems as well.
Congratulations! You have found the perfect school and couldn’t be more excited about the wonderful adventure your child is about to begin. You know they will do great things and cannot wait to watch their next steps in becoming the person they are meant to be.
Ideally, this would be a perfect description of your emotional state as your child starts school. If it’s not – well, fake it till you make it! Your child will look to you for clues on what is about to happen to them, and it’s going to make a world of difference if your attitude is confident and happy rather than fearful or pained. This really applies to children of all ages – don’t underestimate the emotional intelligence of a one-year-old in picking up on their parents’ thoughts and feelings.
It’s normal to be anxious or sad when your child heads to school; it’s a new chapter in their life, another sign of them growing up. If you need a shoulder to cry on because your little baby is suddenly a kindergartner, please, find one; if you need to do some research to beat the initial anxiety, well, welcome to this article! But when you’re saying goodbye to your child on their first day, they need you to be certain: this is a good and exciting thing they’re about to do.
Aside from that, you should:
The key topic when starting school during the early years is the emotional bond between the child and parent, and the child’s reaction to the physical separation when at school. Paradoxically, small children – babies and younger toddlers – tend to react rather smoothly to the new environment: as long as they feel safe and taken care of, they usually accept the change easily. Older toddlers will probably need more support, and time, to settle into their new routine. As a parent, you should expect the challenges of transition to show themselves outside of school as well; depending on your child’s personality and developmental stage, they might become clingy, attention seeking, grumpy, or oppositional. All of this is normal, and all of this will pass!
The Casa years mark the transition from what Dr. Montessori called “the unconscious explorer” and the “conscious learner”. In the Infant Community, the children usually view their teachers as akin to extended family, and the classroom as just another exciting place to play; in the Casa, they begin to form their conscious identity as students, and begin to consciously strive towards knowledge and perfecting their skills and abilities. The importance of their peer group also skyrockets: they form friendships and their interactions shift from parallel play and observation to direct cooperation.
The Montessori Elementary classroom is a place of great independence and freedom – coupled with great responsibility. The children are expected to organize their time, select work, set and meet their own goals. Rather than any academic work, the best preparation your child can have is building the habits and attitude of a reliable, confident and self-sufficient student.