Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Back to School: First Day Anxiety

This time of year, many families are getting ready to send their youngsters to school for the first time.  For some children (and parents), there is a mix of emotions—ranging from excitement to apprehension.  Books are wonderful springboards for discussing these feelings and building up enthusiasm for the big day.   Local public libraries have a large selection of books for this important milestone as well as other related areas.  Topics to search in the card catalog are First Day of School, Nursery Schools, Schools, School Buses, and Kindergarten. 

It is tough to divide the books available into categories because there is so much overlap.  For this post, the focus is on the anxiety related to the first day, such as separating from parents, experiencing a new place/routine, avoiding embarrassing moments, and making new friends.   Most of these stories can be used with either preschool and kindergarten children. 

My First Day at Nursery School (by Becky Edwards)
The narrative opens with a young girl eating breakfast and thinking about the very important day ahead of her.  It is her first day of nursery school.  When she arrives at school though, she has second thoughts about staying.  Despite the colorful environment and warm people, only one thing is on this young girl’s mind: “I want my mommy.”  She becomes distracted by the various new toys all around her.  After a while, she begins missing her mommy again—but not for long.  Painting with her classmates quickly and positively redirects her attentions.  Her longing for mother continues to creep up, each time with less intensity as those feelings are replaced with the wonder and energy of classroom exploration.  When her mommy comes to pick her up, the young girl has one thing on her mind:  “I want to stay at nursery school.”  This book beautifully depicts those mixed emotions that many children feel during this vital transition into independence.  The colorful pictures are appealing and active.  My First Day at Nursery School is the perfect way to prepare your preschooler for this new adventure. 

What Did You Do Today? (by Toby Forward)
Mother and son pack their lunches together on the first day of school.   After one last hug, they separate.  The narrative shows the corresponding experiences of the pair.  While the child is learning his classmates’ names, his mother is greeting her co-workers by name.  As the boy practices his letters, his mother is at her computer typing and working.  During clean-up at school, mother is washing up her coffee cup in the break room.  As their routines come to a close, the mother rushes to pick her son up.  They walk away hand-in-hand, talking about the day.  The narrative is general enough it can apply to either preschool or kindergarten. The parallel activities make this story an enriching read.  The child listener can see that his/her routine has many similarities to the adult work world.  Also, it is clear that even though they are apart, the mother often thinks of her son and she can’t wait to be reunited with him.  This depiction assures children that they remain close in heart, if not in proximity. 

Lola does not believe she is big enough to go to school.   Besides, she could hardly find the time to go with everything there is to do at home.  Charlie, her older brother, attempts to entice her with the idea of school by sharing with her everything she will learn, such as her numbers up to 100 (which she does not need to know because there is no reason to have to count further than 10) and her letters (which she does believes is unnecessary because she can call people on the phone instead of writing).  Charlie creates entertaining scenarios for why she needs to learn these skills.  Then, she expresses her fears on what to wear, making friends, and eating in the cafeteria.  Lola’s fears are evaded with a little big brother wisdom.  She has a successful first day…she even brings home a new friend.  I Am Too Absolutely Small for School tackles many first day anxieties with sensitivity and humor.

Dinosaur Starts School (by Pamela Duncan Edwards)
The format of this picture book is different from all the others I reviewed.  The roles are reversed.  A young boy receives some "coaching” on how to prepare his dinosaur friend for his first day of school.   Hypothetical questions are asked and answered.  For example: 

“What if you got to the school gates, but Dinosaur wrapped his sharp claws around the fence and said in his timid dinosaur voice, ‘But it’s too big.  I’ll get lost.’ 
You’d say, ‘Don’t be silly!  You can’t get lost because our classroom is just the right size for dinosaurs.’”

Several common fears are addressed in a similar manner with a positive outlook and entertaining illustrations portraying typical school preparation and activities.   Dinosaur Starts School effectively uses humor and a child “expert” to help navigate the first day nervousness felt by many children. 

Further Reading:
I Am Not Going to School Today (by Robie H. Harris)
I Don’t Want to Go to School! (by Stephanie Blake)
My First Day of School (by Nancy Skarmeas)
Tinyflock Nursery School (by Suzy-Jane Tanner)
Will I Have a Friend? (by Miriam Cohen)

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