“Did anybody besides me have trouble sleeping last night?”
That is the first question I ask students on the first day of school. If a teacher can admit to being nervous-and-excited, it makes room for students to admit their own range of emotions.
Change — even good change — is inherently stressful. Getting to know new people, new routines, and new skills is a lot for kids to process. Our youngest learners — who don’t have as much experience with “first days” — can always benefit from some extra talk-time with parents and teachers about what school is like and what they can expect.
Fred Rogers was a master at talking through kids’ wonderings and worries. As he said, “When children know ahead of time what’s going to happen — and not happen — they can prepare themselves for what’s coming. They can think about it and get used to their feelings about it.”
In the back-to-school rush, remember to talk to your child about what school will look like in simple, practical terms. What are the names of their teachers? What will the morning routine at home look like? What will they need to put in their backpack each day? How will they get to school? What will they eat for lunch? How will they get home?
One of the best ways to start a conversation about school (and feelings about school) is through read-aloud. Here are 10 books that might help. If you can’t get to your library or bookstore, try looking them up on YouTube, where you can find thousands of picture books to read aloud.
1. The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn
It’s the first day of forest school, and Chester Racoon does not want to go. To help him work through his fears, his mom finds a clever way to reassure him of her constant love. This was my go-to night-before-school read for both of my kids in preschool.
2. Wemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes
Wemberly is a mouse who is wired for worry — every little thing puts her on high alert. So the first day of school? Yeah, that tops the list. But when she finds just one friend in class, it makes everything a little easier.
3. Maisy Goes to Preschool: A Maisy First Experiences Book, by Lucy Cousins
This brightly-colored book walks preschoolers through some of the joys they can expect when they go to school. A great choice for talking young kids through the concrete routines of school.
4. Daniel Goes to School (A Daniel Tiger book), by Becky Friedman
My son wore this book out when he was a four-year-old. Daniel Tiger is excited about school but sad that his dad can’t stay with him. The message of this book addresses a core concern of kids who have separation anxiety: “Yes, grown-ups come back.”
5. Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate
It’s an alphabet back-to-school book! Follow Miss Bindergarten’s 26 students as they and she get ready for the first day.
6. On the First Day of Kindergarten, by Tish Rabe
This is an utterly charming take-off of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” highlighting small moments that make school fun. “On the first day of Kindergarten I thought it was so cool . . . Riding the bus to school!”
7. This School Year Will Be the BEST!, by Kay Winters
The teacher gathers the students on the first day and asks, “What do you hope will happen this year?” Each student shares a wish, from the serious to the silly. This book is a great way to open up a conversation about your child’s hopes this year.
8. First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg
Sarah Jane Hartwell hides under her covers and describes all the reasons she doesn’t want to go to her first day at a brand new school. Will anyone like her? But with some gentle prodding, she gets up the courage to go face a new situation — which is good, because it turns out she’s the teacher!
9. King of Kindergarten, by Derrick Barnes
This is a gorgeous book about a boy’s first day of school and how his parent’s love and confidence in him make all the difference.
10. The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson
“There will be times you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you. . . . until the day you begin to share your stories.” This is a beautiful book about making room for others and finding the courage to be yourself.