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Teachers talk handling a child's first-ever day of school

Tue, Sep 5th 2017 10:00 am

 By TOM DINKI, Olean Times Herald

OLEAN — In local kindergarten classrooms across the area Tuesday, there's bound to be plenty of anxiety — and not just from the kindergarteners.

A child's first-ever day of school is often emotional for all involved, including the parents seeing them off and the teachers preparing to meet them.

"For the parents, I know a lot of them are just as nervous as the kids, sometimes even more so," said Kathleen Barleben, Southern Tier Catholic School's kindergarten teacher. " ... Teachers get nervous, too."

Luckily, veteran kindergarten teachers have a few tricks to calm both their and their students' nerves, as well as some tips for parents who may have a little trouble letting go that first day.

Teachers said they've seen the full spectrum when it comes to emotions on the first day, from kids quite literally running into the classroom to walking through the door with tears in their eyes.

"Ninety percent of kids are happy and good to go," said East View Elementary School kindergarten teacher Shana Chudy. "You do have a few cryers when they're so little like that, especially if they haven't been to school."

On the first day, Barleben makes sure her classroom has plenty of activities — like puzzles, books and a sand table — so her students have a fun distraction the moment they walk through the door. She even plays music as they arrive to make the classroom feel like a "welcoming place."

East View kindergarten teacher Pam Stephens said fortunately most students stop crying once they see other children playing, getting to know each other and having a good time.  

"I think being nervous goes away pretty quickly as they get involved with familiar faces, friends in their class and the different activities we do," she said. "Their sadness turns into smiles."

Getting positive reinforcement from parents is also crucial to how a child feels on their day.

"I always think just showing that you are comfortable and confident, it kind of rubs off on your kiddo," Chudy said. "I have three kids of my own and I always told them, 'Your teacher will be great, you'll love it.'"

"Sometimes the kids need to hear the parents say, 'It's OK to be in this environment,'" Stephens added, "and to say, 'You're going to have fun, you're going to have a good time, you're going to tell me all about it at the end of the day."

However, keeping that calming presence of a parent lingering around the classroom isn't always the best choice, teachers said.

"I always just tell the parents it's so much easier if you just give them a hug, give them a kiss and go because the longer you wait the worse it tends to get," said Chudy with a laugh.

Stephen often encourages parents to say their farewells at the door and let her take it from there. However, she noted it is important for the kids to get a goodbye.

"We don't want them to leave without the child knowing, but reassure the child they'll see them at the end of the day and they can tell them all about their day," she said.

Stephens said first days have went more smoothly in recent years with the Olean City School District's orientation activities like Meet Your Teacher Day, which allows parents and their children to see their classroom and meet their teacher before the school year even starts.

"They come in and they get familiar with where they're going to sit, where they're going to hang their coat, and they familiarize themselves with what's in the classroom and it gives the parents a chance to ask us questions without the craziness of the first day," she said, adding it also allows her to talk to her students one-on-one and get to know them better.

Teachers get both excited and nervous for the first day as well — Stephens said she picks out a first-day outfit just like the kids do. Chudy said it's hard to get to sleep the night before — she often tosses and turns as she runs through her mind her plans for the next morning.

"I know for me and many of my colleagues it's the same way: You're ready to roll but you're nervous," Chudy said.

The first few days of kindergarten are more about routine and less about academics. Teachers go over the classroom rules, and how to line up, walk to the restroom and go through the cafeteria before getting into reading and spelling.

Stephen said she enjoys teaching kindergarten because so much growth happens in just one year.

"Some come in and they can't even write the first letter of their first name and by the end of the year they're writing and reading," she said. "I get anxious because I can't wait to see where they're at by the end of the year."

 (Contact reporter Tom Dinki at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter, @tomdinki)

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