When I was preparing for my birth with Oak, with all the other last minute things you need to do before you ready a home for a baby, we had to make sure we added a gift from Oak to River. It was something written on the list to ease the transition. It was something I was surely convinced that would help her soul welcome him with a bit of gusto and not so much worry.
Prior to his birth, I had heard from a friend to only do two things to help with this transition: the gift, and talk to him loudly when I was with her. Even though he couldn’t understand, River would. And acknowledging the times I was paying attention to her, and affirming to him that River needed my focus at that moment, made so much sense. Occasionally, River would echo my words back to him with a bit of pride. And whether it was nurture or nature, I had an older child who found a bit of herself in being an older sister to him, without the typical bouts of angst.
This is not to say that every transition comes without its fair share of meat and sour apples. Like the many times that one summer I had to baby-wear Oak just to do anything with my hands in the house. When my hands were finally freed up, there was much to do with them, that left River often unoccupied. While there are no big bellies and I am not entirely convinced that when it comes to transition, time makes anything better entirely. But I do know that the school transition is one that is on all of our minds.
Through the years, I’ve come to learn that most of it is us – as it always is. It’s how we treat it. It’s how we prepare them – if we prepare them. It is also as complicated as remaining organized and as simple as making sure the house is tidy and clothes are clean. I believe that much of the transition is not so much in schooling for a few hours per day (they only get like two months off) but it is making sure that the rest of the ship runs a bit smooth, so that schooling is just that added part of their lives.
There are a few things I’ve done to help with this transition. And there are a few that I have yet to do, but that you can do anytime, really.
- Don’t skip the summer-prep. And if you already did, you can ease a bit of it in for an hour or two the week before school starts. While there is a lot of talk about the summer learning gap, you can try to start dusting off the tools you children already have before school. For my son, who is going into Kindergarten, where the focus is on reading, I’ve noticed that he could use some focus on letter sound and site recognition, before they dive into site words. For my daughter, who is going into third, I’ve learned that she could work on summarizing what she’s read into paragraphs about each chapter, with key points and explanations. We’ll also revisit a few of her old math quizzes over the next few days, just as a refresher.
- Write lists for everyone, hang them up. Months ago, when I interviewed another mother on my site, she shared this cool polaroid step by step for her son. First he would brush his teeth – there was a photo for that. Then, he’d do something like, grab his lunch box, and then put on his shoes. That has stuck with me all summer, as I consider the many frustrating spats I have had with my kids in regards to school mornings, distractions, and getting out the door. If you’re not into the polaroid trick, you can always just write it down on a big piece of paper in list form, hang it next to the door, and have your child make sure they mentally check it off.
- Put the alarm back on. My biggest mistake was having the kids wake up one day in September at 6:30 AM to go to school, after spending the summer waking at 8:30 AM. Don’t be me! Start setting the alarm, and guiding your children and yourself back into your morning routine.
- Buy things. Be prepared to buy things again. While everyone is freaking out over the full list, and while I lean on the side of preparation, this is one of those tasks that cues the mental exhaustion of school and transition. Stuff, is just stuff. And somehow, we focus on the stuff and forget the rest. For New York city kids, our school system observes many of the Jewish holidays and Muslim holidays in the beginning of the year. That means, that our children have multiple days off. Which only means that parents can gather things later on. Don’t stress it.
- Talk through it all. Keep talking. Sometimes people and places tend to be a mess in the transition, despite all the prep in the world. I am a firm believer in talking. I talk with my kids about how they may feel. But I also talk about how I’m feeling. I am open with friends and with my managers, that the back-to-school crazy is real. I even go as far as to put a slow-to-respond message on my email. I think it is rather impossible to be emotionally there for your kids in the transition with all the bumps and twists, and manage all of the physical and emotional twists of your very own personally and your work. Being transparent with language helps everyone, and gives clear routes on expectations.
There is no glamorous route to move through any transition-big or small. But I do believe that all of these simple tips help steer the ship in a relatively smooth direction. And with that, it's always good to remember that not every kid is the same, not every family is the same and not every transition is the same.
Photos by LaTonya Yvette.
LaTonya Yvette is a writer & blogger with a focus on family, style, design, wellbeing, culture and community. Her first book is called Woman of Color. LaTonya lives in Brooklyn and is a native New Yorker. You can follow her on Instagram here.