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  • back-to-school rituals

    It feels like school is starting so early this year! I'm not sure anyone feels ready for it--children and parents alike. And yet, part of our task as parents is to help prepare our children for that first day, to register its significance without adding to our children's own feelings about school, whatever they may be, from excitement to dread and everything in between. So much of what we're encouraged to do revolves around shopping (new shoes, new shirts, new dresses, new school supplies) and around food (special breakfasts, special lunches, or after-school treats)--and if these feel like a good fit for your family, that's great.

    There are ways to step into the school year that cost less and that keep us connected at this moment when it can feel either like we're being pulled apart or like we really can't take one more day together. Practicing the way to school if you walk or bike or drive, or walking together to the bus stop, or playing at the playground in the week before school can help settle nerves by answering a child's unspoken question: what will it be like? (And if your school allows you to meet your teacher in advance, so much the better.) For walkers, making friends with neighborhood cats to greet along the way; for bikers and drivers, special songs to sing, or trees to observe throughout the seasons can be comforting touchstones each day.

    Reading books about school together--classics like The Kissing Hand, or less well-known books like Edward Unready for School for the youngest--books that acknowledge children's feelings about school can be supportive in the days and weeks leading up to school. Even after school has begun, reading about school can be a window into experience. A book like The Year of Miss Agnes or The Wheel on the School goes a long way to illuminating feelings about school, its purpose and its meaning for older elementary children. For those already more comfortable in school, the Louis Sachar Wayside School books can be entertaining. Or the adventure of school?: Harry Potter! Or, for high school students, the constraint of school and the necessity of finding oneself in the midst of it?: Among Others, or The Catcher in the Rye.

    A quiet dinner the night before school where you remember something special, just one special thing, about the summer can feel like a good goodbye...

    For many children, receiving a talisman can be helpful: a photo of you, or a felt heart you've covered in kisses, a worry doll to share troubles with throughout the day, or a note you tuck into a pocket to be read throughout the day--all of them reminders that you did and will think of them, that they are not forgotten but are held in your heart...

    And on the first day itself, a morning photo (candid in pajamas at the breakfast table or posed dressed by the door) is quick, and a wonderful way of marking growth. And if your child can trace their hand to pair with that photo, you get another tangible reminder of how small they once were--and how much they've grown by year's end.

    Good luck this year!