Discovering Treasures; Roles of and Opportunities for Parents in the First Six Weeks of School

Part One of a Two-Part Series

It’s with trepidation, excitement, sadness, longing, anticipation, worry and even joy that we enter together into the back to school season as a family. Saying goodbye to extended time together and serious summer fun, laid back schedules and adventures and exploration can all feel like a sad ending. Re-entering the schedule can feel like an onerous chore to some and to others, a relief. Seeing long-time friends and familiar faces can invite or renew our sense of care and belonging with our school community or it can usher in stress about safety, judgment and exclusion. Our children may be hoping to build new friendships or nervously considering the teachers and coaches who will impact their lives. No matter our focus, the back to school season seems to incite big feelings in all of us.

And there are rituals that welcome us and pave the way for transition into the learning year. Whether you connect with other parents at pick up or drop off time, attend a welcome back event or parents’ curriculum night, it’s not just your child who goes back to school. The whole family will play a key role in learning.

Responsive Classroom, an evidence-based social and emotional learning curriculum in schools, offers teachers professional guidance on the first six weeks of school and how they can seize that timeframe to set the tone for the school year in a number of ways.1 But how can we support that transition at home? An intentional approach can help us as parents and caregivers consider the ways in which we can create conducive routines at home and a caring space to support and maximize the hard work of learning that will take place in the context of our family lives.

Let’s take a look at these opportunities that exist in family life to return to school together preparing ourselves mentally, socially and emotionally to offer and receive learning throughout the school year.

Getting to Know your School Community
At the very heart of learning is connection. We know safe, caring relationships are necessary in order to bring out the best in our students. The fresh school year – whether you are beginning in a new school and everyone is unfamiliar or you are returning to a school you know well – offers a chance to create valuable connections with others. We need not be reminded that our in-person ability to connect cannot be taken for granted. Though often schools are placed in the role of organizing and reaching out to families, there is an opportunity for each and every caregiver to initiate relationships knowing how critical they are to the learning agenda. So our agenda in doing the best we can as caring parents is not only just to show up (though that is a critical first step!) but also, to consider how we show up. Bringing our warm and open heart and our willingness and effort to make caring connections will alter our presence so that we walk away having planted seeds for new, deeper or more extended relationships.

With our Children: This is the moment when our children are most nervous about their social standing. Will I make friends? Will friends be in my classes? If not, how will I manage and will I need to meet other classmates? Will I have someone to sit with at lunch? Will there be an awkward time at recess or after school when I have to wait alone? Though they must have awkward moments and encounters in order to learn social skills, our modeling can go a long way to help them. 

So 1. Be aware that when you are introducing yourself and your child to others, they are watching and learning; and 2. Offer practice in meeting new people. With young children, practice introductions between stuffed friends or action figures. Have your child try it! With older children when you encounter new families at events, include your child in the adult introductions. Reflect on them when you get in the car or move away. What made that easy? How could you do that when you encounter a new classmate? Do you recall their names? If not, how can we remember them the next time? With teens, we need to be a little subtler in our efforts since they will sniff out our eagerness to “teach” and lean away. Instead engage your teen’s empathy for others who are new to the class. You might say, “Do you remember how you felt when you were new? What was that like for you? And was there anyone who helped you feel more welcome? What did they do?

Sharing Your Gifts/Learning about Others
If every individual – student, educator and caregiver – were fully and deeply engaged in contributing the best of their inner gifts to the mission of learning, what would our schools look like, feel like? How would they be different? As we enter this school year, you might ask yourself, how are you sharing your gifts with your student and with the school community? What might that look like? How can you take one small step forward in doing that? And how can we learn about the gifts others bring? What knowledge, skills or experience do they bring professionally? What are they committed to personally? How can we find out more so that we value those we are in community with?

CPCK recently collaborated with educational leaders from Windsor Public Schools in Windsor, CT who shared this wonderful way in which they give fathers in their district the opportunity to share their best gifts at school for the benefit of all in a program called Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students).

With our Children: Can your child name their strengths? Are they able to identify what is unique and special about themselves? This is the time when teachers will offer connection activities for students to get to know one another but our students are also working on coming to know themselves. This is the ever-evolving skill of self awareness. You can help with this by asking those key questions your child might consider. It’s common for children to be complimented on their looks (“you look beautiful!”) or their athletic performance (“you were great on the soccer field”) but those are not the only ways we hope our child will define themselves. We hope they see their inner strengths like wit, curiosity, creativity, compassion, honesty, bravery, kindness and more. Discover together what these are and how they might shape your child’s sense of identity by story-telling, perhaps reflecting on your summer at dinnertime, and pointing to specific instances of those valued traits.

Discovering School Treasures
Every school has treasures. Whether its incredible teachers with passion interest areas to share, maker spaces or places that inspire creativity, or peers that hold the potential to become best best friends, our children have a lot to explore and discover. We can participate and enjoy the discovery process by keeping the dialogue alive about what discoveries are being made. And surely when we attend school events, we can return with much to report about our own discoveries. Keeping a gratitude agenda at dinnertime or whenever your family is together can help keep the exchange of school treasures alive throughout the back to school season.

With our Children: Listening with empathy and reflection can make all the difference in elevating or amplifying treasures that might go unnoticed. As your child is quickly rattling off the events or people encounters of the day, you might reflect back to them what you heard and add in how you see them as potential treasures. “Your teacher greeted you at the door today? I am delighted to hear how glad she was to see you!

As an educator, the school year feels like a time when we hit the ground running. You may be feeling this sense too. But in reality, the transition from summer to school year doesn’t happen overnight. It is indeed a season in which there’s plenty of time to plant the seeds that will be watered and grown over the coming year. So there’s more we can do but for now, these are plenty to focus on. In part two, we’ll take a look at creating conducive learning spaces at home, sharing hopes and dreams, asking big questions, finding opportunities to play and co-creating rules and routines.

We hope you bask in the glow of these first few days and weeks of school as you appreciate the discovery of treasures in your child, in your school community, and in yourself. May it be a safe, healthy and happy year of learning for all!

Denton, Paula & Kriete, Roxanne. (2000). The First Six Weeks of School (2nd Ed.). Turner Falls, MA; Northeast Foundation for Children.

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