The first day of school, especially in early childhood education, is so very important to students, family, and educators. Positive and purposeful interaction will lead to a situation where trust is more easily built. Families want to feel welcomed and confident when leaving their child in your care. Each child should know they are valued starting from that very first day.
Here are four tips to ensure that new families feel at ease during the start of the school year.
Greeting a new family with a smile will make a world of difference for those who are doing the smiling and those receiving the smile. A simple smile can convey enthusiasm, confidence, and inclusivity. When a family comes to your center for the first time, they want to see educators that enjoy interacting and are clearly looking forward to the new school year. Kids will be reassured by a happy face and will immediately feel more comfortable in a new setting. In fact, smiling can boost both mood and health! When an individual encounters a smile, they are likely to respond in the same manner and this can relieve stress and help one stay positive.
Smiling will encourage children of all ages. In fact, one of the first ways to bond with a baby is by smiling. Interacting in this way can foster the release of hormones that can advance a baby’s brain development. So no matter the age, smiles are a positive and easy addition to the first day of school experience.
2. Greet by name, if possible.
One way to put a family at ease on the first day of school is to know new students by name. This takes effort and time, but the effect is well worth it. Most families will have already visited the center before the start of the school year, and this gives you the chance to inquire about nicknames, pronouns and proper pronunciation. Incorrectly pronouncing a person’s name, especially a child’s, can have a detrimental effect on their confidence and their feeling of belonging. Names are a large part of a person’s identity, and it is important an educator recognizes that. Making note of phonetic spelling can aid in confidently saying a child’s name so that they do not feel their name is “causing trouble”. Remember, you can always ask a family member or the child themselves to pronounce a name for you. Take the time to explain that you want to be respectful of each child in your classroom and you acknowledge that names play an important role.
If a family has in fact visited the center before the start of the school year, that is a perfect time to take a picture of the student. Have the photo printed with names and notes. If you are working with a system that has each child’s name and photo electronically stored, then prepare for the first day by studying it and/or having your tablet/phone ready for check-in. Children feel most comfortable when adults know their name because this knowledge builds community. Students will immediately feel noticed, and families will be assured that their child is valued. Starting the first day with the knowledge of student names helps convey that the educator is committed to a successful and healthy relationship for the school year.
3. Have the classroom space well-organized.
Another way to put a family at ease on the first official day of school is to have a well-organized space. This allows both students and their families to know that there will be a structured day with a purposeful routine.
You want to be sure families can find where to put their child’s belongings. A clearly labeled cubby or shelf area will ensure smoother drop-offs and pick-ups in the future. Knowing that there is a specific area set up for each individual child also assures each family that their child will be noticed and included. Be sure to check your class roster and list of names more than once as you organize. You want to be sure that every child’s name is displayed, but you also want to leave some free space, if possible, for additional children that may be joining your center after the first day.
A well-organized space will include furniture that is sized properly for children and looks comfortable. It should be clean and in good condition, as parents want to know that their child will feel secure and calm with whatever furniture they have access to. Check that furniture is also appropriate for any child that may have special needs.
Are there bookshelves and toy areas stocked with appropriate materials? Based on age and developmental milestones, these specific items will look different. Displaying these resources sends a message that there are multiple activities that will be happening during the day to keep a child engaged and happy.
Is there a space that will be used for circle time or group activities? This area should be clean and inviting. Maybe it includes a small rug, a whiteboard, and a teacher chair. Whatever it is that makes up this space, families should recognize that the educator will be focusing on establishing rapport and encouraging positive interactions.
4. Go over communication expectations.
Communication is important and families will definitely want to know how their child is doing throughout the day. Is there more than one option for communication? Paper, digital, or both? Remind parents of the process. By using a daycare app like HiMama, communication is easy to manage. Clear communication helps a parent stay connected to the center and puts their mind at ease when they are physically away from their child.
Let parents know how often they can expect an update or if they should instead look forward to a specific activity update, such as at naptime or lunch. If parents will be receiving pictures, special announcements, or reminders through the app, it might be a good idea to have families pull up the app so they can see that their child has been checked in. This small practice will ensure that a parent is looped in from the very first day. Knowing that they will be getting pictures, questions, and/or general updates will help a family feel more comfortable as they say goodbye on that first day of school.
5. Prep parents for their first day of school
Setting parents’ expectations for exactly how that first day will look can help put parents’ minds at ease, and even help them engage in dialogue with their child about what they can expect on their very first day. Sharing the classroom schedule, list of items they might need, activities they will be doing and the food they will be eating can all be helpful in helping a parent be as prepared as possible for their first day. You can share this communication in advance in a center management tool like HiMama. You can upload the menu, activity planner, finances and required forms, and the staff schedule into HiMama ahead of time, so on that big first day you can all focus on what matters most – making sure everyone feels comfortable, safe and has an amazing first day. Remember, setting clear expectations for all employees at your center will send a positive and confident message on that very first day. It’s true that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so put in the time and effort to do the best you can from the very beginning. Whatever factors you can control, such as smiling, greeting by name, organizing spaces, engaging in clear communication, and setting expectations, these components can have the greatest positive impact on the first day of school.
To learn more about how HiMama supports early childhood educators with expert-designed, research-backed and on-demand professional development trainings, click here!