Separation is a life-long process. Adults have experienced many separations throughout their lives; from our parents at the start of a new school year; or joining a child care group; from our grandparents as they age; from our siblings when they go off to college or start their own family; and loosing beloved pets that we spent joyous hours playing with. Consciously or not, we carry the feelings that we experienced in our past to our current separations from our children when they start school for the first time. It is important that we are aware of our own affect around anxiety or hesitation when we accompany our children entering the classroom during this time of transition and separation.
Phase-In refers to the initial time period of transition for children as they begin to attend school. During this time children become familiar with the new environment, new people and new routines. The key to a successful phase-in process is that it’s done gradually. It may begin with you and your child spending an hour in the classroom and gradually work up to the full work cycle, lunch, rest and then the full day. Teacher will observe the children carefully to see what interests they have and remind them of the activity the next day. Building connections and relationships early is essential.
Depending on the age of the child, the phase-in process will differ. Babies sense the warmth and caring emanating from other adults and feel content when their needs are met. Young toddlers are experiencing a newfound sense of independence and are learning that they are not a physical part of their parents. Object permanence is a lesson that is not fully mastered at this age. Toddler do not have a sense of time to know their parent will come back after rest or at the end of the workday. Children who are in the 3-5-age range are eager to try new things, meet new friends and discover how things work. Their acclimation often takes a short amount of time.
At Twin Parks Montessori School, we phase in children slowly and follow the child’s lead and comfort level. Parents are notified that phase in may take two weeks or longer. Teachers make home visits for babies and toddlers to become familiar with the physical space the child lives in. Attention is paid to noise level, feeding schedule, lighting in the room when the child sleeps. It is also helpful for the child to see the teachers for the first time in their own home with their parents and get the sense that teachers are friends.
For all children, returning and new, we email a picture of the teaching team. It helps to learn names and faces before school begins. One parent shared that they framed the teachers’ picture and each night the child said goodnight to teachers before going to sleep.
A few key tips for successful separation:
• Adjust your schedule to have time to cuddle at home before the morning drop off and some down time in the evening to talk about the day and how proud you are of your child. Use the teacher’s picture to put names to the faces for you child.
• Tell a personal, positive story about your experience in school to your 3-5 year old.
• Be positive; your child can sense your own separation anxieties; if you’re enthusiastic,
your child will be too.
• Read books about school when you’re home.
• If your child cries, remain calm. Instead of saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” or,
“There’s no reason to cry.” It’s best to address your child in a positive way: “It’s
okay to be afraid. Your teachers will take care of you.”
• Never sneak out or “slip away.” Tell your child that you’re leaving the classroom.
Make sure you are consistent and give one quick goodbye, each time you leave.
• When you leave, tell your child where you’re going, when you’ll be coming back, and
what you’ll be doing. Please follow the teacher’s instructions on when to come back,
when to leave, etc.
• Do not ask your child for permission to leave the classroom. For example, “Is it okay if I go now?” This can be confusing to your child. Be matter of fact instead.
• Please trust that we will comfort your child when you leave and that your child is
You and your child are not alone in experiencing some trepidation. The first days of school are exciting and full of unknowns for everyone, children, parents, teachers, and administration. Teachers have told me they pick out their clothes the night before, have their bag all ready to go, and still they loose sleep thinking about the first days of school! You are in great company!