As I write this post most schools have recently completed their first day of school or will be welcoming students back in a few days. I simply love this time of year as it signals a new start and a fresh beginning for teachers and their students.
Throughout my twenty-six years in the field of education I continue to delight in the sights and smells of a new school year. A few days ago I conducted my last summer in-service training. As I walked into schools across eleven different states, preparing teachers for a new school year, I was greeted with the smell of freshly waxed floors (shined to perfection), saw inspiring bulletin boards decorated with bright construction paper and entered classrooms stocked with new school supplies eagerly awaiting young learners.
This year my daughter started her second year of preschool at Zion Lutheran School. She returned to the same loving teacher and was excited to find some of her friends had returned from last year. The only change was a new classroom space that her teacher successfully made both inviting and engaging. I reveled in the familiarity of it all as I anticipate future years to be a bit more stressful on both of us.
Prior to the first day of school we continued our “back to school” traditions of reading the “Kissing Hand” and making and decorating kissing hand cookies with Nana. We started these fun activities last year and you can read all about them here.
Whether you’re a teacher implementing the newest curriculum, a parent sending your teenager off to college, or you have children who are simply moving to the next grade level at the same school, I send you wishes for a prosperous new school year! As the seasons change the crayons will become worn and the bulletin boards will fade, the newness becoming a distant memory. When you and your children begin to lose “the sparkle” simply look back to the beginning and try to recapture some of the excitement and anticipation we all had at the start.
The first day of school signals new beginnings and kicks off a year filled with possibilities. And in every school across the United States floors shine with fresh wax and bulletin boards are adorned with bright colored construction paper. Nervous children dressed in new clothes enter sparkling classrooms stocked with sharpened pencils and crayons standing tall in boxes. They are warmly greeted by smiling teachers who anticipate a year overflowing with adventure and growth.
I love the beginning of the school year and I have experienced many first days of school. Some as a student, others as a teacher or educational consultant and now my first as a parent. Looking back most passed without any form of celebration. Some years I closed my eyes wishing they didn’t even happen. During the years we struggled with infertility part of me dreaded the back to school season. From August to September “first day of school” photos flooded Facebook and reminded me… photos of a smiling child holding a miniature chalkboard may never appear on my news feed. But we remained optimistic and God blessed us with our little Lillian and now we get to celebrate her first day of school, a day we have been preparing for since we began touring preschools in January.
Knowing the “first day of school” would be a huge transition for Lillian (and for her mommy) we began reading books during the summer about starting school to help ease any uncertainty. A few of our favorite read alouds include, “Llama Llama Misses Mamma” by Anna Dewdney, “The 12 Days of Preschool” by Jenna Lettice and “The Night Before Preschool” by Natasha Wing. Our favorite book is “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. I was first introduced to “The Kissing Hand” by my graduate school mentor, Dr. Suzie Nall, when she read it aloud in one of my classes in the late 1990’s. I will always remember the strong emotions the book evoked in me and I immediately made “The Kissing Hand” part of my back to school routine, reading it to my new kindergarten students and their parents during “meet the teacher night” that took place a few days before the first day of school. Imagine my delight when Lillian’s preschool teacher, Mrs. Stanglein, mentioned the book during her back to school parent night, encouraging us to read the book and offering up copies for caregivers to borrow.
This fabulous book that assists with separation anxiety is about a little raccoon named Chester who is afraid to go to school for the first time. Every year I choked up while reading the book. Tears streamed down my face when Mrs. Raccoon shared the “kissing hand” secret with her son. Mrs. Raccoon took Chester’s left hand and spread open his tiny fingers into a fan and kissed the middle of his palm. Chester felt his mothers kiss rush from his hand, up his arm and into his heart. It reminded him that… Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you!
The thought of parents leaving their children with me; trusting me to teach them and secretly hoping that I would love their little ones as much as they do still brings tears to my eyes. What a privilege it is to be an educator and to be partly responsible in molding young lives and shaping the future!
I saved “The Kissing Hand” for last, reading it to Lillian a few days before her first day of school. While I read, attempting to hold back tears, Lillian sat beside me taking in every word. A few hours later we said our goodbyes as I left for an overnight trip to train teachers across our state. Without prompting, Lillian took my hand, unfolded it and gently kissed the middle of my palm. She said she wanted to give me a “kissing hand” just like the one Chester gave his mommy. I in turn kissed her palm and then we both put our kissing hands up to our faces like Chester. At that very moment I knew my daughter was going to have a successful first day of school.
The day before Lillian had her first day of preschool my parents came over and Nana helped us make homemade “kissing hand” cookies. She even had hand and heart shaped cookie cutters in her cookie cutter collection! Nana is an excellent baker and Lillian and I were her assistants. Pops assisted with the decorating and Lillian was excited to share some of the cookies with her teacher, the teacher assistant and other administrators at her school. This is a fun back to school tradition I began when I was teaching (every year I made my students heart shaped sugar cookies) and I am excited to share the tradition with my little girl.
This is the first of many “first days of school” for our family of three and I am happy to report there were no tears from Lillian or from her mommy! As a new preschool parent I am comforted to know we have found the perfect early childhood center for our family. Zion Lutheran’s Early Childhood Center is a place where play is valued and seen as the young child’s work. Through experimentation, The Project Approach and exploration, Lillian will learn about God’s world. When I first walked into Mrs. Stanglein’s classroom during a tour in January I cried because her classroom was warm and inviting. It felt like home as it reminded me of my own classroom. Her keen observational skills showed that she had perfected the art of “kid watching” and I knew I had found a teacher who believes every child has potential. I cried because in that instant I knew Mrs. Stanglein would nurture and care for Lillian and the other children in her class like they were her own.
Whether you are a parent sending your child off to school for the first time or you just packed the family mini van to take your baby to college, I wish you and your family blessings for a wonderful school year.