Separation & the Start of the School Year

Separation & the Start of the School Year - Playgarden Online
BY Miss Charlotte August 08, 2022

Let’s talk about separation and change in routine. We as a society have been through so much change over the last several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  What was once “normal” is no longer—schools can be online or in-person, large group gatherings may feel awkward and even play-dates might feel uneasy! 

Children, even up to age ten, are still learning to self-regulate their emotions and need help learning to express and process feelings. Tantrums or meltdowns are often a sign of over or under stimulation, worries or fears about an upcoming event, or frustrations about something concluding.  “Previewing” is an effective tool that enables the adult to support a child through a difficult transition. 

What does it mean to “preview?” Think about this—it’s Friday night and you want to watch a movie.  Some programs give you an option to watch a trailer before you rent it, while others don’t and you are left to decide your movie choice based simply on the title of the film.  I would certainly rather watch a trailer and get a glimpse at what is to come before I choose to invest the money in a movie rental.  Children are the same in that they need information in advance in order to process feelings and events to come. 

The only two things a child can control are what goes in and what comes out of their body.  Up to a certain age, most of their life is predetermined and scheduled for them, which can often at times create anxiety and frustration.  Would you want to pause your favorite sporting event to have dinner from a menu that you didn’t choose and at a time you didn’t ask for? Think about how it would feel to immediately, without warning, stop something you are enjoying to do something less enjoyable. Remember that the next time you call your child to the table for a meal or stop their play to put on their coat and rush out the door. 

Previewing allows your child an opportunity to sit with knowledge before an event happens.  Here are a few scenarios of changes that could invoke some deep feelings from your little one:

  1. After a year and change of working from home, your office has reopened and you are now required to work in person
  2. Your child has been learning remotely for over a year and they are returning to in-person school
  3. This is your child’s first time separating from you entirely and attending a classroom setting.  

There are also changes to the routine, such as daily events: 

  1. It’s breakfast time and you have to get out the door to get to school on time
  2. Your child is happily building a large structure out of blocks and it’s time to have a bath
  3. Your child is doing online preschool and all they want to do at that moment is watch television and not participate in structured learning.  

The simple act of previewing with your child doesn’t eliminate the upset a child might feel, but it helps alleviate the magnitude of the reaction.  For example, if your child is partaking in an online preschool of sorts and only wishes to watch television, you entering and saying abruptly, “Time to turn the TV off” will undoubtedly ignite upset and frustration.  A more positive example might sound like this: “I see you are having a lot of fun watching television. I’m going to go wash some dishes and when I come back in five minutes, it will be time to pause, and come back to our class time learning” You are not only acknowledging their interest in another activity and validating that, but most importantly you are saying, “I see you.” Another method I like to use is this: I allow my daughter to choose to pause rather than immediately clean up or end her play. This is a method that works particularly well with scenarios like our online preschool one here, since so many television programs or games can be paused easily instead of just shut down! Let the structure reside a little longer in their world and I promise you this will make all the difference when it’s time to transition.

Now for larger transitions, like returning to school or a grownup returning to work, there are many ways to ease the transition. What I used in my own classroom with students,  as well as with my daughter, were visual aids such as calendars and homemade memory books.  Prior to COVID, my daughter’s father traveled often. This created quite a bit of ambiguity in her little world—where was he going? When was he coming back? Why couldn’t she go too? Visual aids, such as books, photographs and calendars provide a child with tangible tools to help understand, sit with and process feelings.  I created a calendar with images of her and her father to show when he would be home, and images of him on a cartoon plane for when he would be traveling.  I also created memory books with some 4×6 photos, a hole puncher and yarn for her to “read” at night or whenever she missed him. The same type of solution will also work when you’re trying to stay distanced and safe! If your child is participating in an online preschool program and their friends are in person, you can employ similar ideas to the same effect! 

Previewing is not just giving information in advance, setting a time to return and walking away.  You need to follow through to help your child correlate the difficult situation. Giving notice about an upcoming change in routine or creating concrete tools to help comfort your child is part of the process; knowing when to preview is another key component.  I would not recommend previewing with your child, before dinner or bedtime, about a grand event that you know will cause some dysregulation. 


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Miss Charlotte Pencil

Hi, I'm Miss Charlotte!

Miss Charlotte is an Education Director by trade, and a mom by heart. All 200+ of our DIY projects were created by Miss Charlotte, with the help of her expert DIY assistant—Her 4 year old daughter! With a MST degree in Early Childhood Education and 15 years of teaching experience, her blogs and DIY projects have been an incredible resource for our Playgarden Prep schools. We hope that your family loves them as much as we do!

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