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I always look forward to the first day of school. While I enjoy experiencing new things, I know that for many people the first day of school is a terrifying experience. There is a wide range of things to think about whether you’re a parent getting ready for your child or a teacher setting up a classroom. Putting aside the stresses of schoolwork, classrooms may be places where names are mispronounced, emotions are hurt, isolation is felt, and differences are perceived as problems rather than reasons for celebration. The first few weeks of school are crucial for every teacher, as this is the time when they can lay the groundwork for student engagement and help them feel comfortable enough to be themselves in front of their peers. Parents and other caregivers can also help their kids succeed.
My kids experience intense emotions and suffer with anxiety, so we start getting ready for school the night before the first day. As we readjust to earlier wake-ups and new instructors, this is welcome relief. In the days leading up to the start of school and during the first few weeks, we also make it a point to regularly ask one other about the best and worst parts of our day. It’s corny, but it keeps the conversation going and is far more difficult to ignore than the equivalent “how was your day?” These basic measures allow us to stay in touch and allow me to receive immediate notifications of any issues that may develop. Every school year has its ups and downs, but making the change from summer to school helps everyone get back on their feet.
One of my tactics, as you may have guessed, is to protect our reading time together as jealously as possible. There is probably a picture book for whatever part of the upcoming school year is making you or a loved one anxious. Recent years have seen a proliferation of books about the school experience, with topics ranging from a broad summary of a typical school day to a wide variety of works that focus on specific events and circumstances.
THE QUEEN OF KINDERGARTEN
BY DERRICK BARNES, VANESSA BRANTLEY-NEWTON
I couldn’t be more pleased to have found this sequel to the phenomenally successful The King of Kindergarten. Going into her first day of school, MJ is brimming with self-assurance and enthusiasm because she knows she will do amazing things for her teachers and classmates. The perfect read-aloud to reassure your kindergarteners that they are prepared to rule the classroom.
KINDERGARTEN: WHERE KINDNESS MATTERS EVERY DAY
BY VERA AHIYYA, JOEY CHOU
Ahiyya combines her knowledge as a kindergarten teacher with her passion for children’s literature to bring us a book that can be used to establish social norms on the first day of school or at any time during the year. At first, Leo is stumped when his instructor asks them to come up with an additional act of kindness for their promise. However, after spending the day with his classmates, he realizes how much he actually does know about kindness.
OUR CLASS IS A FAMILY
BY SHANNON OLSEN, SANDIE SONKE
It’s true that students and teachers spend more waking hours together than the people they live with. This is why it’s crucial to foster a sense of family in the classroom. It’s not uncommon for a student’s only sense of security to be in the classroom. Others had their toughest times in school. A reliable network of loved ones who will always have your back is invaluable. This book serves as a gentle reminder to kids that they are cherished and valued members of the school community, regardless of blood relations.
THE DAY YOU BEGIN
BY JACQUELINE WOODSON, RAFAEL LÓPEZ
This wonderful book serves as a reminder to teachers that their new charges are facing much more than textbooks and lectures on the first day of school. While it’s natural to feel alone on your first day of school due to the obvious differences between you and your peers, I’ve found that after giving pupils the opportunity to introduce themselves, a lot of common ground is quickly discovered and embraced.
BY MINH LÊ, DAN SANTAT
Adults, please have some tissues available. The emotions will be stirred by this one. Our heroine is great in many ways, but her ability to skip ahead in time, from her first day of school all the way to her high school graduation, is quite remarkable. Forever encapsulating the sentiment that “the days are long but the years are brief,” The Blur is a bittersweet ode to the sensory overload that is childhood while also regretting its passing.
OUR FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR
BY A. E. ALI, RAHELE JOMEPOUR BELL
So many things about this book make me adore it. It works well for accentuating any form of celebration, from the start of a new school year to the coming together of a new community. When Musa and his pals ask their new teacher what her favorite part of the school year is, she responds it’s the first day. How terrifying it is to strike up conversations with strangers! Students teach and bond with one another as they take turns sharing their most memorable celebrations with the group throughout the semester.
YOUR NAME IS A SONG
BY JAMILAH THOMPKINS-BIGELOW, LUISA URIBE
One cannot overstate the significance of pronouncing a child’s name correctly. This beautiful book about non-Anglo names is a great way for teachers to begin a discussion about how to pronounce those names correctly. Stunning as art, the message is profound as well. Don’t assume that children won’t tell you the truth and don’t procrastinate on learning these song titles.
BY LEBRON JAMES, NIÑA MATA
When I need to have a conversation about what constitutes “rules,” I always refer to this book. By working together, students can create a supportive learning environment where everyone feels comfortable and respected. In James’s book, readers are presented with an illustrated list of pledges they might make to themselves and their communities in order to always give their best. The fact that it was written by a world-famous NBA player is sure to pique the interest of young readers and generate excitement as we welcome new students into our classroom family.
ALL ARE WELCOME
BY ALEXANDRA PENFOLD, SUZANNE KAUFMAN
The contents of this book are exactly as advertised. Students from all walks of life and all types of families live and learn together in this vibrant community, introduced through vivid images and simple rhyming language. There is so much to discover in the graphics that I enjoy using this book as an open ended I Spy activity. Start with students’ observations and build from there.
THE BOY WITH BIG, BIG FEELINGS
BY BRITNEY WINN LEE, JACOB SOUVA
As a teacher, I spend a lot of time on topics involving profound emotions. Educators’ recognition and specific instruction on overwhelming emotions without shame or frustration is more important than ever in the wake of the school shutdown. Recognizing emotions is lauded as a valuable skill in this book, and sentiments are connected to their physical manifestations and coping mechanisms are discussed.
Hopefully you’ve found a book or two that will help to soothe and celebrate any first day of school emotions that spring up. Happy reading, and have a great school year!
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