Created by author and early childhood educator, Lana Button author of My Teacher’s NOT Here! (Kids Can Press) illustrated by Christine Battuz
When considering student mental health, we need to acknowledge that, in addition to, and more important than the academic slide we may see from our students as we continue to bounce between in-person and online learning for what is now the third school year, there may very well be regression in behaviour, regression in attention span, and a much higher degree of anxiety.
We need to meet our students where they are, and address, acknowledge and validate their feelings. We need to be the supportive calm in the storm. I hope teachers might find the following activities and guidelines helpful in their classrooms, to address feelings and ease anxiety for their students.
My picture book My Teacher’s NOT Here! (Kids Can Press, 2018) illustrated by Christine Battuz is a recommended read-aloud to enhance these activities. The story supports students in the challenges they may face when there is a change in their school routine. But these stand alone activities can be completed without the picture book. It is my hope that teachers, heading into the storm, might find some of these suggestions helpful so that we might provide our students with the comfort and assurance they need to continue their learning.
I like school best at school I like school best at home
*What are the results of our survey? What did most of our classmates like best? How did we find out?
Whole Group Discussion Lists:
What should a supply teacher know about our class?
Encourage students to think about class routines, the class leader’s role, classroom rules, etc.
What can you say to someone who is not feeling well?
What I like about school-at school
What I don’t like about school-at school
What I like about school-at home
What I don’t like about school-at home
*Students can draw a picture about the answer they feel strongest about, in terms of likes and dislikes. Encourage students to label their drawing with letter sounds, words and sentences.
-This activity can validate a student’s unhappy feelings while highlighting positive points in either situation.
Fill in the Blank
Sometimes I feel ____________about school.
*Encourage students to share emotions (ie: nervous, happy, frustrated, excited) that they might feel about school and create a class list.
In My Teacher’s NOT Here! Kitty was nervous about school when her teacher was away.
When I am nervous about school I can_______________________.
*Encourage students to share their positive mental health strategies. Some suggestions you might make are, finding a friend to share feelings with, drawing a picture, taking some deep breaths, looking at a favourite story, taking a movement break, holding a soft toy.
I like when my teacher__________________
Create a class list or have students create an individual picture and share with the class. Students can be encouraged to add words and sentences to their picture.
Let’s Get Creative
If your teacher was away, what kind of card would you make them?
*Provide students with folded cardstock to create a card. Students can be encouraged to create get-well greetings, to address the card to their teacher and to sign the card.
Students may choose to make a card for someone else who might need a ‘pick me up’.
I’m a children’s author, and I’ve also been working with young children for over 30 years. And so I know that starting new school routines are milestones in a child’s development. One of those milestones is using the bathroom independently— like totally independently- like without hints, or help in any of the pants down, wiping department. It’s a big deal. Every year I see children attempt to avoid this scene all together, determined to ‘wait til they get home.’ It’s why I wrote my latest picture book, “Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School) (Owlkids, 2020) I wanted to show children in a fun and funny way that they would have a lot more fun at school if they faced this fear. And illustrator Hatem Aly did the most fantastic job bringing my determined bathroom avoider Raj to life.
And I’m here to tell you that I didn’t get far into this school year before meeting a few new friends who were avoiding my class washroom at all cost. Raj did not let me down! Kids found the story relatable and helpful. It even made an overnight trip in a backpack to a child’s home so his parents could read the story at bedtime. And the child told me, with a stone cold stare, “You know he almost peed his pants. But then he did it! He used it! The bathroom at school.” And I am pleased to report that the child then marched into the bathroom and soon triumphantly returned. You know, as a children’s author, starred reviews are a great thing, but nothing is better than knowing that your story has helped a child.
Tips for success and easing anxiety
We’re all getting used to wearing those masks. And over the past few months you may have sheltered your child from going places where mask wearing is mandatory. So now what do you do as they get ready to go to school- and wear that mask all day long? As a seasoned early childhood educator, I’m invested in your child’s well-being. And I’ve put together these tips to make mask wearing easier for your young child.
Choosing the mask
Can your child pick out their mask? If they have a say in what they are wearing, they are more likely to be excited about wearing it. Browsing online is easier than browsing in a store these days, so do a search and give your child a chance to see the variety of masks out there. Even if you can’t order one today, just giving your child a chance to look at a variety of child friendly masks will help take away the scary element.
Consider accessories- There will be ‘mask breaks’ throughout your child’s day. Consider adding a fanny pack to your child’s wardrobe. (Did you save yours from the 70’s??) This will give your child a clean spot to put their mask when they are outside and an easy access to grabbing it to put back on.
There are also some cool lanyards out there that hook onto your child’s mask. Look for the break-away ones that will come detached when you give it a good yank- so there’s no choking hazard. These lanyards also allow your child to keep their mask close and clean when having a mask break. Google child mask lanyards for lots of choices.
Getting comfortable Seeing Masks
Spend some time desensitizing your child to masks. You want your child to have experienced that ‘people wear masks and I am still safe’. So, have your child see people in masks in public, like at the grocery store. Have them spend time with people they know who are wearing masks, such as their family members or close friends.
Getting Comfortable Wearing Masks
Wearing a mask gets easier as you get used to it. Pick times throughout the day to practice wearing a mask- and make it fun. Motivate your child with a fun activity paired with mask wearing. “Let’s walk around the block in our mask, and then let’s have a snack.” Motivate your child to wear a mask during a fun activity like playing a game or watching a favourite show.
Your Attitude Counts!
As a parent you are dealing with a lot of anxiety here! So, this is where you’ll need to draw on your inner actor and put a smile on your face. Your attitude toward these masks will make a huge impact on how your child will cope when wearing one. Of course, you are going to be understanding and listen when your child talks about discomfort in wearing the mask. But comments about your child being in danger, or that the ‘masks are ridiculous’ will only make your child more anxious. Keep it light. Keep it fun. And check that you are having those anxious conversations out of earshot of your young child.
“I can totally relate to Raj!” That’s what I hear every time I describe my new book, RAJ’S RULE (FOR THE BATHROOM AT SCHOOL) (Owlkids Books, 2020). Raj has a list of tips to help him get through an entire day at school- without ever using the bathroom. Although I, too, appreciate Raj’s preference for his bathroom at home (that’s the bathroom he knows) I’ve seen firsthand, as an ECE with over 30 years experience, the discomfort this causes, and how it stops a child from getting the most out of their day at school. So the moral of the story? Go when you need to- even at school!
And I’ve compiled 5 TIPS FOR SCHOOL BATHROOM SUCCESS. Because, let’s be honest- our kids are out of practice, because for months, they’ve not only stayed at home, they’ve ‘gone’ at home.
I’VE GOTTA GO! Our kids may have gone back to relying on a parent to remind them when they should use the washroom. Give your child ownership in this department so they can start thinking for themselves.
HOLD ON A MINUTE In a class full of children, kids will sometimes have to wait their turn to go to the washroom. Encourage your child to not wait until the last minute (you know-that ‘dancing stage’) before taking a trip to the washroom.
CLOTHES CALL I realize those tights match perfectly with that headband, and those jeans are super cute, but can your kids undo the button or get the tights down quickly on their own— especially if ‘it’s an emergency!!’? Before your child’s clothes come home in a bag you might want to rethink that belt. The elastic waist is your child’s friend!
CLEAN SWEEP I know you do a more efficient job in the wiping department, but especially in our currently socially distanced world- your child will be on their own in the school stall and practice makes perfect. And make sure to encourage kids to be like Raj and independently ‘soak for a second and scrub every finger’ when washing hands.
*** HAPPENS Kk accidents happen, and it’s always better to be prepared. On the off chance your child doesn’t make it to the washroom, make sure they have a change of clothes that can be easily accessed without making a big scene. (bonus tip- don’t forget to pack extra socks!)
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of RAJ’S RULE (FOR THE BATHROOM AT SCHOOL) (@owlkidspublishing) fabulously illustrated by Hatem Aly. And hey- I’m available for school visits virtually this year! I can customize a visit, and pop right into your classroom- wherever your school is located! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more, or check out my website at http://www.lanabutton.com
Check out my picture books that encourage self-reliance, empathy, resilience and anti-bullying.
I am (optimistically) wishing you a year of fun, health and lots of learning this school year.
World Read Aloud Day is Wednesday Feb, 5, 2020! It’s a day to celebrate the joy of reading aloud. Literacy is a fundamental human right that belongs to everyone. The best part of reading out loud is that it is a shared reading experience, that not only increases the listener’s vocabulary and literary skills, but also can create a special bond between the reader and the listener. It’s powerful stuff! On February 5th, World Read Aloud Day, join millions of readers, writers, and listeners from communities across the world as we come together to honor the joy and power of reading and sharing stories. Let’s continue to expand the definition and scope of global literacy. Celebrate World Read Aloud Day by grabbing a book, and someone you love, and read out loud.
Read aloud tips
Read It Ahead of Time Reading through that story ahead of time gives you a head’s up on the wording, the rhythm and the pronunciation of the story as well as any story surprises. Your read aloud is much more likely to be a winning performance for your listeners if you scan through it before you read it out loud.
Pause Before the Page Turn. Give your listeners lots of time to take in the illustrations before you flip to the next page.
Speak Up and Slow Down. Your listeners will take in more of the story if you give them time to process what you are saying. Use your stage voice and you are more likely to keep their attention.
Post Book Recap- Talk about the story after it is finished. Ask the listeners, who was in the story, where did it take place, what was the problem and how was the problem solved. No wrong answers here! Think of this as a mini book club conversation. Give your listeners the opportunity to share their thoughts on the story, and the read aloud story will have more of a lasting impact.
Re-Read Those Favourites- Picture books are intended to be read over and over again. Enjoy a favourite! This gives the listener an opportunity to ‘visit an old friend’ as well as discover something new in a familiar story.
Try Something New- Don’t be afraid to introduce your listeners to a new topic- even a heavy handed topic can be covered in a softer, gentler way through the pages of a picture book.
February 19th is the inaugural I Read Canadian Day. This is a national day to celebrate Canadian books for young people. On this day, let’s all Read Canadian to celebrate the richness, diversity and breadth of Canadian literature!
-Librarians- Display those amazing Canadian books so they are easy to grab. Sign your school up for this fun day at http://www.ireadcanadian.com/day. It’s fast, it’s free, and it supports everything you love about literature!
-Teachers- schedule 15 minutes into your day, this February 19th, 2020, to stop and read out loud to your students from a Canadian book. Or have your students read themselves from a Canadian book of their choosing. Or invite a Canadian author in to read from their books. Or do all three!!
Come on Canada! On February 19th let’s all read a Canadian book and share our reading experience with family and friends, and on social media. There is so much to celebrate with Canadian books! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuFn-KOKJ2w
Back-to-school is the biggest transition of the year, and it takes a few weeks to feel comfortable in this new routine. September takes a toll on our kids physically, mentally and emotionally. I’ve been guiding young children and their families into a new school year for 30 years now. I know a few tricks for easing into a fall routine. And I know that, heading into week two of school, your child will need these things:
THEY NEED TIME Your child is tired! They are taking in so much during the day— new rules, new schedules, the teaching style of a new teacher. It takes a lot of brainpower, and it’s exhausting! Think back to when you were training for a new job or learning how to drive. Those first few experiences are mentally draining. Support your child during back to school transition by allowing them a good chunk of unscheduled time.
If it’s possible, hold off on signing up for weekday extra curricular classes, (as well as after-school play dates) for two weeks. This will give your child a chance to get comfortable with their new surroundings before being expected to take on another set of rules and routines.
They may need down time from talking as well. I know you’re dying to hear about their day, but if they need a break to mentally take in the day, try to save the questions for later in the evening. It’s awesome if your schedule allows for your child to take off their shoes, plop on the couch and decompress when their school day is done.
THEY NEED CHOICE At school there’s a new routine and not a lot of choice. Your child is told when to have lunch, go outside, read, think mathematically or be creative. Allowing your child to call some of the shots when they get home (maybe what and when they have a snack, what they want to play…) allows them to get some control and choice back in their day (and maybe burn off some built-up frustration from not having much choice). This freedom to choose will allow your child to build up their self-regulation reserves so that when they get back to class tomorrow, they can be attentive.
THEY NEED FOOD Your child is taking in a new routine and this may temporarily throw off their appetite during school hours. If you are noticing that your child is extra moody, or short tempered after school, they may be really hungry. Support this transition time with some after school comfort food. But before you start easing up on what you pack for lunch, be warned that as soon as your child feels comfortable in class, they will start eating their regular amount again.
THEY NEED TISSUE BOXES! Give your kids the materials they need for the next day. There is nothing worse for a child than having to start a day telling their new teacher they don’t have what they’ve been asked to bring. So, whether it’s a family photo, a fall leaf or a box of tissues- send it with your child on the day it’s due. You are not only supporting them, you are setting up strong organizational skills and sending the message that school is important.
THEY NEED SLEEP It’s not easy getting used to a new routine of going to bed (and waking up!) early. Wind things down in your house a half hour before their new fall bedtime. (NO homework- this can re-fire their brain, set off nerves, and wreck their sleep) and have them go to bed at this earlier time, even if they aren’t sleeping right away.
THEY NEED A GOOD STORY Just before you shut the lights out, let them choose a story- a favorite, a funny one. Let your child read (or be read to) for pleasure and enjoyment. This is not the time for a must-sound-out literacy lesson, this is story time at it’s finest. You will establish a lifelong love of reading AND set your child up for a good night’s sleep if you establish an enjoyable story time just before bed.
It takes time! Give these tips a try and give your family two weeks. Soon everyone will make it through school transition.
There is no way around it- whether you have a little one starting school for the first time, or a child heading back to those first few grades, starting school is an anxiety inducer. But your positive attitude towards the situation (and some great picture books) can alleviate the stress and help pump up your child’s confidence and optimism about school.
- Pete the Cat, Rocking in my School Shoes, by Eric Litwin and James Dean https://www.amazon.ca/Pete-Cat-Rocking-School-Shoes/dp/0061910244
This is a fun easy read that shows children there are lots of great spots in school, and it’s ‘all good’!
- Wemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes https://www.amazon.ca/Wemberly-Worried-Kevin Henkes/dp/0061857769/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472559642&sr=1-1&keywords=Wemberly+Worried
You think you’re worried about school- well Wemberly worries about everything! How will she handle her first day? This is one of my absolute favorites! It provides support, understanding, encouragement and inspiration.
- Willow’s Whispers, by Lana Button and Tania Howells https://www.amazon.ca/Willows-Whispers-Lana-Button/dp/1554537444/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560178&sr=1-1&keywords=Willow%27s+Whispers
When Willow is at school her words come out as soft and shy as a secret. But not for long! Willow will inspire young ones to use their own big strong voice in school. This story also builds inclusiveness and empathy for every voice in the class.
4. My Teacher’s Not Here! by Lana Button and Christine Battuz https://www.amazon.com/Teachers-Not-Here-Lana-Button/dp/1771383569
Kitty proves to herself that she can not only get through an unexpected day at school, she can even have fun!!
- The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers https://www.amazon.ca/Day-Crayons-Quit-Drew-Daywalt/dp/0399255370/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472560981&sr=1-1&keywords=the+day+the+crayons+quit
…because, hey, when you’re anxious, you need a good laugh! And I love the message that we have the freedom to think outside the box and create new and exciting things— that’s the fresh start opportunity waiting for your child at school— like a brand new box of crayons!
Lend an understanding ear to your child when they tell you about their back-to-school anxieties. Let them know that these are common, understandable emotions that will go away in time. And fess up to your child that many of us are feeling the same way during this annual stress-filled transition. But while you remain supportive, concentrate your words, your body language and your attitude on the positive exciting aspects and opportunities of school. Hang on! In a few weeks, we will all be in the swing of things!
You have got this parenting thing figured out, right? I mean, so far you’ve survived a nine-month pregnancy, 20 hours of labor, years on no sleep and toddler tantrums. So…saying goodbye to your child at preschool? You can handle it.
You’ve done all you can to prepare your child for the big day. Every item is ticked off your back-to-school list. But what about you? Have you spent any time preparing yourself? Have you thought about how you’re going to feel when your job, as a parent, is to walk away for the first time?
As a preschool teacher, I witnessed more than 18 years of dramatic farewell scenes: shell-shocked parents unable to give their upset preschooler a confident send-off because they are suddenly emotional themselves. Letting go is a powerful thing. So prepare yourself.
Beware little ears. Don’t confess your preschool jitters to your friend when your child is right beside you. Keep preschool discussions positive, light and simple.
Have a Plan. And let him in on it. Mommy’s taking you to school. You’ll have lots of fun. I’ll be back when school is over.
Know the rules. You probably received a policy manual at registration. Read it. It outlines the program, routine and policies. You’ll know if she needs indoor shoes, or a labeled cup for snack. You will make her transition easier if she has everything she needs. Don’t promise she can carry Mr. Blanky around, and then find out it’s against the rules.
Prepare for the Kiss-and Fly. The big day! You both march confidently into school. The teacher greets you at the door. Then it hits you like a bag of hammers: This is my baby’s classroom. And I’m not invited. It’s like arriving too soon at the departure gate with security telling you to move along. You consider hanging around for a minute. Don’t! Your job is to send the message to your child that school is a safe, fun place. By standing there looking doubtful, you set his radar off: There’s something to be scared of.
And the Oscar goes to… Here’s where your high school acting career comes in handy. Breathe. Smile. And say in a calm, confident tone, Have lots of fun. I love you. I’ll be back when school is over.
Beware the Velcro trap. One kiss. One hug. Then walk. Do not get snagged in a Velcro grip as your daughter decides she’d rather go home and watch Shimmer and Shine. Stay calm. Her teacher will take her (not unlike removing a kitten from a wooly sweater) and comfort her. Keep walking. I mean it. Mentally block out the crying with the well-practiced mantra, She’s in a safe place.
Do not play Let’s Make a Deal. This is no time to bargain, so don’t promise an LOL Doll if she stops crying. And don’t cancel Christmas if she doesn’t. Remember, by lingering you make it worse, sending the message: I cry, Mommy stays; I cry harder, Mommy stays longer, And She’s staying, so there must be something to cry about!
Watch those claws. They expect you to leave your hysterical baby while some other adult comforts her?? Back off Mama Bear, and trust the teacher. Believe me; we are very good at hugging, reassuring and distracting. The faster your child realizes her teacher is caring and trustworthy the faster she’ll adjust to her new preschool. I promise she will always love you best.
Hold the waterworks. Unless you bring your own mom, no one’s comforting you. Sorry. You can drop the tough act in the parking lot; there’ll probably be a whole group of you. Go have coffee and pass the tissues. Chances are that before the foam cools on your latte; your son will have stopped crying and started tackling his first puzzle.
Don’t count on clinginess. Your daughter might be the one who bounds into school without a backwards glance, let alone a kiss goodbye. Guess what? This may break you heart. Remind yourself that an easy transition is a blessing.
Keep your end of the bargain. When school is dismissed, be there to greet your little scholar– not stuck in a Starbucks line up. It’s crucial. Minutes can feel like an eternity to an anxious child-especially when he sees all the other mommies and daddies collecting their charges.
Give it time. Your child may reenact the dramatic farewell scene for a while; three to five weeks of regular attendance is a typical adjustment period. Your job is to get them there, on time, regularly. The faster the routine is set, the faster they will adjust.
Your rookie preschooler is entering a new stage of development. And like most stages, it often starts out rocky. Need a reminder? Just reconnect with a new parent with that, I’m so tired I’m throw-up sick look, or one who’s desperate for a toddler to give up the bottle. Trust me, in a few weeks your child’s preschool class will be a room full of happy adjusted children. And your child will be one of them.
For Picture Book support look at the Llama Llama series by Anna Dewdney. They are wonderful for establishing comfort, confidence and security. My favorite is Llama Llama Red Pajama https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/llama-llama-red-pajama/9780670059836-item.html