Top 5 Back-to-School Picture Books that Ease Anxiety and Promote a Positive Attitude


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.


  1. 618RPzbO2WL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Pete the Cat, Rocking in my School Shoes, by Eric Litwin and James Dean

This is a fun easy read that shows children there are lots of great spots in school, and it’s ‘all good’!


  1.  51q9Smmke-L._SX402_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes 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.


  1. willow_s_whispers.jpg Willow’s Whispers, by Lana Button and Tania Howells

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.


  1. 61f83lXiPDL._SX439_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Franklin Goes to School by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark

So many emotions swirling around that first day! Even the children who can’t wait to start might find themselves anxious when it’s time to actually head off. This story allows lots of dialogue regarding the realm of emotions we go through when starting school, and illustrates once more, that we are heading off to a great spot filled with lots of new experiences and adventures.


  1. 51n2oEIWNQL._SX495_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers

…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!


So listen to your child when they tell you about their back-to-school anxieties. Don’t dismiss those feelings. Acknowledge that these are very 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!




Parent Prep- Are YOU Ready for Preschool?

You survived a nine-month pregnancy, 20 hours of labour, years on no sleep and toddler tantrums. So…the start of preschool? You can handle it.
You’ve prepared your child by talking up all the excitement waiting for him; his new dinosaur knapsack is packed. But what about you? How will you feel when your job, as a parent is to walk away for the first time?
As a preschool teacher, I’ve 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 if Jimmy is beside you watching Dora. Keep preschool discussions with your child-and around him- 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. 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 it. 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 The Wiggles. 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 a well-practiced mantra such as, “She’s in a safe place.”

Do not play Let’s Make a Deal. This is no time to bargain, so don’t promise a Strawberry Shortcake doll if she stops crying, and don’t cancel Christmas if she doesn’t. And remember, by lingering you make it worse, sending the message: “I cry, Mommy stays; I cry harder, Mommy stays longer.”

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 one of those kids 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 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.

These tried and true tips were originally published in an article I wrote in Today’s Parent Magazine, Sept. 06

An Educator’s DREAM! September Story Time that will Establish Strong Community,Empathy, and Self-Confidence to your New Class!


It’s said that if summer were the educator’s weekend, July would be our Saturday, and August would be our Sunday. We can’t help ourselves. With weeks to go, our minds are heading back to the classroom.

September is about establishing relationships, creating bonds, and setting limits and expectations. I invite you to welcome the Willow trio of picture books into your classroom to help establish a positive environment of understanding, community and empathy among your students. Large group discussion points and activities are listed for each story below. This award winning series of books encourages empowerment, self-regulation and self-confidence, which is the boost we all need when entering a new class environment- no matter what our age!

The Willow stories revolve around the shyest child in the class and how she deals with social, emotional challenges. These picture books are an asset to any primary grade classroom, and they correlate directly with Ontario’s brand new kindergarten program.

Below are specific teaching guidelines and activities that cover overall expectations and related specific expectations within the kindergarten program, but can be worked into any primary grade story time- perfect for those first few weeks of school!


willow cover

Willow’s Whispers (Kids Can Press, 2013)When Willow speaks, her words slip out as soft and shy as a secret. At school, her barely audible whisper causes her no end of troubles but Willow is as resourceful as she is quiet. She fashions a magic microphone from items she finds in the recycling bin. but Willow’s clever invention is only a temporary solution. How will this quiet little girl make herself heard?

Large group discussion after read-aloud

  • What were some uncomfortable things that happen to Willow when people couldn’t hear her?
  • What changed for Willow when people could hear her? See recording challenge for extension.

FDK Expectation 27. Recognize bias in ideas, and develop the self-confidence to stand up for themselves and others against prejudice and discrimination.

Develop strategies that enhance their personal well-being comfort and self-acceptance ie; speaking confidently, stating boundaries, making choices

FDK Expectation 27.2 think critically about fair/unfair and biased behavior towards both themselves and others, and act with compassion and kindness)

  • How do we know that Willow was sad at school when her words were whispers? What are some ways we could make someone feel better in our classroom?

(Expectation 27.3 recognize discriminatory and inequitable practices and behaviors and respond appropriately

Expectation 2.5 Develop empathy for others and acknowledge and respond to each other’s feelings)


  • Provide a variety of tubes and other art materials that children may choose to use to re-create the microphone from the story (FDK Expectation 30.2 explore a variety of tools, materials, and processes of their own choice such as recycled materials to create drama, dance music, and visual art forms in familiar and new ways)
  • Exploration-Explore volume with and without the use of a variety of funnels, tubes etc. (FDK Expectation 31 demonstrate basic knowledge and skills gained through exposure to and engagement in drama, dance, music and visual arts. 31.2-explore different elements such as volume.)
  • Provide a variety of recycled materials in the creative art area to allow for 3 dimensional art experiences. (FDK Expectation 23.2. Use problem-solving skills and their imagination to create visual art forms)

(FDK Expectation 20.4 build three-dimensional structures using a variety of materials and identify the three dimensional figures their structure contains)

  • Provide chart paper and markers and introduce opportunities to compare and record how Willow’s day changed once she was heard. Children may create a T chart, draw a diagram, use a variety of illustrations, create separate lists etc. (FDK Expectation 13.4 communicate results and findings from individual and group investigations)




Willow Finds a Way (Kids Can Press, 2014)In this simple but substantial picture book by Lana Button, shy, quiet Willow silently wishes she could find a way to say no to her bossy classmate Kristabelle’s demands, but the words never seem to come when she needs them. That is, until Kristabelle starts using the powerful threat of un-inviting children from her “fantastic” birthday party to keep them in line. Willow decides she’s finally had enough. Surprising everyone, even herself, Willow steps up and bravely does something shocking, and it changes the entire dynamic of the classroom.

Large Group Discussion after read-aloud

  • What does Kristabelle do to make friends?
  • How do the children feel about that?
  • What are some good ways to make friends?

(FDK Expectation 3. Identify and use Social Skills

3.3 demonstrating an awareness of making and keeping friends

  • A classroom is a group. A dance class is a group. What are other kinds of groups? Willow’s group is her classroom. How did Willow help her group? How could you help your group?

(FDK Expectation 26 Develop an appreciation of the multiple perspectives encountered within groups, and of ways in which they themselves can contribute to groups i.e. school, family, sport team, religious community, and group well-being)

  • What is Willow’s strategy to stand up for herself and others?

(FDK Expectation 27.1. Develop strategies for standing up for themselves, apply behavior that enhances personal well being, comfort)

  • What happened that was unfair in Willow Finds a Way? What happened that was kind?

(FDK Expectation 27.2. Think critically about fair/unfair behavior towards both themselves and others, and act with compassion and kindness)

  • Willow never says a word in this story. How does she get her message across that she wants to be a good friend, with the list and with Kristabelle in line?

(Expectation 4. Demonstrate an ability to use problem-solving skills in a variety of contexts, including social contexts)


  • Lists- Provide materials that would allow children to create a variety of lists (lists of groups they know, lists of what you would need at a birthday party, etc (FDK Expectation 19. Collect, organize, display and interpret data to solve problems and to communicate information, and explore the concept of probability in everyday contexts)
  • Provide materials that could be used for birthday crowns and/or party decorations (FDK Expectation 23.2 Use problem-solving skills and their imagination to create visual art forms)




 Willow’s Smile (Kids Can Press, 2016) “Sometimes Willow smiled without even trying but sometimes when she wished she could and knew she should, her smile slipped straight off her face.” So when her teacher tells the class that Picture Day is coming, shy Willow starts to worry. What if she isn’t able to smile for the camera? How can she have her picture taken without smiling? But then on Picture Day, Willow gets the opportunity to watch the other children being photographed. She sees that all of her friends’ expressions are unique and perfect in their own way. By the time it’s her turn, she’s realizes that she doesn’t need to worry about smiling for her picture. She just needs to be herself.


Large Group Discussion after Read-Aloud

  • When is it hard for Willow to smile? When is it easy for Willow to smile? Was it hard for anyone else in the story to smile? Why? (FDK Expectation 1.3. Use and interpret gestures, tone of voice, and other non-verbal means to communicate and respond ie; name feelings and recognize how someone else might be feeling)
  • When is it hard for you to smile? When is it easy for you to smile? (FDK Expectation 6.5. Discuss and demonstrate in play what makes them happy and unhappy and why)
  • What strategy does Willow come up with that gives her the self-confidence to take the picture?

(FDK Expectation 27. Recognize bias in ideas, and develop the self-confidence to stand up for themselves and others against prejudice and discrimination. Develop strategies to stand up for themselves that enhance their personal well-being, comfort and self-acceptance (speaking confidently, stating boundaries, making choices)


  • Provide mirrors and a variety of art materials for children to create self-portraits and class portraits. (FDK Expectation 22. Communicate thoughts and feelings, and theories and ideas, through various art forms)
  • Add photo booth materials to the dramatic center play (camera, stool, photo props etc.) (FDK Expectation 23.1. Use problem solving skills and imagination to create drama

FDK Expectation 30.1. Demonstrate a personal interest and a sense of accomplishment in drama

FDK Expectation 30.2. Explore a variety of tools, materials, and processes of their own choice to create drama)

  • Invite children to take photos of classmates expressing different emotions. Print the photos and provide children with materials to create books or posters that label those emotions. (FDK Expectation 13. Use and interpret gestures, tone of voice, and other non-verbal means to communicate and respond ie; name feelings and recognize how someone else might be feeling)
  • Display old cameras and film for children to explore (FDK Expectation 14. Demonstrate an awareness of the natural and built environment through hands-on investigations, observations, questions, and representations of their findings)