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August 24, 2013

Local doctor offers tips to make children's transition to school easier

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The back-to-school crunch is nearly here, and for first time students it means more than a backpack full of supplies.

According to Dr. Mew Kwan Chan-House, medical director at Child and Adolescent Healthcare Associates at FoxCare Center, parents of children going to school for the first time, or those transferring to a new school should talk about the new school with enthusiasm in the weeks before.

A visit to the playground is a good way to introduce a kindergartener to the fun side of school. Parents may network and find other preschoolers in the district and set up a playdate at the school. Take note, however, that some school playgrounds may be restricted during summer hours.)

“Help him focus on the positive aspects of starting school, including making new friends and having new learning adventures,” Chan-House said. 

Most schools have an orientation where the parents and children meet the teachers, principal and other faculty. For students transferring to upper grades, sometimes the orientation is held during the previous school year.

Information about school districts and individual schools is easy to find on the Internet. Calling the school office can put parents directly in touch with school personnel, who can answer specific questions.

To qualify for kindergarten, a child must be at least 5 years old by Dec. 1 of the school year. As it is in many schools, registration for kindergartners in Oneonta was held in March; however, late registration can be done through the district office. 

“They can come to the Center Street office and register,” said Eileen Lishansky, Oneonta City School superintendent’s secretary and district clerk. “They have been steadily coming in. I take the information and distribute it so we can look at the class size to determine which of our three elementary schools they will go to.”

Parents must be armed with certain information, including a certified birth certificate, custodial information, proof of residency and an immunization record. 

“Before starting kindergarten, children need vaccines to protect them from 14 diseases that can be serious, even life-threatening,” Chan-House said. “Making sure that children of all ages receive all their vaccinations on time is one of the most important things parents can do to ensure their children’s long-term health — as well as the health of friends, classmates, and others in the community.

“If parents are unsure if their child is up-to-date now is the time to check with the doctor, the school, or the health department. Flu vaccines are also recommended for children in preschool and elementary school to help keep them healthy,” she added.

Chan-House also noted that children with health challenges may face addition stress when going to school or the first time.

“For children with asthma, the back-to-school time can be particularly challenging,” Chan-House said. “Classmates with colds, and classroom allergens can trigger flare-ups for these kids. So before school begins, it’s a good idea for parents to make an appointment with their child’s pediatrician to make sure asthma is well-controlled and that an action plan is in place for problems that happen during the school day.”

Younger children, especially those who have not been in a preschool setting, may cry and cling to a parent or guardian in the first few days of school, but will usually succumb to curiosity and become more comfortable in the setting in a short time, Chan-House explained.

“Separation anxiety is seen in many children to varying degrees,” she said. “It can come in many forms, including crying, clinging, silence or hiding behind a parent. Typically the causes of separation anxiety during the first days of school are two-fold — a child may be uncomfortable being separated from her parent and she may also be uncomfortable about what’s unfamiliar.”

One of the most important thing a parent or guardian can do for a child before the first day of school is to make sure the child has good night sleep and wakes up early enough to enjoy a good breakfast.

The night before, planning an outfit and packing up the child’s backpack will help fuel anticipation and excitement about the first day of school. In addition, it will alleviate some stress in the morning.

By taking the time to prepare children — physically, emotionally and logistically — parents can do much to ensure that the transition to school is a smooth one.