The year was 1985. My family had just moved to Nigeria, West Africa. While my parents were moving back to the country they grew up in, this was my first time there. I do not remember the move as traumatic, I remember it as exciting and right…except for school. I was terrified of starting school.
I was beginning second grade and this would be my third school in three years. My nerves were raw, my stomach roiled, and my emotions were a chaotic disaster. I could not identify it at the time but the shortness of breath, the accelerated heartbeat, and the feeling of overwhelming panic I experienced were the beginning of many years of mini-panic attacks. On paper, there was no reason for my visceral reaction to the start of school. My teacher was the kindest, most gentle teacher at the school. My classmates were accepting and fun. My environment was adventurous and freeing. But my emotions did not care. I was held hostage by fear, panic, and worry.
Over the years, I learned ways to subdue those waves of emotional struggle. But they never fully abated on each and every first day of school. Even through college I would walk through my schedule the week before school started just so I knew exactly where I was supposed to be at each point.
If at this point you are feeling the need to set up a GoFundMe page for my therapy, don’t worry. I am okay. See. I was a happy child. (Or maybe I am just working on perfecting my side eye. Just kidding, I was happy.) I went on to become a teacher. In a school. That shows progress, right?!
The beginning of school invokes a visceral reaction in all of us. My own school age children are evidence of this, one is thrilled, counting down the hours, one is in denial, one is nervous and worried.
No matter which kind of school you attended, we all understand the nerves, the excitement, the apprehension, the “no, I don’t want to’s” that come with the beginning of each school year. As with all things in life, there are books to help with that. (Yes, you are right, I did already do a back to school list last year. These will be different books, I promise.)
What Do You Do With a Problem (Kobi Yamada) – This is one of my favorite new picture books. It gives an excellent analogy about resilience and problem solving even when you feel unable. This book would be perfect for the child feeling overwhelmed by the thought of starting school.
I’m Smart (Kate McMullan) – Following in the great tradition of the other “I’m…” books, I’m Smart introduces us to the school bus and the excitement involved in getting children to school.
K is for Kindergarten (Erin Dealy) – Not only is this a fantastic alphabet book about going to school, it also includes very cute ideas in the margins.
School’s First Day of School (Adam Rex) – We have all experienced the first day of school as children, but what does the first day of school feel like to the school building?
Llama, Llama Misses Mama (Anna Dewdney) – Sometimes even when your fifth grader is happily sprinting off to her classroom, she needs to be reminded that it’s okay to miss her mama! (Not that I would know!)
Milk Goes to School (Terry Border) – Milk has a rude awakening when she gets to school and realizes that not everyone thinks she’s the creme de la creme her parents have told her she is. Everyone needs a little comic relief to calm those jittery nerves.
The Name Jar (Yangsook Choi) – This a is beautiful, important story of acceptance, learning about each other, and creating a welcoming classroom environment.
My Name is Maria Isabel (Alma Flor Ada) – Names matter. As teachers, we have to be careful to honor the importance of a name.
The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes) – This is an excellent book about bullying and the power of standing up for one another.
I will just be over here taking deep breaths and practicing every relaxation technique I know while I live, vicariously, through yet another first day of school. May all of their first days be filled with joy, acceptance, and a renewed love of learning.