For many children, coming to school is the first experience away from their parents for an extended period of time. For others, it may be the first experience in a group setting. Many may be returning to a familiar place but are now confronted with new faces, new teachers and a new room. It is not hard to imagine what a child feels like entering this kind of situation. There may be feelings of uncertainty, shyness, nervousness or fear. We feel the separation policy at Park West is valuable because it enables children to realize they can handle the distress or uneasiness of being on their own a little at a time. Each experience that calls for separation is different and requires each child to draw on his/her developing inner resources.

The separation experience is an on-going developmental issue – both emotionally and intellectually. A child is met with a new set of circumstances each time s/he needs to separate from a parent or familiar experience. Research has shown that it is easier for a child to enter a new setting when accompanied by a parent. This ensures the time necessary to feel comfortable and adjust to a new place and the adults that will be there to take care of her/him.

We approach separation as a gradual and individualized process. We believe in allowing separation to take place over a period of time because it is about building relationships and trust. This only happens as a child becomes familiar with school and comes to feel that school is a safe, secure and predictable place. Even if a child is excited by the prospect of going to school, it takes time to get to know exactly what this is all about. It takes time to get to know the routine, what the classroom is like and to form relationships with the teachers and other children. Before we feel comfortable letting parents or other caregivers go, we like to see that each child has developed some measure of security at school—have a trusting relationship with the teachers, or settling easily into a classroom activity that interests them—which indicates the child is ready to separate.

Because each person is different, there is not one single formula or plan that we follow. Instead, we want to work together with parents as partners in the separation process, and we expect parents (or another support person like a grandparent or babysitter) to be available throughout the beginning weeks of school to guide and support their child. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be spending the entire morning or afternoon in the classroom with your child. In fact, you can expect to spend a significant amount of time in the office or third floor conference room while your child plays and you’ll return at key transition points such as clean-up and snack. If we perhaps seem overly cautious, it is only because we have seen how taking separation slowly helps us meet our overall goal of making school a positive, comfortable and worthwhile experience for you and your child.

At Park West, all parents, new and returning, are required to be at school for the first few weeks. 2-Day parents are expected to be available for many weeks as 2-Day children are in school for such short periods of time. If parents are unable to be at school for separation, a support person may stay instead. A support person is some other adult who is important in your child’s life and with whom your child is comfortable – a sitter or nanny, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.

Teachers will spend time each day helping your child feel safe and comfortable in class. They will spend time going over rules, routines, and helping every child know what to expect. Time is spent every day protecting each child’s space and work. This helps children begin to trust that the adults are there to help and protect them.

The teachers will work with you to determine the best way to make your child’s adjustment to the classroom and the group as comfortable as possible. Parents can help by talking to children at home about the school experience. Be sure to let your child know exactly what to expect regarding separation, car pools, family schedules, etc.

If arranging a car pool for your child, it is best to wait until your child is comfortable with school and its many routines. Please be sure to have car pool parents’ names on your child’s Daily Release Form.

If your child is perfectly comfortable the first day of school and doesn’t express any separation fears that’s great. But, we caution parents that some children show a delayed reaction and become anxious a week or a month later. If this occurs, your teachers will contact you.

Many parents in the past have asked for guidance about what they should be doing in the room while their child is getting ready to separate. The following will help:

  • Upon arrival help your child settle into an activity
  • When your child is comfortable please sit off to the side of the room
  • If your child calls to you or wants you near, go with your child, please don’t tell your child to go with the other children
  • Transitions are an anxious time (i.e., clean-up, going to the gym, home) stay with your child and then direct them to the next activity
  • It is important for your child to know where you are. Stay in the same location in the room. Feel free to bring a book for yourself.
  • It is important for the adult noise level to be low so that children and teachers can hear what is happening in the room. Discussions with other parents or teachers need to wait until after class.

For Those Leaving the Room

  • Please never sneak out of the room. It may be easier for you but will make your child more anxious.
  • The teacher will let you know when s/he feels your child is ready for you to leave the room.
  • Once you tell your child you are leaving, you need to go. Unexpectedly staying “another five minutes” or suddenly deciding it is time to leave creates confusion and anxiety for your child.
  • Once you have left, stay out of the room. If you have made a plan with teachers to return to the classroom at a specific time (come back for clean up, gym, etc), it is important that you return to the classroom promptly at the agreed upon time. If your child needs you before that time, one of the teachers will come to get you.

Finally, teachers will focus on supporting children’s development rather than “protecting” them from their feelings. We hope parents also will support children in this way. We find that children soon learn to feel comfortable in school and begin to make the adjustment to school and group life. More importantly, children will have begun to master a serious emotional challenge in which they build self-confidence and security. If you have any questions concerning separation, please be sure to speak to your child’s teachers or to the Director.