It was going to be a challenging fall. Our daughter would be starting preschool for the first time and our son would be switching to a new school and skipping kindergarten, leaving all of his friends behind. Luckily, both schools had summer camps, which we chose to send them to in an effort to help them adjust. Our daughter was ecstatic to finally be attending the school that her brother had been in for so long. However, our son doesn’t do as well with transitions, particularly into new situations. He sometimes is just shy but can scale up to full meltdowns. So the camp would, we hoped, really ease this process.
We sent each child for six weeks. Our daughter was so excited that she barely remembered to say goodbye to me on her first day. Our son clung to us, hid and had trouble walking into the classroom. Despite the fact that I knew the parents of one or two children–having attended the school myself–and I knew one of the teachers, my son still wouldn’t go meet them. We finally agreed on a time that we would leave and tried to get him engaged in an activity. His additional challenge was that there were very few new students, so all the kids were already playing with each other. When we finally left, he was playing Connect 4 with one of the junior counselors.
During the first two weeks of his camp, there was a major influx of children before families went on vacation or off to other summer adventures. The classroom was overwhelmingly packed. However, drop-off started getting a tiny bit easier with each day, and we worked with the teachers to help him make in-roads with some of the kids who were being a little insular.
My son is very open with peer relationships; he’ll be friends with anyone who gives him positive attention, but can also be easily hurt if they turn on him. For example, at his previous school, he was always excited to have playdates with any child in his class, even if he didn’t play with them regularly. Once, while at the playground with one of these treasured friends, another child showed up and stole the friend’s attention from my son. He was so heartbroken, he asked to go home.
However, at camp, our son continued to be open and looked for connections anywhere. One day, he came home to report that he had become friends with a little girl because they both had applesauce at lunch. However, another student started picking on him, and we heard that they needed to be separated several times. Thankfully, that child was only there for the first two weeks.
The week of July 4th, things quieted down and he was able to start bonding with some of the children more easily. The last four weeks were truly the best ones for him. On the last day of camp, he was crying and wouldn’t say goodbye to anyone, even though we reassured him that we would have playdates and he would see them all at the beginning of school. I felt bad for him but inside, I was throwing a parade for having accomplished our goal: he wanted to go back in the fall.
When his class list arrived in the mail, he counted the names of the children that he knew: it was over half. He was extremely excited about the first day of school until we were walking up the street. He got nervous, pulling me back. But then he saw a good friend of his from camp. They raced to hug each other, asked who their teachers were, posed for first day of school pictures together and went into the building. Thank goodness for that little girl! Before he knew it, my son was waving goodbye to her and walking through his classroom door. His wonderful new teachers took it from there, making him feel welcome. When I left that morning, he was already playing with two of his friends from the summer and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
He is doing very well at his new school now. He has lots of friends, some who he met at camp who are in his class, others that he has met since. He is very independent and comfortable in his classroom and in the community. He has even started to proudly show his sister around if she comes to pick him up. He knows that he is teaching her what her next school will be like.