What to expect when your child first enters school

Remember that the most important aspect of school, especially for children under 7, is play. Play is good exercise and play is how children learn to work with others. (AP Photo)

by Garry A. Emmett, M.D.

When your child first starts school or daycare there are many little surprises - and some problems - that will arise. You should be prepared.These four tips will help you get through the school year with flying colors, and give your child the support she or he needs to succeed.

#1. They will get sick. First of all, especially the first time they are in a group of 6 or more children, they will become ill a lot. The average child starting school gets ill every 4 weeks. But this is an average, some are very lucky and hardly get ill at all and some seem to be ill all the time. Other then washing your hands a lot (to prevent you from catching what your child has) there is not much you can do. If your child is in pain or uncomfortable with a fever, give them lots of liquids (milk is fine for most people) and give them acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) no more than 4 times in 24 hours. Here is a dosage chart, but these medicines come in various strengths and this only applies to the most common liquid concentrations

Weight                                 Acetaminophen (Tylenol) 160 mg/5 ml or Ibuprofen 100mg/5 ml

20 lb                                                       4 ml       

30 lb                                                       6 ml

40 lb                                                       8 ml

50 lb                                                       10 ml

60 lb                                                       12 ml

Over 90 lb give 2 regular strength adult tablets (acetaminophen 325 or Ibuprofen 200)

Did you know? Always give ibuprofen with some food to keep little tummies comfortable.

#2. Focus on play, not just performance. Remember that the most important aspect of school, especially for children under seven, is play.  Play is good exercise and play is how children learn to work with others.  We get obsessed with the three ‘R’s but it’s important to forget about the standardized tests, the report cards, the distant college applications - and give them time for real, active, imaginative play. It’s too important to skip, which means you may have to turn off the TV or video games and send them out into the backyard with their friends.

#3. Bring play into learning, too. Third, when it comes to the learning part, reinforce what they are learning in a playful manner.  Drawing builds better fine motor coordination. So does cutting - with safety scissors, of course - those are the type with big rounded ends that can only cut paper. Try this: Ask your children to draw what they did in school and then let them explain the drawing. Have them cut out the figures and use them as puppets.

#4: Tell stories together. Nothing is more important than actually talking with and reading to your child - or telling them stories. Even better, let them tell you their versions of favorite stories (which are often really funny and a bit off-beat). The use of language - both listening and speaking - is the most important at-home practice that will help them succeed in school. Sitting them in front of a TV or a video game is easy, but interacting with them using language really makes their lives better.

Enjoy the new school year!

Garry A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P., has been a primary care pediatrician in South Philadelphia and Center City since 1979. He is currently an attending pediatrician at Nemours Pediatrics, Philadelphia and director of hospital pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.