For many children all over the Washington area, today is the first day of school. Some of you may have gone back to school last week; others still have a few more days of summer freedom left before classes begin.
The calendar says it's still summer until Sept. 21. But you all know when summer really ends: when you hear the first bell for your first morning of a new school year.
Over in South Arlington, Maeve is starting first grade at a brand new school in a brand new neighborhood. She and her family just moved into their new house last month. And Maeve just turned 6 last week, so she's a new age, too.
That's a lot of new things happening all at once.
But Maeve is excited about school. Her mother will walk there with her in the morning. Later, she might walk to the nearby school building with some of her neighbors.
Maeve is hoping to make lots of friends. She knows that the children at her elementary school come from many different countries. There are Asian children and children from Latin America. There are white children and black children. There are kids who have lived in Virginia all their lives and kids who have already lived in several different places.
It's going to be fun to get to know all those children. The trouble is, she doesn't know them yet -- and that's a little bit scary.
Everyone has had the experience of being new at something. It can be an uncomfortable feeling.
If you're starting at a new school today, you may wonder if the kids will like you. You may feel anxious or worried about finding your way around an unfamiliar building. You may be concerned that all the other kids know each other and won't be interested in including you in their activities.
If you're feeling that way today, it may help to remember that everybody feels shy in unfamiliar situations -- even the most confident and outgoing people. Grownups get nervous about beginning something new, too. Ask your mother and father how they felt when they started a new job or project or moved to a new city. They'll probably say, "Excited -- but scared."
Do you have a brother or sister who's starting middle school or high school this week? Ask them how they feel. You may be surprised to discover that they feel just as nervous about their new routine as you do about yours.
"I remember feeling nervous about going back to school," says Dr. Stanley Fagen, who is a psychologist in the Montgomery County public school system. "You get that hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach."
It's hard to make the switch back to the school routine after a summer without responsibilities or demands. Dr. Fagen says that many kids worry about what their friendships and other relationships will be like during the new school year.
"Everyone -- including teachers -- wonders 'What's in store for me this time around?' " Dr. Fagen says.
Are there things you can do to make the first day of school easier?
Many schools have orientation programs for new students. Kids visit the school before classes start so that they know their way around the building and grounds. They meet a few teachers and may get assigned a "big brother" or "big sister" from another grade. All of that helps.
"Don't forget that everyone at school is in the same boat," says Dr. Fagen. "It's a new year for everyone."
If you're the new kid on the block, the first few days of school can be especially hard. Dr. Fagen says, "Give yourself some time. Don't expect to feel comfortable with new friends right away. And don't forget there's newness for everybody. It's a new grade level, a new teacher, a new room or building. You're more alike than different from everybody in the school."
If you still feel left out after the first couple of weeks, Dr. Fagen says, you might try talking over your problem with a nice, good-natured person in your class who's willing to help. If you're at a loss about picking out someone to talk to, ask your teacher or the school counselor to suggest someone.
As you get ready for the new school year, Dr. Fagen says, think of the first few days as "the first uphill climb on a roller coaster. That's the scariest part. After that, it gets easier."Tips for Parents
"It's perfectly appropriate for children to have some anxiety, to not be sure how the new school year is going to go," says psychologist Stanley Fagen, PhD, of the Montgomery County public school system.
"The feelings can't be avoided. It's important for children to know that feeling anxious is normal."
Remind your kids that everyone else at school -- including the staff -- will be feeling some anxiety about getting the new year off to a good start. And remind them, "You've been there before, and it has worked out in the past," he says. And for you parents coping with your child's back-to-school blues, take heart.
"Usually by the end of the first week of activity, the students don't even remember that they were feeling anxieties," Dr. Fagen says.
Catherine O'Neill is a free-lance children's writer based in Baltimore.