On the first day of Kindergarten—I fell off the school bus. I wanted to show off and seem cool, so I jumped off the second-to-last step of the bus, landed on the edge of the curb, tripped, and hit my face on the sidewalk. I still have the scar, and while I don’t know if any of the other kindergartners thought I was “cool,” I definitely made a statement. 

On the first day of third grade, I had to leave early to have a procedure done at the local children’s hospital—missing the rest of the first week of school. 

Those are some extreme examples, but the first days of school were always a little stressful. I stressed about my outfits, my haircuts, and whether I would like my teachers or make new friends. I had sleepless nights knowing this would be the year I would have to learn long division. 

But, as scary as it always was, something was thrilling about it, too. It brought the same thing that the New Years holiday does (not the champagne), the opportunity to reinvent yourself—to try new things: sports, school clubs, elective courses, or maybe some new fashion styles. 

I tried a lot of things during my K-12 experience: flag football, theater, journalism, calligraphy, a couple of foreign languages, forensic science, and a class called “Art for Children,” where high school students learned how to teach art to grade school and younger children. 

I’d list the fashion trends I tried, too—but instead, I’ll just say that I graduated in 2006—when wide belts, dresses over jeans, and skinny scarves were at their prime. 

What I’m getting at is that, as an adult now in my 30s, it’s easy for me to look at kids starting school and want to say “whatever you wear is fine—nobody is going to care,” or “just be you, and you’ll be a success,” or even “you have the rest of your life to live, why worry about whether or not kids will think you’re cool?” but then I put myself back into my teenager shoes (which were probably either a platformed flip flop or an Ugg boot) and let them feel their feelings. So that’s my advice to all adults who have kids in their lives who have those first-day-of-school jitters.  

Remind them that it’s okay to just be themselves, and they’ll be great no matter what, but also let them experiment with their wardrobe a little because they think it will make them “cooler,” let them try out for a sport you know they’ve never played, or join the choir even though they only ever sing in the shower. Let them get those chunky highlights in their hair, even though you don’t quite understand the appeal. Oh wait—it’s not the early 2000s anymore… whatever the 2021 equivalent of chunky highlights are… let them do that.  

Let them grow, let them try things—and yes, let them fail at something (not their classes though, JCLS has many resources they can use with their library card to help them succeed in school). Let them vent to you about unreciprocated crushes, and having too much homework.

Maybe neither you, or your school-aged kid are worrying about any of this stuff, because as we all know, there are so many other things to worry about right now. Maybe they should worry about the “small” stuff to give them a break from worrying about the big stuff.

If your kid has some back-to-school jitters, or just wants to commiserate with some characters—we have them covered with these school-themed booklists:

Back to School Reads for Middle Grade Readers

Back to School Reads for YA Readers