Posted: Aug 04 2015
So… your little one is soon to be starting school? Great, right? Well, perhaps not. Perhaps you’re feeling anxious, worried or out and out panic stricken. Truth is that even the hardiest of parents will have at least some feelings of uncertainty surrounding that first big day and the academic journey beyond it. And it is with this in mind that we wanted to produce a guide that tackled the feelings that you may be facing, as well as providing practical tips so that you and your child are completely prepared for when that all important start of term date rolls around.
Let’s address emotions
Tackle those feelings
They say that children can pick up on even the smallest of vibes, so if you’re feeling frightened about that first day then you may also be facing a little guilt about passing this anxiety on. However it worth remembering that for many a little one this may well seem like one big adventure, particularly if you follow the remainder of our tips thoroughly.
Redress emotions through peaking your child’s interest
There are hundreds of great books out there that are filled with exercises specifically designed to engage your child with the start of school process. They can address fears and begin conversations that highlight their potential concerns; most importantly however they can do all of these whilst presenting school as something to look forward to, rather than fear.
Involving your child in all of those pre-term purchases
Involving your child in the purchases that must be made prior to the big first day is a great way of engaging your child in the first few tasks for preparing for school. Just be sure to make those shopping trips that little bit more engaging, rather than a bring chore and, if possible, try to make these trips a one-on-one experience without any other little people to distract your attention.
Ask about a home-visit
An increasingly common tactic of teachers in their quest to introduce children to new schools with as little stress as possible is to pay a home visit. This allows teacher and future pupil a little time in which both can get to know one another without other children and parents around to distract them.
So if this is offered then you should absolutely snap the teacher’s hand off.
You may also want to ask whether you can take a quick picture of your child’s new teacher within their classroom setting; you can then stick this to the fridge or in another prominent place within the home so that you and your child may naturally discuss the impending day (rather than shoehorning it in unnaturally to conversations and making an issue of it).
The final word: What if your child doesn't like school?
It’s worth being prepared for a child who may flat out refuse to go to school, or who all of a sudden has a mysterious tummy upset. If this happens to you then it’s important not to panic, instead react in both a calm and patient manner and gentle explore the reasons behind their not wanting to go to school.
Boost your child’s confidence through a little familiarity
Take a trip to the school
Taking a trip to your child’s new school is essential for establishing a little familiarity and for this reason many schools provide introductory or taster sessions prior to term commencement in September.
Arrange a few play dates with fellow school starters
There’s nothing quite like a friendly face when tasked with something as unfamiliar as a brand new school, and this not only applies to your child, but also to you as you may understandably be anxious about the first day. So get talking to fellow parents on the taster days that you’ll attend, check online introductory forums and arrange a few playdates.
Perfecting the practicalities prior to the day
Rehearse the school routine
If your child is currently attending a nursery then explain to them that as they’re growing up it’ll soon be time to stay with the older children, and that you’ll be collecting them later in the day. This is particularly important as it’s not uncommon for children to become tired, irritable and even tearful after lunch.
Rehearsing the school routine should however go beyond starting and finishing times, and your school may be able to provide some guidance on games and activities that will prepare your child for the learning demands of school.
Take time to talk through school rules
It’s relatively common for a child to be concerned about school rules; they may worry about their new and fairly formal environment and they may fear their new authority figures and the unknown or imagined punishments that they can bestow.
So, whilst you should run through school rules and ensure that your child understands them, equally as important is a little reassurance that these rules are nothing to be afraid of. Stress that even if they miss a bell or accidently line up in the wrong place, that their teachers will be there to help and guide them, rather than punish them.
Run through the school run
Practising the school run at the beginning and end of the day is perfect for getting a practical handle on how long your journey will take; it’s also an excellent way of turning the unexpected into the expected, which can help your child in their feeling safe. Once at the school you may want to explain things such as the school bell, and point out where the entrance is.
Getting your child playground ready
Preparing a less than outgoing child for the playground environment
Some children seamlessly go from one environment to the next, socialising with their peers and making new friends with no trouble at all; these children are the ones who are at ease even in the hectic playground environment.
However, for others, this environment is intimidating and for some children restricting themselves to the literal side-lines as they attempt to figure out a way of introducing themselves and joining in games can become a disheartening habit.
If this sounds familiar then fear not, there are plenty of ways in which you can help. As a starting point you can tell your child to ask an adult to help them. They may ask “I want to play with Ava, but I’m not sure how?” or something similar.
You can also help your child with their general social skills by introducing them to new environments where there are other children, such as nursery or play areas, and you can lead by example by conversing with others.
What’s more the majority of schools will encourage socialising in the playground through special ice breaking sessions within the classroom, which will ensure that children become more outgoing and comfortable within the playground over time.
Perfecting the art of a friendly introduction
For your child meeting new children and introducing himself may understandably seem intimidating, so help them out a little by perfecting the process. Tell them to smile, to pay attention to the other child’s eyes and expression and to both tell the other child their name, as well as asking them for theirs.
Dealing with potential playground disputes
So... your child returns home upset or withdrawn, and you find upon asking that they’ve experienced a playground dispute. Now, for many a parent, who may have found the school starting experience that little bit traumatic themselves, there may be temptation to overreact, particularly if you suspect another pupil's behaviour to be tantamount to bullying.
However rather than going in, all guns blazing, either to the school or parent’s house, focus on being diplomatic. The best resolution for any playground dispute is one of mutual negotiation, in which both your child and the other learns something about resolving a disagreement. And remember this experience is new for everyone else too, and so your child’s fellow classmate may be similarly out of sorts.
Getting organised for the new academic life ahead
Establish some of the most basic academic skills
Ok, so the term ‘academic’ may seem a little heavy handed at this stage, however we’re not encouraging pushy parents where reading, writing and arithmetic must be mastered by the age of four. Rather we would just suggest the grappling with the following three most basic beginning ‘academic’ tasks:
- Teach your child to write their own name
When practising with your child you should pay particular attention to the first letter being a capital, and the remainder being lowercase.
- Begin running through the alphabet in fun and engaging ways
You may want to purchase an interactive alphabet book or watch alphabet songs on a website such as a Youtube on a regular basis.
- Read to your child regularly
Some children who start school can already read to some extent, whilst others may not be anywhere near quite yet. Wherever your child is on their journey is absolutely fine, however you can give them a helping hand so that those books aren’t quite as daunting as they may have otherwise have been by simply reading to them each night for ten minutes or more. You should also ideally place the book in a place that they can see and follow along; this can instil the beginnings of basic reading skills without so much as an explicit mention of spelling, sentence construction or grammar rules.
Getting ahead with hygiene
Running your child through a toilet masterclass
Teaching your child to use the toilet independently (including the washing of hands and thorough wiping of bottoms) is essential. Teachers frequently report, year upon year, that a surprising number of children are yet to master this skill, with teachers having to effectively hand hold throughout the toilet going process.
Emphasising the importance of handwashing
Hand washing can be an almost equally as tough task to tackle as the toilet, particularly when children are left to their own devices and eager to get back to the exciting new world that they now find themselves in. However given the amount of bugs that they’re also going to come across, proper hand washing is the very first line of defence in protecting themselves from nasty illnesses.
It’s therefore vital that you run your child through the hand washing process: from soap applying beginning to lather washing off end, and do so in a way that’s memorable (perhaps looking up a song or rhyme to go along with each stage).
Thinking ahead for home time
Arranging play dates: Striking a balance
Playdates both prior to starting school and thereafter can certainly help develop social skills and build friendships, however it’s important to balance playdates with plenty of rest; after all there’s an entire new routine to take on with a collection of new people to meet and a world of new rules to learn… and all of that is seriously tiring! So with this in mind generally speaking one play date a week is probably a good number to aim for.
Homework: Debunking a few myths
Many a parent frets about the homework that their child will face, which is hardly surprising as it seems that the topic of homework stealing our little one’s childhoods is never too far away. However the realities of the very first years of school, and the associated homework that it brings, are usually significantly less strenuous than many imagine. For the most part homework should take up no longer than 10 minutes a night (and this is generally just reading).
That said there’s no getting around fact that some children may resist this; and if this is the case you may need to think of ever more inventive ways for engaging your child (interactive books are ideal in this instance).
Arriving at home: An itinerary to comfort and soothe
Children who have just started school are going to be pretty exhausted, and so getting into a solid routine is essential for providing comfort and readying them for the next, equally as exhausting day.
Generally speaking most reception/P1 children go to bed at around 7pm/7:30pm, so that’s more than enough time for a proper routine of tea time, reading and a relaxing bath to finish off their newly extended days.
So that’s it… by now you should be feeling cool, calm and collected, ready for your little one and their big adventure off to big school. All that there is left to say is, Good luck..... and it will absolutely all be fine!