Your child’s first day at school is a milestone for both you and your child. It’s an exciting time; however, you might feel anxious and your child may worry about starting school. Here’s some information to help you to prepare and reassure your child for their first day at school.
Once you have chosen a school, find out about school visits. These are when you and your child visit the school for a short time, two or three times, at an agreed time. Book these school visits with the teacher a few months before your child starts school.
Also, start talking to your child about starting school a few months before their first day at school. This will help you to understand any concerns your child has and to prepare questions for the teacher.
If your child attends early childhood education (ECE), they’ll be familiar with routines such as settling in, eating at certain times, listening in a group, sitting on the mat, and so on. However, school is a new environment. School visits help you and your child get to know the teacher, the classroom, and the school.
• At the first visit, you usually stay with your child. It’s helpful to ask for a tour around the school. Show your child where the toilet is, where the school office is, where to put their books and bag, where they eat their food, where the play areas are, and so on.
• Usually after the first visit, you leave your child for a short time in the classroom to help them to settle in without you.
• At the next visit, you might just drop your child off and pick them up at an agreed time (normally in the morning).
Celebrate the first day of school; it’s a big moment for your child. For example, you could have a special breakfast with your child and take a photo of them at home and at school.
Be aware, the first day of school can be an emotional time. The teacher might ask you to drop your child to the classroom, say goodbye, and leave. There may be tears. The teacher may need to divert your child’s attention away from you from and into the classroom. You might be excited and upset at the same time. When my sons started school, I had a cry (out of sight) once I left the classroom. It’s a new phase for your child and it’s okay to feel a bit up and down.
When you drop your child to school each morning, remind them who will collect them after school or what the after school care plans are. Also, let the teacher know this information. Usually, you’ll need to go to the classroom to collect your child after school.
Find out if your child’s friends from ECE are in their class and let your child know. It’s reassuring for them to have someone they know in the classroom. Let the teacher know too. Some teachers use a ‘buddy system’ and they may pair your child with their friend to help your child to settle into school more easily.
Settling in can take some time. It’s important to talk regularly with the teacher and to discuss school with your child. Good communication will help you to know what is happening at school, which means you can quickly support your child when needed.
• If you can, from time to time, go into the classroom in the morning or after school. Ask the teacher how things are going with your child. Exchange email addresses and phone numbers with the teacher and ask them to contact you if there are any issues.
• Ask your child at the end of each day how school was. Use open-ended questions, for example, ‘What was the best thing at school today?’, or ‘What didn’t you like at school today?, or, ‘Who did you play with today?’
• Keep asking questions, it’s surprising what you will learn. For example, soon after my youngest son started school, when I asked him how school was, he was upset. He said that at lunchtime he had nothing to do and just walked around by himself. I spoke to the teacher, who then kept an eye on him and asked his ‘buddy’ to stay with my son at lunchtimes until he settled in, knew where to play, and made some friends. That made a big difference to my son settling in at school.
• Arranging play dates with your child’s friends after school or on the weekend can help them to get to know the children in their class.
• Teachers often need parent support in the classroom for activities like spelling or writing. Getting involved if you can is a good way to see what is happening at school and to support your child.
• Setting up a ‘get ready for school list’ and routines for after school will help your child settle into school.
Plan ahead to make sure you have everything you need a week or so before your child starts school.
• Make sure your child has a sturdy schoolbag or backpack that is suitable for their size.
• They’ll need a sunhat, comfortable shoes, a drink bottle, jersey, coat, and a lunchbox. Put your child’s name and phone number on everything.
• Pack a healthy morning tea, water bottle, and lunch each day for your child.
o Note: Your child may be more hungry than usual after school, so plan to give them a healthy afternoon tea each day.
• Get a ‘stationery list’ from the teacher before your child starts school. If it’s the beginning of the year, you’ll get good value at ‘back to school’ sales. Some stationery stores make up convenient packs for each class at the local schools and often the school earns rewards too. Label all stationery.
Your child may be tired in the first few weeks of school. It’s a different environment from ECE – there’s a lot for them to learn and to take in – new faces, new rules and routines, and so on.
• If possible, keep after school activities to a minimum for a month or two. Let your child rest or sleep after school if they need to.
For more information on how to get your child ready for school, see our School Ready page.
Advice on choosing a school for your child-http://www.ero.govt.nz/National-Reports/Choosing-a-School-for-a-Five-Year-Old-June-2009