Over the next few weeks there will be a myriad of emotions at the school gate. Tears glistening in the eyes struggling to be held back, excitement with a tinge of nerves, hands squeezed tight with uncertainty; and that’s just the parents.
For both child and parent, the transition to school is a monumental milestone. Parents all approach this differently. Some with eagerness, some with grief that those precious early years are gone and their ‘baby’ is growing up. No feeling is right or wrong it just reflects the unique personalities we have and how we react to change.
Your child will look to you to gauge the situation. If they see you nervous or tearful this will leave them with the feeling of anxiety. Equally talking about school all the time and being over excited can put a lot of pressure on this change.
So when the first day finally arrives, what can you do?
Top Tips for Starting Primary School
1. First off, try to keep to your usual routines
Have what you normally have for breakfast and talk about school but include other topics as well. Allow plenty of time to get to school so you can avoid any stress and arrive before the bell.
2. Be guided by your child
If they stand close to you then stay close. But if they run off in search of friends or to play in the playground then step back and let them go for it.
3. Keep the goodbye brief
Your child’s teacher can give you guidance on how to say good bye on that first day but usually a quick hug and confident, “See you this afternoon, have a great day,” is best. It can be a good idea to meet up with a friend or call them after. I know on my children’s first day I had a few tears which I held back until I left the school gate. The day seemed to last forever as I wondered how they were getting on.
Children too will respond differently to this transition from preschool to school. This too is shaped by their disposition or personality type. When my son started school I was lucky to get a quick wave and, “See ya Mum”, as he rushed off eager to explore the playground before the bell rung. At the end of the day he proclaimed he had a best friend and couldn’t wait for the next day.
My daughter was what I would describe as slow to ‘warm’. On the first morning, and for a few weeks after, she wanted me to stay until the bell rang. Her approach was to check things out and sit back for a while before fully joining in. While content to go to school each day, it was a few weeks before the teacher got to see the chatty and outgoing girl we saw at home.
How can you support your child in the weeks following the start of school?
A wise school principal recently said to me that he believed the best teachers should be teaching the new entrant classes. Why? Because the first experience at school shapes a child’s attitude to school far beyond their first day. If children are excited to come to school and confident in their own abilities from the start, this flows on in the years ahead. Equally if they feel left out or that school is too hard, these negative feelings can continue through schooling. Here are some ways to make sure those first few weeks give a lasting good impression:
1. Look into picking up your child for the first week
If you do work full time, see if you are able to adjust your hours for that first week so you can pick up your child or if you can’t make it, ask someone else close to your child. Starting afterschool care and school all in the same week can be quite a lot for a child.
2. Involve Dad or another positive male role model in your child’s life in the first few weeks
This is particularly important for boys. Where possible, encourage dad to visit the class room and do a drop off or pick up in these first few weeks. It’s also important for Dad to show an interest in homework. Again boys in particular need to see that Dad thinks reading, for example, is fun too.
3. Share your child’s interests and strengths with the teacher
So they can be incorporated where possible into school life. Does your child love art or have a fascination with dinosaurs? Share it! Your child may also like to take things from home to school for ‘news’ as this strengthens the connection between home and school.
4. Keep those first few weeks nice and quiet
You will be surprised how tired your child is after school even if they have been used to a full day at daycare. It will be much more comforting for your child to come home to a healthy snack and time to play than rushing off to swimming or the mall.
5. Try to do any homework such as spelling or reading before dinner
As your child’s concentration levels will make it difficult to do this as the evening progresses. When they do their homework, make sure you give them specific praise- for example: “You have already learnt a new word, that’s fantastic!” The more you encourage them, the more they will be motivated to learn.
6. If your child does come home with a negative story about school, be calm.
Try not to lecture with words like – “No you don’t, school is fun.” Empathise first and ask your child why they feel that way. It may be that one child has been mean to them or they found a particular lesson hard. Acknowledge their feelings and then ask them for their ideas on what to do about it. You might be surprised with what good ideas they can come up with when encouraged. Then ask your child if they can think of one thing they did enjoy that day and talk more about that.
7. Keep their teacher informed early on with any concerns as well as successes at home
A two-way relationship between home and school is best for your child. If communication channels stay open, you are able to find out from your teacher if things aren’t going as well as planned. The same is true for them – if you can let them know what’s going on in your child’s life, they will be able to understand your child better and meet their needs.
8. Take an active role and be part of your child’s school where possible
Go to sports days or an assembly or if you can’t make it perhaps send Nana or Grandad along. This will show your child that you interested and also gives you an insight to their life at school. This is also true in helping them make new friends. Ask your child if they would like to invite a friend home in those first few weeks to build on blossoming friendships.
Before you start on a new journey it’s good to look back at where you’ve been. Get out those baby books and children’s portfolio’s and celebrate those early years. You may find that your child wants to share in this too. Soon you will have some new adventures and memories to add.
You know your child best so listen to them and follow your instincts as you go through the transition to school. You guided them through the first years just as you will though this next life-journey…called ‘school’.
For more expert advice on starting back at school, check out our School & School Holidays section.