If you have a little one starting school, it’s important to make the transition as smooth as possible – for both of you!
Whether your child has been in organised day care five days a week, or has been at home with a parent, they are bound to feel nervous about the challenges of a new school. As a parent, you are also bound to feel apprehension about how they will settle in, or how you will manage the logistics of school drop off and pick up. Whatever you are concerned about, it’s normal! Below, we have compiled a list of top tips to make the transition as easy as A, B, C…
Words Charlotte Newton
Getting ready for school:
Talk about school together.
Don’t push it, but encourage your child to talk about school. What do they think it will be like? What were their favourite parts of orientation? Is there anything they feel worried about? Take the time to have these conversations, being mindful not to dismiss or belittle their feelings whilst also not creating a lot of emotional fuss.
There are some great books which address the topic of starting school and many are available through the library.
If you have older children, include them in the school preparations for their little brother or sister. It is hard for other children when they are not the centre of attention and including them makes everyone feel part of a team. Having a chat with older siblings about how they talk to younger ones about school is also a great idea. You don’t want your kindergarten child to be terrified by stories their big brother or sister told them!
Let your child wear their uniform and school shoes at home.
When the big day arrives, you want your little one to be comfortable in their uniform. If it is familiar it will help them feel a little more secure during those first few days. Plus, you will get advance warning of any itchy labels or shoes that might rub.
Practise going to the toilet!
Even if your child has been successfully potty trained for many years, let them practice going to the toilet when they are wearing their uniform. This is especially important for boys who may not be familiar with the fastening on more formal school shorts. It’s also a good idea to pack a spare pair of pants and socks in their school bag just in case. Schools often have spare uniform, but having their own underwear to change into might comfort a child of they have an accident at school.
Use their lunchbox at home.
If you have bought a new lunchbox for your child to use at school, just make sure they are familiar with how to open it and they can manage it on their own. Children love to feel that they are ‘big’ and being able to open their lunchbox and packets by themselves is a great little confidence booster. That said, Kindergarten children will often eat lunch with a Year 6 buddy and so help will be readily available for those first few weeks.
Label their things!
School is an opportunity to develop responsibility for possessions but it is likely to take some time. Label things that are easily lost like hats, jackets, drink bottles and lunchboxes. It’s up to you whether you choose to label uniform items like dresses, shirts and pants which they won’t be taking off but it is sensible to label shoes! Black school shoes look surprisingly similar when they are all piled up by the sandpit or in the corner of the classroom!
Pack the school bag together.
It’s a good idea to get your child involved in packing the school bag as it builds a sense of responsibility. They won’t need much at first since most schools provide equipment, but your child is likely to be very excited to pack their sunhat and jacket as well as their lunchbox and drink bottle. Consider popping spare underwear in as well, and letting your child know it’s there. A little bottle of sunscreen is a great idea, and some schools allow children to personalise their bags with keyrings.
The big day:
The first morning of school.
Don’t rush. If that means setting your alarm an hour earlier then do that, but the likelihood is your child will be up early with nervous excitement. Stay calm and focused and get to school at a reasonable time – not too early and definitely not late! Try to get your child to eat a good breakfast, they may not each much lunch!
Take a picture!
Don’t forget to capture this iconic moment! Some parents like to take a picture of their child with a sign saying which year they are in or what they’d like to do when they grow up. You can buy custom signs, but a printed piece of paper works just as well.
Your child might be super keen to start school, or they may be more reserved and feeling nervous. The same goes for you! Whatever dynamic you are dealing with, make sure you say goodbye with a hug and a smile on your face. This shows your child that you are happy that they are starting school and reassures them that it will be ok and probably a lot of fun!
What if my child doesn’t want me to leave?
It’s heartbreaking when a child cries and clings to you when it’s time to go in to school. Rest assured that Kindergarten teachers are experts at dealing with this and at helping your child to settle in to their new school.
Some people suggest sneaking out when your child is busy, but this has the potential to cause further separation anxiety and erode the trust between you and your child. The best thing you can do in this situation is get down on your child’s level and reassure them that they are going to be ok and you will be back to collect them in the afternoon. Make sure you give them a big hug and a smile before you leave them with their teacher. In a few minutes it is likely they will have calmed down and will be settled in the classroom engrossed in an activity – you might take longer to recover!
However you feel, don’t hover outside the classroom and try not to let your child see you if you are emotional. When children see that you are worried, it undermines their self-confidence as it sends the message that you think they cannot cope. Loitering around the classroom just drags out the separation process and prolongs the emotional upheaval. A swift, positive goodbye is the best way to give your child the opportunity to develop confidence and resilience.
Your child will be exhausted during the first term of school, so be careful how much extra-curricular activity you schedule. Many schools suggest that Kindergarten children do not do any after school classes for the first term. Even if your child is enjoying school and is settling in well, they are still exerting a lot of effort to manage their emotions, social expectations and a steep academic learning curve throughout their school day. They may burst into tears after school and not know why. This is often tiredness and it happens to most Kindergarten children in the first term – it’s usually nothing to worry about!
Set up a sensible bedtime routine.
You may already have a solid bedtime routine, but giving it a little refresh after a long summer break is bound to lead to a happier household. Make sure you have set a sensible bedtime for your children and build in some time to wind down before it’s time to sleep. It won’t be long before home readers and homework has be to factored in so taking some time now to cement your routine will be well spent.
Screens stimulate children and using them in the hour before bed can make it hard for them to fall asleep, so turn them off in plenty of time. Try to include some time for a chat before bed or to enjoy a book together if you can.
Questions to ask instead of ‘How was your day?’
Ask any child how their day was and you are likely to get a one word answer: Good. Since you probably want more information than that, here are a few ideas of some questions that might spark a conversation:
What was your favourite part of today?
What did you learn today?
Who did you sit with at lunch?
What didn’t you like today?
What was the hardest thing you had to do today?
Did anything funny happen at school today?
However you and your child are feeling about school it is bound to cause some challenges. Whether this is the first child you are sending off to school or your fourth, it is often a bittersweet moment for parents as they say goodbye to the preschool years and embark on the primary school journey. It is indeed the end of an era, but it’s also the start of a really exciting one.
Charlotte is a keen professional writing and publishing student. Despite a lifelong love of learning, Charlotte has found her three children to be her greatest teachers in life.