Starting school is often the greatest milestone so far reached in the life of a young child. It is a time of great excitement as children realise with pride they are growing up and about to embark on a special journey.
Envisage the delight on the face of a small boy or girl trying on their school uniform for the first time.
However, starting school can also bring about emotions of fear and apprehension, as children question: ‘How will I cope without Mum, Dad and/or other family members?’ They might also worry: ‘What if I don’t have anyone to play with?’
These emotions are completely natural and usually centre around children not knowing quite what’s coming. In truth, we cannot give our children an exact account of what to expect—but there are things we can do to help prepare them.
Focus On The Positive Aspects Of Change
Starting school is a big change and focusing on how change can lead to positive outcomes will help children feel confident about the changes they face. Reading stories themed around ‘starting school’ can be useful; so are stories where a central character faces either a big change or challenge then overcomes it to achieve accomplishment. The classic children’s story, ‘The Little Engine That Could’, is a good example and is one that has been enjoyed for generations. Even popular movies, like ‘Shrek’, have similarly inspiring messages.
Start To Adapt Your Routine
Your child will have, in all likelihood, already had some exposure to the routines and expectations of school on their transition visit(s). This experience is a great platform upon which to introduce some changes to your routine at home. For example, you can: give your child a labelled drink bottle to start using now and refill independently. Also, introducing a small, healthy snack early in the day prepares them for their ‘brain food’ break which features in most junior primary classrooms. Also, establishing a good bedtime routine involving calming activities and an early bed-time will ensure children are rested for what will be an extremely tiring first few weeks.
Your child’s existing social and emotional skills arguably has the greatest impact on how well they will adapt to school. Scheduling play dates prior to school beginning, and once commenced, will provide valuable opportunities for them to develop sharing, turn-taking and conversation skills; as well as helping them learn to manage a wide range of emotions and develop awareness of social rules such as ‘fairness’.
Having honest and loving communication with your child is the single best way you can encourage a positive start to school. Talk about all aspects of your child’s school experience, including:
- The physical layout of the school. Have conversations about the arrangement of classrooms, toilets and other significant buildings, such as the library, hall and gymnasium.
- The people at school. This will be peers as well as older students; teachers and other staff.
- The rules and procedures. Talk about how they differ or are the same to those at home. Consider bringing some into the home routine where appropriate. For example, your child could pack their own bag in the morning.
- Learning experiences. Get involved in your child’s learning at school by talking through what they’ve been working on. Looking through their workbooks—you can ask your child’s teacher to send these home periodically—is a useful idea. Knowing what your child is learning at school will help you support their learning at home in informal ways. Like, helping with the shopping list; finding a friend’s house on the road map; and planting veggies in the garden.
- By keeping the topic of ‘school’ part of the conversation, your child will have ample opportunity to share their feelings and gain understanding and support from those around them.
Finally, remember that preparing your child for a positive start includes expressing your happiness about them starting school (even if we are holding back a little sadness about their growing up). A beaming Mum, Dad and/or carer will provide children boosted confidence.
Telling them that you think everything will be OK builds feelings of security and well being.