Starting school is one of those milestones parents reach with a mixture of emotions. On one side it’s incredibly exciting to see your child head off into a new world offering wonderful new experiences. But it’s also the distinct end of an era – the baby years are long gone now!
Your child probably feels the same contrasting feelings. School feels like a big adventure they have been heading towards for a long time, but it’s also a step into the great unknown. A little bit of preparation can help those first few weeks run a little more smoothly for everyone in the family. Your child’s transition to school will be more enjoyable and successful if they feel secure about their new routine and have solid coping skills to get them through the school day.
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Talk about school
But try not to oversell it. Keep school talk to a minimum. We often mistakenly talk too much about school – how wonderful it is, how much they will love it etc. Be bright about it but try not to ‘glorify’ school. A lot of stress and pressure can arise from all the talk and hype. Keep it to a minimum as it can set your child up for expectations that are too high to meet.
Visit the school
Find out what their classroom looks like, have a play on the playground and find out where the toilets are. Most schools have organised visits for new entrants.
Discuss emergency plans
Ensure your children know what to do if you’re late for pick-up or if they are approached by strangers.
Let them know they’re okay
Children can be very sensitive about what they can’t do, and this is made more obvious when they observe their peers. Let them know it is okay to not know how to do things because school is a great place to learn new things.
Have a ritual
Work out what your child will do once they get to school. “First we’ll say hello to the teacher, then hang your bag up on your special hook and then choose an activity to do.”
Fuel them up
Give them a healthy breakfast and sit down and eat it together if possible. Breakfast provides vital fuel needed to get the body started each day. And remember, quality food builds quality brains.
Sit down and do some of the things your child is doing at school. Our interest fuels our child’s interest. Make letters out of play dough, draw, cut things out etc.
Tell your child when you are leaving the classroom
There may be initial distress but in the long run, it serves your child much better if they know you have gone and do not need to look for you.
Give them a hug and a smile
Showing you are okay helps children feel they are okay too. Smile and be relaxed.
Look pleased and excited at pick-up
Let them tell you about their day in their own time. Hold back from asking lots of questions just so you can get reassurance that they had a good time. An extra tip – children find the question, “What did you do at school today?” a bit big. Try, “What was one thing you enjoyed at school today?” or, “Were there are any tricky parts today?”
Help them get organised
Establish a school-day routine so they know what is expected of them, and make sure you keep a consistent bedtime routine. Plenty of sleep is essential for busy school days – aim for 11 to 12 hours a night.
Here are six things your child needs to be able to do before the big day.
1. Be responsible for all their own clothing. Make sure they choose clothes and shoes they can fasten themselves and understand what to do if they get too hot or too cold. Talk to them about putting their clothes in sensible places at school so they can find them again when they need them or at the end of the day.
2. Be independent going to the toilet and washing their hands thoroughly after.
3. Open and close their bag and lunch box, and understand which food is for morning tea and which should be kept for lunch. Make sure they know what to do with their rubbish. Pack their bag and lunch with them so they know what is inside.
4. Ask a grown-up for help. Explain that their teacher is there to help. Give them examples of the different words and phrases they can use to help the teacher understand what is bothering them.
5. Know how to make friends with other children. Good friendships are a lifeline so talk to your child about making friends and about being a good one. Children can be mean and unkind so pass on skills for deflecting and avoiding bullies. Make sure they know where to get help if they get into tricky situations.
6. Understand that they need to do what the teacher says, and that children have to take turns talking and doing activities with the teacher.
Attend a Toolbox parenting group
The four Toolbox groups – Early Years (0-6), Middle Years (6-12), Tweens and Teens (12-18) and Building Awesome Whānau (0-12) are available throughout the country. In an informal, relaxed and friendly environment (often someone’s home) participants are equipped with practical skills and strategies that can be immediately put to use. Over six sessions, key parenting principles are explored and participants are encouraged in their parenting. Find out more and register here.