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Strategies for Starting School – Preparation, First Day of School and What to Expect
Several times this month, Fiona Brill and her five-year-old son walked to the nearby Primary School. There you play on the monkey bars, eat a picnic lunch and try all the drinking taps to discover which ones work – and which ones spray water everywhere. Fiona points out the classroom Nicky will be in that year and the bench she’ll be sitting on when it’s time to collect him. In just a few weeks, Nicky will be going to school for the first time. Fiona is already working to make the transition as easy and happy as possible.
There should be no tears and trauma at the school gate at the beginning of the year. Given preparation and a positive attitude towards school, the first day – and all other days too – can be a time to look forward to and enjoy.
The Weeks Before* Many schools hold orientation days where children are shown around and may have a story read to them by a “real” teacher. These are a great introduction.
* Talk about school often, in casual conversation. (‘Yes, you can read “cat”. You will learn to read many words at school.’) Be positive and enthusiastic in your attitude, but on the other hand, don’t build it up too much – school may not live up to the reputation of Circus Maximus.
* Education Departments often have excellent booklets to offer ideas. Ask for them.
* Visit the school several times so that your child has a concrete picture of where they will spend their time. As Fiona, show them the classroom, the toilets, try the drink taps and play chase on the oval.
* Show where you will sit and wait to meet your child after school. Knowing that you will be in a certain place at a certain time makes them feel much safer.
* Engage children in a fashion parade of trying on uniforms. They can write their names on painting clothes, lunch boxes and school bag in texta.
* Have picnics where you practice undoing drink lids and unwrapping dried fruit and sandwiches from plastic wrap. (Or try using waxed paper instead, it’s easier on little fingers.)
* Talk often about how long the school day will be in simple terms – ‘After lunch, you will have more games and stories and then I will be waiting to take you home.’
* Gather uniforms, art clothes and school bags well in advance. This avoids the terrible night before finding madness!
* Make sure everyone gets an early night!
The First Day
* Help your child get ready in a calm and relaxed way. Even if you have to get up earlier to avoid panics and last minute rush.
* Arrange to meet with one of your children’s friends and their parents. That way you can all walk together and support each other.
* Don’t forget to leave extra time for a photo or two. It’s something to really treasure later.
* Understand that there will be little time for the teacher to chat with you. This can happen later, on other days. Teachers need to focus only on the children during those first few chaotic days!
* In the classroom, engage your child in an activity (as in kinder), but don’t stay too long.
* Always tell your child you’re leaving, but keep it casual – five act goodbyes are a terrible strain on parents and children. When you leave, do so quickly and firmly – even if tears start. Teachers are experts at comforting and entertaining children – but they can only do this when parents (always the child’s first choice!) are no longer there.
* Keep reminding yourself (often) that most children who cry the first day parents leave are happily busy drawing elephants and making friends before the parent even gets home.
* Be there waiting when school ends. Even two minutes late can feel like two hours to a Prep kid.
The First Few Weeks
* Expect some deterioration in behavior in those early days, due to fatigue. Responsiveness, rudeness, fighting and even wetness are all signs of stress. You don’t have to accept it, but you also don’t have to race back to the child rearing manuals. Cuddles, kindness and quiet times should see the problem out.
* Have a small snack and quiet activity ready for when you both get home. Relax gently, chat about the day, even get some favorite videos to watch until the energy levels return. Don’t ask five friends to play – no matter how many they ask you!
* Don’t talk too much about what you did during the day, especially if it was exciting. Imagine it was business as usual at home or at work. Kids hate missing out.
* However, actually plan something special for yourself – especially just on that first day. Even if you have two toddlers and a baby still underfoot, a child going to school for the first time leaves a huge gap in your life. Fill it with something special. It is a new beginning for all of you.
‘No, you can’t jump on those squares,’ Nicky Brill tells her mother. – This is my school. I make the rules.’ He has already made the transition. The first day of school is something to look forward to for both of them.
(c) Jen McVeity, National Literacy Champion.
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