Preparing Your Child to Start School – 20 Tips for a Smooth Transition and Happy Start to School.
Starting school for the first time is an exciting and huge step in any child’s life. We have 20 tips to make this transition easier and enjoyable.Over the years I have offered the following tips many times, this however, is the first time that I will have to take my own advice as a parent of a 5 year old who is about to start school. He cannot wait to start school, has his uniform and school bag already and constantly asks when is school starting. I, on the other hand, can barely talk about it without a lump forming in my throat, which brings me onto tip number one of our 10 tips for preparing your child for school.
Dealing with the emotions of starting school (kiddies and parents!)
1. Talk about school positively but realistically. Be enthusiastic when talking about school, but don’t make it out to be Disneyland, you don’t want the first day of school to be a major anti climax. If your experience of school wasn’t particularly positive, this isn’t the time to share this with your child. This is a huge transition for your child and a positive outlook and attitude towards school should help them settle well on the first day
2. Be prepared for every sort of emotional reaction from your child on those first few mornings – there may be tears, over excitement, shyness, giddiness, irritability, you name it, each child deals with change differently and while there may be no tears only excitement on the first morning don’t be alarmed if there are tears the next – this is not a sign that they had a bad experience, its just their little way of dealing with change/stress/tiredness etc. This is perfectly normal and should be expected. Children see their parents or primary care givers as their safe haven, where they know the routine, what to expect, etc. So venturing into the unknown without mum or dad can be frightening but is usually overcome quite quickly. Talk to your child about how they feel, encourage them to describe their feelings about starting school. Read some books about starting school together.
3. This is your child’s big day, not yours (although it is a major milestone for every parent), do your best to keep your emotions in check until you get back into your car after dropping them off on the first morning. You can cry your eyes out once you’re out of view. We all know how easily children pick up on our emotions, this is one day that it is very important that they are protected from your anxiety.
4. Let go! Trust the teachers. Trust your child. Encourage your child to be independent. After the first day or two, stand back and let them walk to the door or line by themselves. They will be ok. Say goodbye, wave and walk away. The sooner you allow them to be independent the better.
Being independent and responsible.
5. Name, address and phone number. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t know all the letters of the alphabet when starting school, they will learn it in no time. However, it is a good idea for your child to be able to recognise their own name in writing, be able to read and write it. Although the school will obviously have your contact details (read about the importance of this in our 15 Back to School tips) it is advisable that your child knows their own address and your phone number.
6. Shoes, coats, clothing. Encourage your child to dress themselves. Buy shoes with velcro if your child can not tie their laces. Ensure that your child is able to button and zip their coat – they will be outdoors to play at least once or twice each day at school all year around and will need to know how to wrap up well in winter.
7. Toileting and personal hygiene. Remind your child about the importance of good toileting and hygiene practices – especially hand washing. We all know how quickly bugs pass through schools especially during cold and flu season.
8. Lunch box and water bottle: enable your child to be confident and independent at school by teaching them how to peel an orange or banana. Ensure that they can open all cartons and containers in their lunch box and close them again if necessary – you really don’t want to have to clean yogurt off a notebook! While on the topic of yoghurts make sure to add a spoon to the lunch box – we keep a container of disposable spoons in the house at all times for lunch time “yogies” – I guarantee that you will lose several spoons if you send your usual cutlery to school! Remind and encourage your child to bring home everything that they don’t eat, so that you know what they are or are not eating. Also, many schools require that children bring the waste home as they are involved in “Green Schools” or environmental initiatives.
9. Drop off and Home time: Be punctual, this is a very good life skill to instill in your child from an early age. Arrive on time for school. See number 4 above for more advice on morning drop off. If you are not required to collect your child at the door each afternoon, arrange a specific meeting point at the school gate. Ensure that they know who their designated “pick up” person is. Tell them that they may not leave the school grounds with anybody else with out prior arrangements and permission. Parents and caregivers, do not be late for pick up, children become anxious very quickly if there isn’t someone there to collect them, even if its only 5 minutes later than home time.
Routine, sleep and play:
10. Morning routine: Children who come to school happy, relaxed and organised tend to do better and settle better. Ensure that there isn’t a big rush every morning to get ready for school. Prepare clothes, lunches, bags etc the night before, involve the children in this. Get up a little earlier and try and slow your morning down if possible. This will help reduce any anxiety your child may have about starting school and will keep everyone calmer and happier – mum included. Set up a simple picture schedule for your children with a list of what they need to do to be ready for school that they can check each day.
11. Early to bed: Children need lots of sleep, especially in the early days of a new school term, they will be more tired than usual. Before school begins, start to bring bedtime back a little earlier if possible. A good night’s sleep is essential for learning.
12. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Children need fuel to learn. Breakfast is so important. Encourage your child to eat a good, healthy breakfast in preparation for their day of fun and learning ahead.
13. Encourage outdoor play and reduce screentime: For a huge portion of their school day your child will be indoors (usually), encourage as much outdoor activity and play in general in the evenings and reduce the amount of screen time on week days. Children need to be children and need to play, run, jump, cycle etc in order to grow and learn.
Literacy and Numeracy:
14. Read, read, read. Read with your child every day – it is one the most important things you can do to help your child succeed in school. Foster a love of books and reading. Provides lots of opportunities to read, look at books, tell stories. Create a print rich environment in your home – label furniture and appliances and household items so that your child becomes familiar with these words. Join a local library.
15. Talk, talk, talk. Talk to your child about their day. Encourage them to describe the events. Help them to develop their vocabulary by involving them in meaningful conversation. One thing we do each night before bed time is “5 Questions” each child must answer 5 questions we ask them about their day, this usually leads to a lot of chat and conversation. Eat dinner together if possible and use it as an opportunity to discuss everything and anything! Turn off the radio in the car sometimes and chat!
16. Play counting games when out and about. Count steps, christmas trees – whatever, have fun with it! UNO is a favourite card game of ours at the moment and I have found it great for number recognition. Involve your child in cooking and shopping, showing them real life math skills.
17. Sing and recite nursery rhymes and poems – great fun but also fantastic for helping your child develop skills needed to read – phonological awareness, rhyme, rhythm etc.
18. Write, write, write. Provide lots of opportunities for your child to write, draw and colour – writing is not just a school activity, show them that it is used in all aspects of life. Let them see you writing notes, lists, etc.
Slow down, keep things simple:
19. Keep extra curricular activities to a minimum, in the early months anyway. Your child will be exhausted until they adjust to their new routine and day. Keep after school activities simple, fun and low in number!
20. Be prepared for tantrums: on many occasions I have had parents remark to me how bad tempered their children can be in the hours immediately after school, that starting school has caused a major change in their usually pleasant child. Don’t worry, it probably is not the “bad” influence of another child rubbing off on them. Being well behaved and an active part of a large group is extremely demanding on a young child. They spend several hours per day following rules, completing tasks, playing nicely and cooperatively, sometimes several hours sitting at a desk (although thankfully this is changing). A tantrum or tearful outburst is perfectly normal, it is your childs way of releasing the tension of being a “perfectly” behaved child all day. Just think about how you feel after working all day – you are not usually in the best of form for an hour or so until you have had an opportunity to unwind. Children are the same. Take it as a compliment – your child feels safe and secure enough with you to be themselves and let the tension out, they know that you love them unconditionally. It usually passes once the child has had an opportunity to relax and unwind – offer a snack, maybe change clothes, play outdoors, take a stroll or allow quiet time if that is what you child wants.
There are so many other tips I could add, these are my top 20. I would love to hear what you would add to the list.
For more school tips for parents see our 15 Back to School Tips and 10 Things You Can Do When Your Child is Unhappy or Experiencing a Problem at School.
Wishing your child every success at school.