YOUR first day SUR­VIVAL GUIDE

Send­ing your child to preschool or school is a huge mile­stone. Here’s how to make it a smooth tran­si­tion for the pair of you

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Starting School -

A long with those first steps and first words, the day your child puts on that lit­tle uni­form and heads out to school is a huge oc­ca­sion. It marks your child’s grow­ing in­de­pen­dence and shows he’s be­com­ing a fully fledged mem­ber of so­ci­ety in his own right. While some chil­dren – and mums – can find the whole idea of start­ing school wor­ry­ing, there are ways to make it seem like a grand ad­ven­ture. And a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to school right from the start is more likely to mean he gets the most from his lessons. Par­ent­ing ed­u­ca­tor Lois Haultain says even if you are wor­ried about your child start­ing school, it’s still im­por­tant to talk about this next step in a calm and pos­i­tive way.

“Re­mind your child how much he has grown, per­haps by look­ing at his baby pho­tos, and em­pha­sise that he is now so much big­ger and can do things that he wasn’t able to before,” says Lois, who’s from the Pos­i­tive Par­ent­ing Net­work. “This can help them to feel more con­fi­dent about the very big chal­lenge of school.”

So how can you limit those first-day tears – both yours and theirs?

GET FA­MIL­IAR

It’s a good idea to help your child feel com­fort­able with his school before he starts. This can in­clude driv­ing or walk­ing past to point it out, so he gets used to the build­ing, and talk­ing about his teacher. Most schools or­gan­ise set­tling in ses­sions, al­low­ing chil­dren to visit the class­room and meet their new teach­ers and class­mates in ad­vance.

You can cre­ate ex­cite­ment about the idea of start­ing school by shar­ing your own school sto­ries, or read­ing your child books such as Start­ing School by Janet and Al­lan Ahlberg (Pen­guin, $14.99). As well as re­as­sur­ing him that school is nor­mal and noth­ing to worry about, talk­ing about it can prompt your child to dis­cuss what may be trou­bling him – whether it’s go­ing to the loo or what he’ll get for lunch.

“Don’t be sur­prised if your child ex­presses anx­i­eties about school – it’s nor­mal, and you must take his feel­ings se­ri­ously by lis­ten­ing well,” says Lois. “Let him know that all the other chil­dren will be in the same boat – it will be their first day as well, so they may well feel just the

If chil­dren have a pos­i­tive start to school, they’re more likely to make friends and be mo­ti­vated to learn.

If your child ex­presses anx­i­eties about school take his feel­ings se­ri­ously by lis­ten­ing well.

same. Re­as­sure him that at the end of the school day you (or the per­son planned) will def­i­nitely be there to pick him up.”

SAVVY SKILLS

While your child is go­ing to school to learn, there are some lessons you’ll need to teach him so he set­tles in more eas­ily. That doesn’t mean times ta­bles and writ­ing, but life skills only you can teach, says Syd­ney pri­mary school teacher Jor­dana Fraser. “It’s al­ways a great idea to in­tro­duce early lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy skills, although chil­dren will get plenty of prac­tice with their read­ing and writ­ing in the class­room,” she says.

“To make the tran­si­tion of send­ing your child to school as smooth as pos­si­ble, look at boost­ing their self-help skills: be­ing able to tie their shoelaces and dress them­selves, hav­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and car­ing for their per­sonal be­long­ings, and not be­ing afraid to ask for help. If chil­dren have a pos­i­tive start to school, then they’re more likely to feel re­laxed, make friends and be mo­ti­vated to learn.”

If you know other chil­dren who’ll be in his class, meet up before the big day so there’ll be fa­mil­iar faces. “We ar­ranged play­dates through the sum­mer with some of the chil­dren who were go­ing to be in Jar­rah’s class,” says mum So­phie Hunter, 37. “This meant he had ready- made friends on the first day and I’m sure it helped him feel more con­fi­dent.”

OP­ER­A­TION SCHOOL

The big day has fi­nally ar­rived! You’ll prob­a­bly have had your child’s clothes and school bag laid out for him to dress him­self and carry by him­self, taken some pho­tos of him in his uni­form and pre­pared a nour­ish­ing lunch­box for him. But be­ing ready prac­ti­cally doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that you and your child are emo­tion­ally pre­pared for this new stage.

“Even the well-at­tached and con­fi­dent child can have last-minute wob­bles,” says Lois. “Don’t in­dulge in an overly drawnout good­bye. Get on his level for a big hug, smile right at him and re­mind him that the teacher is there to look af­ter him. It might also help to plan a post-school treat to look for­ward to, such as a stop at a park on the way home, or at the lo­cal swim­ming pool.”

If your child says that he feels sad, tell him you can un­der­stand be­cause you will miss him too but that you know he is go­ing to have a good time. Keep smil­ing.

But what if you’re the one fight­ing back tears? “Lei­hana’s first day hit me hard,” says mum and child­care worker Luisa

Mus­cat, 26. “She was ex­cited and couldn't wait to be a ‘big girl’, hap­pily telling me to hurry up and leave, but all I could think of was my lit­tle girl grow­ing up.”

If you feel like you might cry, wait un­til your child is out of sight. It can be quite con­fus­ing to see mummy sob­bing, es­pe­cially when he may be a lit­tle jit­tery him­self. Luisa found or­gan­is­ing some­thing with the other par­ents helped. “Some of us went for cof­fee on the first morn­ing – it was great to dis­cuss how we were feel­ing to­gether,” she says.

HOME TIME

Once 3pm comes, you’ll be des­per­ate to dis­cover how it all went. But don’t ex­pect any feed­back be­yond what your child tells you – which may not be much. Teach­ers tend to pro­vide con­sid­er­ably less feed­back than staff at preschools or day­care cen­tres, although there will usu­ally be a par­ents’ evening af­ter a few weeks.

Avoid over­whelm­ing your child with a bar­rage of ques­tions as soon as he’s left the class­room. “Keep your ques­tions spe­cific rather than too big or too ope­nended. If you ask ‘What did you do to­day?’ the ques­tion may be too big for your child to an­swer, so he will say lit­tle,” says Lois. “How­ever, if you ask, ‘What was the best thing you did to­day?’ you may get an an­i­mated re­sponse. Like­wise, you could ask what the worst thing was, to give your child an op­por­tu­nity to ex­press his feel­ings. Ask ‘Did you play with Jack or Tom?’ if you know they are po­ten­tial friends.”

And re­mem­ber, if your child doesn’t want to talk, don’t take it per­son­ally. It’s of­ten the case that be­ing at school is more tir­ing for your child than he or you re­alise, but don’t worry – he may be more forth­com­ing later on. So move on and show him how proud you are of him. Af­ter all, that first day of school is one of the big­gest of his life.

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