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
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?
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.”
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.”
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.
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.