Learn­ing curves

How can par­ents be sure their child is ready to start school?

The Morning Bulletin - - READ - BY Ja­nine Hi l l

FIVE-YEAR-OLD Owen Wilson is all smiles about start­ing school in a week but it was a dif­fer­ent story just a year ago. Owen’s par­ents, Wendy and Jamie, had in­tended send­ing him to Prep last year but as they fronted up to en­rol­ment and in­duc­tion days, it be­came ap­par­ent he was not ready.

The Wil­sons made the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion to de­lay send­ing Owen to Prep for a year but Wendy said in hind­sight it was “the best thing”.

“Last year, when we went to in­duc­tion, he was hid­ing be­hind me and wasn’t ex­cited at all. This year, he couldn’t wait to go,” Wendy said.

“Last year, when we went to en­rol­ment, he tried on the uni­form but he cried the whole time. This year, he left the school with it on. He keeps pulling it out of the bag.”

Wendy will not be sur­prised if Owen bounces off with friends as soon as he ar­rives at school on day one, and if he does, he and she will be the lucky ones. Dr Stephen Car­bone, of Beyond­blue, said it was not un­usual for chil­dren to feel wor­ried or stressed about start­ing school.

“Some de­gree of ner­vous­ness or anx­i­ety is pretty nor­mal in that sit­u­a­tion,” Dr Car­bone said.

“We all get a bit anx­ious when we are do­ing some­thing new or for the first time. For kids and their par­ents, it’s a big step mov­ing into pri­mary school.”

But while a de­gree of anx­i­ety or ner­vous­ness is nor­mal, Dr Car­bone said some chil­dren suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant stress. He said ex­ces­sive anx­i­ety could mean a child found it hard to set­tle, cried, ran back to the car or would not let par­ents go, or re­fused to go to school the next day.

Sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety was a par­tic­u­larly com­mon prob­lem for young­sters head­ing off to school for the first time, he said. Par­ents could min­imise their chil­dren’s sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety way be­fore the school gates by get­ting them used to stay­ing with grand­par­ents, friends or at child care.

“They get to re­alise that it’s okay for a par­ent to leave, that they will come back, that they won’t be left alone and that the par­ent will be all right,” he said.

Dr Car­bone said prepa­ra­tion was key to par­ents send­ing chil­dren off to start school happy and he en­cour­aged par­ents to make the most of op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­tro­duce their chil­dren to school be­fore day one.

“This is why a lot of schools have in­duc­tion pro­grams. If you fa­mil­iarise kids, it’s a good thing. They like to know what they are get­ting into,” he said.

“The in­duc­tion days are short days, small doses, that let kids see what it’s go­ing to be like in a great way.”

He said chil­dren should also be ex­posed to change and new ex­pe­ri­ences be­fore they hit school age.

“Let them have a go and try new things so they can build up con­fi­dence,” he said.

Wendy found the pas­sage of time, home-based ac­tiv­i­ties such as read­ing books about school, and in­creased at­ten­dance at kinder­garten made all the dif­fer­ence in get­ting Owen ready for school this year. He had al­ready been go­ing to kindy five days a fort­night but she en­rolled him in a sec­ond kinder­garten.

“I needed the space from him and he needed the space from me. We don’t have any younger kids and our friends don’t have any kids or kids his age who are at school, so we thought it would be good for him,” she said.

“The sec­ond kindy also has long days and we thought it would be good for him to do the long days. School will be new to him but the days will be shorter.”

She said choos­ing to de­lay Prep for Owen had not been an easy de­ci­sion but the ex­tra year of kinder­garten helped him grow up.

“That has prob­a­bly made him more in­de­pen­dent, more con­fi­dent. He’s mix­ing with two dif­fer­ent sets of chil­dren at the two kinder­gartens, and when he starts school, he’ll know more kids be­cause he’s been to two dif­fer­ent kindys,” Wendy said.

Psy­chol­o­gist Barry Kerr, for­mer school teacher and school coun­sel­lor, said build­ing chil­dren’s con­fi­dence and self-es­teem through so­cial in­ter­ac­tion would help make school a pos­i­tive place for them.

Mr Kerr said chil­dren these days were sub­ject to more in­flu­ences – and con­se­quently stress – as a re­sult of the use of so­cial me­dia, mo­bile phones and the in­ter­net and hence needed strong re­la­tion­ships that al­lowed then to feel com­fort­able about them­selves. He said par­ents could foster strong re­la­tion­ships by en­cour­ag­ing their chil­dren to in­ter­act with oth­ers through sport and ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties.

“Sport is so im­por­tant. They need to get out and do things,” he said.

Mr Kerr said par­ents could also help their chil­dren by talk­ing, lis­ten­ing and build­ing a rap­port with their chil­dren rather than lec­tur­ing, and by pro­vid­ing a sta­ble home life and try­ing to be pos­i­tive role mod­els.

But he said it was also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that chil­dren were dif­fer­ent and not all were ready to learn at the same time.

“Chil­dren will ac­tu­ally learn when they are ready,” he said.

Damian and Rachel Styring’s first-born, Si­enna, started Prep last year at four. Damian said Si­enna

had been happy to go but as one of the youngest in her co­hort, she strug­gled with the cur­ricu­lum, which has be­come more fo­cused on struc­tured learn­ing than play. Af­ter much de­lib­er­a­tion, the Styrings have de­cided to leave Si­enna in Prep for a sec­ond year.

“It was re­ally dif­fi­cult to make that de­ci­sion. I felt we’d failed as par­ents and should have put more time into help­ing her, but she was just very young,” Damian said.

He said

Si­enna was still in hol­i­day mode but would be ex­cited as back-to-school day got closer.

“We’ve said to her that there’s a few kids re­peat­ing and you’re go­ing to be spe­cial helpers for the other kids start­ing Prep. We’re putting a pos­i­tive slant on it,” he said.

Damian ex­pected be­gin­ning school a sec­ond time would be just as ex­haust­ing for the fam­ily as the first time around.

“The teacher explained to us that af­ter the first three weeks, the kids are ex­hausted with anx­i­ety and ex­cite­ment and deal­ing with five days, and we’re ex­hausted with deal­ing with grumpy kids,” he said.

“They said if they are are still tired af­ter four weeks, let the kids have a day off to re­cover.”

Mr Kerr said it was im­por­tant for par­ents to en­cour­age their chil­dren but not pres­sure them with un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions.

“If they are do­ing the best they can, that’s all you can ask for.”

Beyond­blue has an in­ter­ac­tive on­line pro­gram for young peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing anx­i­ety and pro­grams for par­ents, too. Find The BRAVE Pro­gram at youth­be­yond­blue.com.

We all get a bit anx­ious when we are do­ing some­thing new or for the first time.


Owen Wilson and his­mumWendy Wilson are all set for school in 2017.

RUL­ING: From 2017, it is com­pul­sory for Queens­land chil­dren to un­der­take Prep prior to Year 1.


Owen Wilson and his mum Wendy Wilson.

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