Maybe your child set foot inside their classroom for the first time today, or perhaps they’ll take their first tentative steps into their new school later this week. Either way, those first school days are an exciting, nerve-racking and emotional time for kids and parents alike. But don’t fret – here’s how you can make it easier (at least for the kids).
Monash University education lecturer Wendy Goff says starting primary school is a major transition for the whole family. It can dramatically alter a family’s routine and change relationships between siblings.
She says staying optimistic is a great help to children going to class for the first time.
“It’s very difficult for parents as well; they’re experiencing their own anxiety. It’s really important to be positive about school and to share the positive things, try not to show the anxiety. Try to make it a supportive experience,” she says.
“We look at (Prep children) and think, ‘You’re big now you’re going to school’, but they’re still little people. And they’re dealing with significant change. But research shows most children are excited and looking forward to going to school, and most have a really positive transition.”
Do a practice run
If your child is starting school later this week, she recommends doing a practice run beforehand – for the parent’s benefit as much as the child’s.
“You know how long it’s going to take and can address some of the issues that are going to crop up,” she says. “Set the alarm, have breakfast, get them dressed in their school uniform, get their lunch packed. You can usually take them for a little walk around the school, so it’s not just a drive there and back. It gets the child prepared for what’s to come.”
She says there are several other things parents can do to help smooth the way in these next few weeks:
- Set up a clear routine: “Let them know you will be back and where you will collect them,” Wendy says. Drop them off and pick them up on time to avoid anxiety.
- Talk about toileting: Wendy says at kinder or home, children can usually take themselves to the bathroom. But this can be quite daunting in a bigger school, so talk to your child about where the toilet is and how they get there.
- Build a relationship with the teacher and school: “Start a relationship with your child’s classroom teacher, I can’t stress that enough,” Wendy says. But that doesn’t have to mean helping out in the classroom. “A relationship can just mean talking positively about your child’s school and teacher at home. It’s getting your child to school on time, reading the notes; it’s a reciprocal relationship.”
- Keep talking and listening: “Think about the transition to school as a process that extends beyond the first day of school. It’s really important to keep talking to your child about the experiences they’re having. Your child might communicate something that’s happened that you’re not happy to hear. It’s important to not react because the child needs to know that classroom teacher and family are working together to support them. If something happens, tackle it early and keep open lines of communication with the child’s teacher.”
- Share stories: Tell your children about your own school experiences, both positive and negative. Talk through strategies, using different scenarios if necessary – for example, by sharing a story about a “friend” who was having an issue and what they did about it.
- Make sure children get enough rest: Hopefully, bedtime routines are already in place from preschool, but you may find they are particularly tired in those first few weeks. “Children need a lot of sleep to be able to function effectively in the classroom,” Wendy says.
Most importantly, parents should trust themselves and their instincts.
“You are your child’s first and most influential teacher and don’t forget that, and don’t forget to share what you know about our children with the teacher and with the school,” says Wendy. “You know your children.”