Is your child starting school soon? Here’s how you can help to make sure they are well prepared to make the transition to ‘big school’!
When you think about it, children go through numerous small transitions every single day of their lives: the transition from home to car, the transition to their grandparents house, or simply the transition from pyjamas to clothing. Transitions all involve some level of change, from one activity, situation or place to anther. But what is the best way to manage the bigger transitions such as starting school?
There are numerous transitions relating to childcare and school that you and your child will face in their time in education, but the biggest one – the one that causes the most stress and concern – is usually starting school for the first time (I’m honestly not sure if it the children or us parents who need the most support with this one!). Children are often separated from their main nursery friends, and will usually attend a different setting, with different adults, and different rules and expectations. So, what should you expect when your child starts school? What will your child experience in their early days? And how can you make their first days at school a really positive experience? (For more information on preparing for school, see my other article on what teachers would like you to do to prepare your child for school here https://parent-pop.com/2020/05/11/starting-school-the-most-important-things-your-childs-teacher-really-wants-you-to-know/)
This is something I have been through personally with my 3 children, and it is also something I support in my professional life as a Reception class teacher. I worried a lot about my first son in particular, as he was the first of my children to attend school, and had a quiet and shy nature. I wondered about so many things, like ‘will he make friends?’ and ‘will he be able to cope with the work?’, and sometimes even ‘will his teacher like him?’. And I am pleased to tell you, as scary as it was at the time, it was really easy to manage with a bit of forward thinking and preparation.
How can I support my child’s transition to school?
Please remember though, every school is different and so is every family, so it is important you use these tips in a way that suits your individual situation – your child’s new school should be willing and able to help you with any specific advice regarding their individual policies. However, there are certain elements of starting school which are broadly the same across the board, and with this in mind, here are my top tips for making sure your child (and you!) feel well prepared:
Take every opportunity to visit the school and to get to know the teaching staff. There are usually opportunities for you and your child to visit your child’s new school, and to meet with the teacher who will be teaching your child. These are a really important part of the transition process, and if you can I would try to attend every single event that is put on by the school, including summer fayres and fetes. The teacher should be present at each of these events, so it is a great chance to ask any questions you might have, and to begin to establish a positive relationship. If you are offered a home visit, or a nursery visit, I highly recommend accepting it. (I am writing this in the time of coronavirus, so this may look somewhat different for the time being, but the same advice goes – accept any video chat or online support you are offered).
Get to know the schools important policies. This will ensure you know what will happen when faced with certain events, such as how it will be dealt with if your child needs first aid or the exclusion period for certain illnesses, and will mean there should be no nasty surprises in the future. Most schools now have their important policies on the school website, and also have a hard copy of these you can read in school.
Talk to your child about starting school. The more they know and understand about what will happen, the less scary it seems for them. You could have general conversation, such as ‘you’ll do X/Y/Z when you start school’ or ‘its only 2 weeks until you start school’ – the more light and natural the conversation is, the more children will feel at ease about the idea. Try to keep talking about things such as the teachers name, friends who will be going with them, and any other important aspects of the day, as it can feel like a very long time for children between first visiting the school and actually going to school. Children have a limited concept of time at this age, so may not fully understand when they will start, but conversations about this help support their growing awareness.
Buy your child’s uniform and equipment in advance. If your child needs a uniform to attend their new school, I highly recommend buying this in advance. That way, you do not have to panic about getting the uniform just before school starts, when it is almost always sold out in the younger sizes. It also allows you to order school-specific uniform from the school uniform providers, which often become backlogged just before the new school year begins. It can also be an important step for your child to touch and try on their new items, and helps them accept they will be going to school soon. You can buy lots of school uniform items online too, so it couldn’t be easier – order in your pyjamas with a coffee (like I do!).
Try not to let your child sense your worry. If you are anxious about your child starting school, then it is very likely that your child will pick up on this, and start to believe there is something to worry about. If you need to talk about your worries, wait until your child is not around to hear – it will help you feel better, and will stop little ears listening (children always seem to hear the things you don’t want them to!).
Don’t talk about your own bad experiences of school. It can be tempting to show your child that you understand their fears about school by saying things like ‘I didn’t like school either’ or ‘I hated maths’ – it feels like you are showing your child you can relate to their worries. But, it actually sends the message to your child that it’s ok not to like school (or certain aspects of it) as their parents didn’t like it either, so you are planting those seeds of negativity without even realising. Try to keep it positive, or abide by the old saying ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all’.
Encourage your child’s independence. The more your child can do for themselves before they start school, the easier they will find it to take care of themselves and their own belongings in a new environment. I am most definitely not a believer in the term ‘school ready’, however independence is great for your child’s confidence and self esteem, and really will make a difference to how they feel they can cope with challenges. (For more support on encouraging your child’s independence click here).
Give your child lots of opportunity to practice their social skills. Your child has probably become really familiar with the children who go to their childcare setting with them, so much so that it can come as a bit of a shock when surrounded by lots of new and unfamiliar children and adults. By supporting your child to feel socially confident, you can ensure they feel well prepared to face making new friends at school. (For more tips on supporting your child’s social skills at home, please click here).
Read books about starting school. It can be quite helpful for children to see how other people feel when starting school, and hear about their experiences, especially when the information is delivered in a warm and cosy book shared with a loved one. Reading about other people places no pressure on your child as it does not directly relate to them, but it also gives them time and space to process their feelings about starting school. There are plenty of books about starting school available online, but these ones are a few of my favourites.
Practice skills which will support your child in the early schooling. Cutting, zips, fastening, pencil control, listening, following instructions. These scissors are great for children to practice their cutting skills safely, and are generally the ones used in schools (they are available in left handed designs too).
Label your child’s belongings. This will make it much easier for your child to look after their own things in the early days of school, while they are still getting used to where to put their belongings. I particularly like these customisable labels which are great for children who do not yet know how to recognise their name – they can recognise the picture instead.
Let your child’s school know ANYTHING that may be relevant to your child’s care, as well as making sure your child is aware of important information. This includes things such as allergies and any special needs your child may have, to moving house and family changes. Even the small stuff, such as your child having a disturbed night of sleep or a sore leg can help your child’s teacher better support your child’s learning. As a parent, I know how easy it is to forget to tell your child’s teacher stuff about your child, but as a teacher I know how much easier it makes my job when I have the full picture.
Don’t plan too much in your child’s first few weeks at school. They will be extremely tired… and possibly quite grumpy! They will probably not want to do much more than play and watch some TV. It is extremely physically, mentally and emotionally draining for children when they first start school, as they are learning new rules, making new friends, and exploring new areas and activities.
Teach your child to manage conflict. Your child will come into contact with lots of different children from lots of different backgrounds and lots of different opinions – it is inevitable that they will experience conflict at some point. Combine that with young children’s impulsivity and inability to yet truly understand the feelings of others, and you have a potential recipe for disaster on your hands. Conflict is important for children’s development, and helps them to develop confidence and resilience, however it is good for children to understand how to deal with it effectively. Teaching strategies to deal with sharing and differing opinions with others will allow them to get off to a great start to their school life.
Make sure all paperwork is in promptly. This will make sure you receive all the information you will need to register with the school, and will open the channel of communication smoothly. Some schools still post out paperwork and information, so returning your forms promptly ensures you will get everything you need to have a smooth transition.
I hope you now feel a little more prepared that you and your child can handle anything school transition related! It is such an exciting time, and a new milestone reached in your child’s life – remember to enjoy all the positive things that come with your child starting school. I will be thinking of all the children who are starting school soon and wishing them well on their first days.
Do you have any other areas of school transition you would like support in? If so, leave a reply in the comments below – I love to hear from you!
Love, Heather x
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