I can hardly believe that we are almost at the end of January, and another school year is upon us. Usually, I am right amongst the chaos, setting up my classroom and preparing for my new group of students. But this year I am in the opposite court, getting my little one ready to return to his ‘school’, as well as watching some of my friends getting ready to send their babes off to Kindergarten for the first time.
The first day of school naturally brings up many different emotions, from both parents and children. Having taught the youngest year group for the past six years (3 and 4 year olds), I have learnt a lot over that time so I thought it might be nice to prepare this blog post to help those parents who are sending their children to Kindy/Prep for the first time. (Side note – I wish each state had the same schooling system in terms of what each year group before Year 1 is called! It makes it way too confusing for everyone!)
This post is in with collaboration with one of my favourite children’s brands, Crocodile Creek (distributed by Childsmart). They kindly sent Hunter a back to school pack to start the year off in a stylish manner! All opinions are 100% my own.
Tips for the lead up to school
- Always speak positively about school in front of your child. If you have issues with the teacher or anything else school related, always speak about it in private. Children develop an overall attitude towards learning and school in general in their early childhood years, so the more positivity that surrounds it, the higher chance of a successful school career.
- Involve your child in the process leading up to starting school. Take them shopping (instore or online) to choose their backpack (if needed – some schools have uniformed bags), lunchbox, water bottle etc. If you have a child who gets overwhelmed with a lot of items to choose from, copy and paste a handful of items that you know they will like into a word document, and print it out for them to circle what they would like.
- Role play with your child different scenarios that they may encounter during their first days. The teacher will do this too, but it will give them a head start in social situations. Things like how to share, how to tell someone to stop if they don’t like something, not to use their hands to sort out problems etc. Also things like giving their lunch box set up a test run is helpful – and the fewer amount of smaller containers the better (I highly recommend a bento-style lunch box for Early Childhood years! Super easy for the children to access, and the teachers don’t need to open and close a million different tiny containers). Also sending them to school in shoes they can put on and off themselves is not only a great help to the teachers, but it helps the children become responsible for their own belongings while at school.
- Organise a playdate either before or soon after school starts with a small group of children in your area. Sometimes the teacher can organise a class list with parent contacts, but if that isn’t allowed then you can definitely instigate it yourself by getting willing people to fill out a sheet with their details or start a private Facebook group.
- Visit the school a few times with your child before the school term starts. Either a driveby or a stop in to play in the playground if possible.
- Discuss with your child how you will drop them off and will always come back. Especially if this is your child’s first time in a school or daycare setting.
Tips for the first day
- Prepare everything the night before and include your child in this. Lay out their uniform, pack their back and lunch. Put some of their favourite healthy snacks in their lunchbox so they know there is something yummy to look forward to. If you have a girl, ask them how they would like to wear their hair. Just little things like that so they have ownership over their day.
- Be excited for your child upon waking them (if they don’t wake from excitement before you!), and remember that children feed off their parent’s energy! If you are stress, they are stressed.
- Make the car trip (or walk) to school fun. Play their favourite songs, play a game. Get them in a happy mood.
- Role model how to meet new people when you get to the classroom. Introduce yourself to parents and then introduce your children. This should help them ease into their first day – it doesn’t take long for children to become friends!
- It is a busy time for the teacher, but be sure to spend a few moments chatting with them with your child if time permits. Even if it is just a short little chat about what they did on their holidays. It helps the teacher and child to connect again throughout the day.
- When it comes time to say goodbye, do not make a song and dance about it. Give them a proper goodbye (never, ever leave without saying goodbye, even if it is with good intentions! This causes issues later down the line). If they are upset, always trust that the teacher and assistant will take very good care of them. I never left a child crying, and quite often at the beginning of the year I would have 2 kids on my knee, as well as 2 holding my hands. A good teacher will figure out ways to teach and adapt in any situation, as building up a caring and trusting relationship with young students is pretty much the most crucial part of being a successful Early Childhood Teacher in my opinion! If your child does not settle after a certain amount of time, the teacher will always call you to discuss what to do. My advice is unless they are absolutely inconsolable and acting out because of it, if the teachers are fine with it, try not to go back and pick them up early as this will confuse your child and they will expect that that will happen the next time too. Work out a plan with the teacher that you are both comfortable with and will benefit your child.
After the first day and beyond.
- When you pick your child up, tell them how proud you are of them. If you can, organise a small surprise for them after school (a trip to the park, beach, a cafe date – whatever you think would be special for your child) to reinforce to positive feelings about school. One thing that is a nice idea, is to once a week, fortnight or whatever works for your family, have a surprise afternoon after school. Let your child know that morning that it is ‘Surprise Day’, and I guarantee that the entire class will know all about it because they will be so excited. It is also nice for you not to get stuck in the school term rut of drop off and pick up. As you get to know other parents you can involve them and their children in these days. Fun for everyone!
- Never be afraid to speak to the teacher about anything that is concerning you. If it is something bigger, then schedule a time to talk after school and organise another parent to watch your child in the playground for 15 minutes. I always encouraged parents to come to me at the door with any minor concerns they had. (I stood there every morning until every single child arrived to greet them, as well as after school, which I think made me much more approachable when a parent wanted to speak with me). And always be honest about your child and their capabilities and personality. It will make for a better school experience if you are open and honest with both yourself and their teacher.
- Discuss with your child how their day was. Most of the time you ask a child ‘how was your day?’ and they reply with a ‘good’. Followed by a ‘nothing’ when you ask what they did. (I assure you that they most definitely did not do ‘nothing’ hahaha). A way of getting around this is to always ask open-ended questions or what I think is a lovely idea – do two stars and a wish with them on the way home. Two stars and a wish is a discussion about good things that happened and then one thing that they wish for (so for example, young children might say ‘I wish such and such wasn’t mean to me’ or ‘I wish we could learn about dinosaurs’. etc. It can be either a positive or negative aspect of their day, but it is a great way to get them to talk to you about things that may be bothering them and then information you can pass onto the teacher.
- This one seems like an obvious one to me, but I have seen parents do it more times than I can count, so thought I would mention it. Their child is hesitant about coming to school and they walk up and say to the teacher with their child standing next to them ‘Oh, such-and-such really doesn’t want to come to school today’. Um – of course they won’t want to come if that is how you have been talking in front of them. If your child ever says that they don’t want to go to school, ask them why with a few probing questions. Sometimes they don’t have an answer and they just don’t want to go (hey – we all have those days!) so follow up with reminding them how much fun they have, how much they love school and all the fun things that happen. If the behaviour continues it may be worth delving a bit deeper into it with the teacher.
- Further on the above – it is very normal for a child to regress in behaviour a few weeks after the school term starts. This is when the reality of their new routine starts to sink in, and some kids deal with this by getting upset, being clingy at drop off, acting out etc, so just watch for those signs. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot you can do besides ride it out, stay positive and support your child emotionally. Starting school is a big deal in a little person’s life! In my experience, these regressions seem to last 2-3 week so always keep that in mind when it gets hard!
- Trust your instincts. You know your child best, and if you feel like something isn’t right, then speak up. Remember that a teacher has 20 or more students in their care each day, and while every single child is just as important as the next, there are just some things that they will miss due to no fault of their own.
And there we have my round-up of tips for a smooth transition into school life. And remember that these are just tips – not rules – and some of the things I mentioned may not work for your family or situation, but I hope there was at least one point that was valuable to you.