Sending your child off to school for the first time can be daunting – both for the child and for the parent too. There are certain things that everyone needs to know to make their life easier.
Last week I was lucky enough to meet with Samantha Knowles, the New Entrant Teacher of Meadowbank Primary School in Auckland, New Zealand, who armed me with lots of top tips for getting our children (and us parents) ready for school.
Note: the opinions are those of Sam Knowles as a New Entrant Teacher and not necessarily those of the school.
What tips can you give to get your child used to the school they are going to attend?
- Visit the school as often as you can before their start-date. Most schools offer official visits where your child will get to sit in what will be their classroom with their new teacher at least twice before their actual start date. Most of the time this is not a full day but more a ‘taster’ day of a few hours.
- Apart from these official visits, go on your own visits with the family before your child is due to start. Go in the afternoon when the school is coming out and watch all the children coming out of school, and visit on a weekend, walk around the school grounds and explore, play on the playground and try to work out which classroom your child will be in.
- Find out where the toilets are and the water-cooler before your child starts. It will make it heaps easier for them on that first day.
- Talk about school with your child and the kind of things they will do there. Some children can be overwhelmed when they start school, not realising that it is different from Kindy. One child I met couldn’t understand why they weren’t allowed to play all day, like they were at Kindy and kept on asking “Where are all the toys?”
- Meet with other families who are attending the school your child will attend so that they know at least one friendly face already at the school before they start.
- Choose a preschool or Kindergarten that ‘feeds’ onto the school that your child will be attending to make it easier when they go to the school – then they at least have one or more friend at the school before starting.
- Go and buy their uniform – make it a big deal and exciting for them so they start to get enthused about wearing it.
- Take them to buy their lunchbox and/ or bag and let them have a say in which one you buy to get them excited.
Should you teach your child basic reading or writing skills before they start school?
- No – not at all necessary. In fact, often when children arrive at school having been ‘taught’ by parents or preschool teachers, school teachers find they have to ‘unteach’ them.
- If you do want to try teaching them before they start school, then make sure you spend time on the lowercase alphabet, not the uppercase
- Children need to be able to recognise their own name when they start school. Do spend time getting them to recognise their name. Write it out for them, put it on their bags and items and on their bedroom door. Some Kindy’s have a system where a child has to find their name among lots of names. Our Kindy also encourages children to ‘sign in’ i.e to try to form their name with a pen or pencil as they arrive at Kindy.
- You don’t need to teach your child to read before they start school but do spend time reading to them. What you do want is for your child to enjoy and appreciate books and reading so that they are enthusiastic and want to learn when they arrive at school.
What kind of items should you pack for lunch or morning tea for your child?
- Ideally don’t give them items which need to be unwrapped as children can struggle over unwrapping items by themselves and teachers don’t have the time at lunchtime to unwrap children’s lunches for them.
- A tip is to buy a compartmentalized lunch-box where you don’t need to use any sort of wrapping. It keeps items fresh and separate and makes things easier for the child.
- Pack healthy nutritional things for lunch – apples, bananas, cheese sticks, sandwiches, filled pita breads or left-over pasta, raisins, nuts and seeds, dried apricots, bread sticks, mini sausages, yoghurt or fruit pots are just some ideas.
- Avoid calorie-full but nutritional-nil items like chocolate and sweets.
What can you do to make your child’s first week easier?
- If you’ve done the visits and you’ve done the uniform and they know some people at the school before starting, then you are half-way there.
- It is nice to make a bit of an effort, if you can and try to make sure you as parents are there for their first day. Don’t just drop and run but at the same time, try not to stay too long as the longer you stay, the more you can upset them.
- Understand that they will be tired and overwhelmed that first week. Maybe drop some of the other activities you normally do with them for the first term at least and just let it be school for a while until they get used to it.
- Remember they have probably been used to lots of free playtime and suddenly they are going to have to sit in a classroom and listen, and sit still a lot of the time. That is tiring for children so be aware that they may be overtaxed when they get home and therefore ‘wired’. Spend time just ‘winding them down’ after school. Read stories, do a jigsaw or drawing together and a warm bath and early bedtime will help them recuperate.
- The key thing is to RELAX and be excited about their first day. If you are relaxed and excited then your child will sense this from you and they will be relaxed and excited too.
What other tips can you give to new parents?
- Try to get to know some of the other parents if you can. Apart from the fact it means you can organise play dates which makes things easier for your child, it also means that if ever you are running late, then you at least have one or two people to call to stay with your child until you get there.
- Often schools have a class co-ordinator for each class. Find out who yours is and introduce yourself. Ask for a list of parents in the class and their telephone no.s and organise coffee with those who are keen. We all need to be able to help each-other out as parents at one point or another and just knowing the other parents slightly will help you if ever you need it.
- If you are regularly late then have a plan in place that your child knows and understands and make sure the teacher is aware of the circumstances eg organise for your child to wait in the classroom or at the playground until you arrive.
- Avoid putting your child’s name in large letters on the outside of their bags – in the case of strangers, this ensures that they cannot call out your child’s name to them and ‘lure’ them into a situation.
- Finally, often us parents are the most worried about the first day, we need to relax and be calm then our children will feed off us.
Thank you to Sam Knowles for these wonderful tips. If you have recently started your child at school and have some other tips you can share, we would love to hear them.