For many parents, the new school term marks the beginning of a new era in the life of their child. Mum and kindergarten teacher Donna Eden has some words of encouragement for parents whose children are starting school.
Starting school is a big milestone in the life of our littlies and us as parents. Often before they begin their school adventure our wee ones are a mix of excited and intimidated – hardly surprising, as this is the thing that EVERYONE asks them about as soon as their fifth birthday looms on the horizon. We, of course, reassure them and support them while we secretly worry that they are so little and school seems so big.
So what can we do in the lead up to school to help everyone feel prepared, without overdoing it and freaking them out?
Firstly it’s important to remind yourself that the new entrants teachers – those magical, amazing people – have all the skills and tools and experience needed to help your wee one settle in, find their feet, and learn all the literacy and numeracy skills they will need for life. They are actually worth their weight in gold, and should be showered with worldly goods and education funding. So rest easy – your baby is in good hands. If you have any specific questions just ask them.
If it’s been a while since your last school visit you and your child could spend some time at the school playground over the holidays or at the weekend. It will help them become familiar with the environment and you can point out their new classroom, school toilets, and the different parts of the school. Talk about the teachers by name if you know them.
Self-help and social skills are important when they are settling in – and really for life full stop. Make sure they can open their lunch box and drink bottle. If they can open packets, cling wrap, yoghurt themselves at lunch time then it means that they aren’t having to wait around for a duty teacher to help them. Can they open and shut their drink bottle? Some drink bottles look really cool but aren’t very functional for small hands so try them out first. If they can put their own sun hat, sandals and hoodies, take rain coats on and off with ease and reapply their own sunblock it can make their school life easier.
Can they use the toilet independently and wipe their own bottom? If they have a toilet accident, which isn’t unusual in those first few weeks, having a change of pants and undies in their school bag will allow them to change themselves with ease.
Do they know who will pick them up and where to wait for them? Are they familiar with what will happen if you are late?
Don’t stress about the pre-literacy and pre-numeracy stuff. Definitely don’t feel the need to cram them full of information. Teachers have all the latest techniques, theory, resources and skills to help your child to learn. They will have some great tips on how to support your child at home. Remember this is literally why they go to school; if your child can recognise some letters and their name, and count to 10, they are doing great. And if they can’t do those things yet, they will soon pick it up at school.
Kids are often really tired in their first few weeks as there is so much new to learn. Don’t be surprised if they fall asleep in the car on the way home, or if they are a little more tired and grumpy than usual.
If your child is worried about starting school there are great picture books at your local library with starting school themes that might help. Your ECE centre or kindergarten probably has a good collection in their parent library, so ask one of your teachers.
Finally: Give yourself a break.
It’s okay to be feeling a little bit emotional and wobbly about starting school. It’s a big step for everyone. If you can start work a bit late on the first day to give yourself time to drop off, grab yourself a nice coffee and take five minutes to collect yourself in the car, then do it.
But in the wise words of a new entrants teacher:
“If you are going to cry, you can’t do it in the classroom. You need to do it in the car after drop off”.
You may have to fake it till you make it. Other parents will feel the same way you do. Reach out to them. The more relaxed you seem, the less worried your child will be.
Donna Eden has been an ECE teacher for 20 years.