Starting primary school - how to make the first weeks go smoothly (advice from a teacher and other parents)
Starting Reception (or P1 in Scotland and N Ireland) is a big milestone for every child (and parent!), so how can you prepare as a family for the first few weeks? We asked Helen, a Key Stage 1 teacher, plus other parents, what tips they would give to parents with a child about to start school.
Helen writes, "While many children will have already had experiences of nursery or pre-school, for others September will bring their first steps into a formal school setting. Regardless of previous experiences, every parent wants their child to have fun, make friends and develop a love of learning in these early days of schooling.
A little preparation is all that’s needed to ensure anxious moments are kept to a minimum and your child has a happy and memorable start to their school days. Here is my advice:"
What can parents do to help?
A visit to the new school can be a great way to allay any fears or apprehension. Showing your child where to go when they arrive on the first day, where their coat peg is, where the toilets are, having a look around their classroom, the school building and showing them where the playground is, will help them have a more confident first day. If this isn’t practical, look through the school prospectus or at the school website with your child and chat about where things are.
Dig out old family photos of your own school days and chat about your memories of your time at school. You could also chat about the things that are the same or different between school days now and then.
Although many kids will be familiar with saying goodbye to their parents each morning, even the most confident kid can have a wobble when the routine changes.
Use the week or two before school starts to get your child used to the school routine. Have a consistent bath time, bedtime, story, getting up time etc. and try to ensure they have a healthy and nutritious diet.
Regardless of whether your child is nervous or excited about starting school, discussing the types of activities or lessons they’ll be doing is a super way to instil enthusiasm and interest in their first days in school.
Focus on things they like, such as playing with Lego or play dough, making new friends, and talk about how grown up they’ll be learning to read, write and count. Let your child know how much you enjoyed school (even if you didn’t!) and how excited and proud you are that they are ready to take this step.
Bedtime can be a super time to read stories about starting school. This time can also be used to talk about what your child is looking forward to, anxious about etc. If they appear overly anxious, try and focus on the things they enjoy or are good at.
Leaving old favourites
If your child has a favourite toy or security blanket, it is worthwhile slowly weaning them off it, so it doesn’t come as a complete shock on the first day at school when they are told it can’t come with them.
Should this cause big problems, it is worth chatting to your child’s teacher about the toy or blanket being kept by the teacher during the school day for wobbly moments in the early days of settling in.
There will likely be at least 25 kids in your child’s class, one teacher and a teaching assistant, so you can’t underestimate the importance and value of kids being able to independently dress and undress themselves. By encouraging your child to persevere with learning to do up/undo buttons and zips etc., you will give them a real head start.
Every kid has PE lessons at least once a week, coats for outdoor play, waterproofs for Forest School, so the quicker they can get changed, the more time they can have for their activity. Some clothes manufacturers have cleverly adapted top buttons on shirts to include Velcro fastening – so much easier for little fingers!
Show your child tips for easy dressing – holding shirt cuffs before putting on jumpers, crumpling down socks/tights so toes go in first, making a fist before putting hands and fingers into gloves…
At home, encourage folding clothes and putting them in a neat pile as soon as they are taken off. This should help with bits of uniform going missing on PE days.
Toileting and personal hygiene
By the time your child starts school it is so important that they can use the toilet, wipe themselves, flush the toilet and wash their hands properly.
Talk about telling an adult if they have a little accident. If your child is prone to this, have a chat with the teacher and maybe pop some spare clothes in a bag to be left at school. Little touches like this can greatly reassure a child.
Your child’s teacher will be most impressed if they are able to properly blow their nose, put the tissue in the bin and remember to wash hands after!
You can show how germs get spread, by covering kids’ hands in talc and letting them do their normal activities – the talc trail is quite an eye opener!
Should your child be unsettled by starting school, don’t panic. A change in routine often causes a few teething problems. Stay calm and chat to your child about what is upsetting them. Often something that feels like the end of the world to them is something easily resolved with a chat, advice and a big cuddle.
Reassure your child that the problem can be resolved and arm them with some positive strategies to try to deal with these situations.
One such strategy to deal with another kid that may be annoying your child is to teach them to say ‘stop that, I don’t like it’ and signal stop with their hand. If the situation continues, encourage your child to tell an adult.
Communicating with teacher
It is important to encourage children to deal with minor incidents themselves and jumping in at every small occurrence won't help them in the long run. However, there will be occasions when you need to approach your child’s teacher.
Most teachers can be contacted via email, should you need to pass on information that may affect your child’s behaviour that day. You may not get an immediate response, but you can be sure the teacher will get the message if it is sent before the start of the school day. It is really helpful for a teacher to know if a child’s pet has died or they’ve had a poor night’s sleep, so allowances can be made as appropriate.
If something is really bothering your child, speaking directly to the teacher is often the best policy. Either ring the school office or email the teacher to set up a meeting to discuss the problem.
Enjoy the journey
But the likelihood is, your child will have a wonderful start to their school life and will come home full of excitement and tales of all that has happened each day. Do be prepared for ups and downs along the way, but above all things, enjoy sharing every moment of their magical learning journey.
Tips from other parents
And who better to ask than other parents who have been there and done that? Here are their tips (offered through our Facebook page - why don't you join in the conversation?):
"Get a supply of iron on and stick on name labels - you'll need them. LOTS of them."
"As a mum I found getting clued up on the phonics has helped loads!"
"Set up a class Facebook group for the parents - that way you can remind each other about gym days, school trips and non-uniform days (to avoid the ultimate mummy fail.)"
"Our children had no idea that adults weren't there for hugs on demand. They got them at home, got them at nursery. It can come as a shock so worth explaining gently beforehand!"
"Let your child pick their own water bottle, snack pot etc. Makes them feel a little bit in control."
"Set a notepad and pen aside for notes. Make sure your child knows where the note is and how to give it to the teacher."
"Accept they will pick up bad habits you have protected them from, don't be angry, just explain that in our house we don't use that word/saying/gesture."
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