Starting kindergarten or preschool is one of the most important milestones for a child and their parents as well. For some, it will be their first experience of spending time away from mum and dad. If you have a child starting school for the first time, these starting school tips will help prepare them and ease some of the initial anxiety they may have.
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As a mother, I have experienced firsthand the starting school anxiety for both my child and myself. We are set to do it again in 2020 as our youngest starts prep. I have also worked with children in school settings as a psychologist. During this time, I supported many young people experiencing school anxiety. These starting school tips will help create a smoother transition for the whole family.
How To Prepare For School: Their First Day
The major life change of starting school for the first time brings a multitude of thoughts and feelings to mind. Some children enjoy the starting school phase; however, many others find it challenging. At least initially.
Even the most excited pre-school children have some apprehension about starting school for the first time. This is only natural as they move into a whole new phase of their childhood.
For children with older siblings, this transition may come a little easier if they have some familiarity with the school setting. This is especially helpful if their older siblings love going to school and share their excitement. But it doesn’t guarantee a smooth progression for younger siblings.
As they transition into a whole new setting, kids may also get the opportunity to make friends for the first time. This is just one of the many milestones that are ahead of them.
Parental Anxiety About A Child Starting School
There is no doubt that this leads to loads of excitement and joy, but at the same time, it causes some anxiety for the children and their parents as well.
And it may not show itself until that first day when suddenly they are clinging to you in a puddle of tears, scared and emotional.
As a parent, it is heartbreaking to see our children hurting and fearful. There’s a good chance you may end up very emotional yourself as you force yourself to leave. You know they will be okay, yet it feels so hard to walk away from your baby.
It’s okay to have a few tears yourself. Try to put on your brave face for your child though, and save those tears for the car. Or at least until you are out the classroom door.
No matter how your child reacts to this starting phase of education, parents need to pay careful attention and provide extra care, especially in the lead up to the first day and during the first few days of school.
Starting School Tips For Parents
Make the transition to school for young children easier with a few simple strategies. Get starting school tips to help with preparing kids who are starting school for the very first time:
1. Visit the Classroom
Before kids start going to school on a regular basis, it is important to visit the school at least once with your child. Many schools and kindergartens hold orientation days for enrolled children so that they can visit and experience the school before the new year starts.
The school visit gives your child the chance to see the school before they start if they have not been before. Sometimes they also get the chance to experience a sample session of being at school, with you there for extra security during their first orientation visit.
This is great for creating expectations for their first day and meeting their teachers. The pre-connection with the teachers and school will help your child stay away from anxiety and stress.
2. Read Books About Starting School
When you feel it is the right time to prepare your child for kindergarten or preschool, positive stories about school can be beneficial.
Books about starting school can help your child to prepare their mind for this whole new experience. They will also help your child to verbalise any fear they have of going to school, by opening an easy method of communication.
Here are some great books about starting school for the first time:
- First Day Jitters – by Julie Danneberg
- The Pigeon HAS To Go To School – Mo Williams
- The Kissing Hand – Audrey Penn
- First Day – Andrew Daddo
3. Rehearse Necessary Skills
Before sending your child to prep or school, it is important to spare some time for teaching them the basic skills they will need. This includes simple processes you may typically help them with at home, such as hand washing, wiping their bottom after the toilet and blowing their nose.
With these skills, your child will feel more confident to manage their needs at school.
Here are a few other skills to practice before starting school:
- Opening their lunch box and containers
- Refilling drink bottles
- Undoing buttons or zippers for bags and clothing
- Tying shoelaces (velcro shoes are a great alternative for pre-schoolers)
- Flushing toilets
- Packing and unpacking their school bag
4. Go School Shopping
A fun activity prior to commencing their first year of schooling is to go school shopping. Let your child help you in choosing their school bag, lunch box, water bottle, and other essential back to school items that may be required.
There is no need to go for expensive stuff; just create a ritual for the child as it will add some excitement about going to school. Kids love the idea of using their new things for the first time and that along can be a huge factor in building first day anticipation that is positive.
5. Enrol In Early Education Programs
Here in Australia, kindergarten is not compulsory in all states. This means for many children, their first educational experience may not be until they start their formal schooling in prep. This is daunting to go from zero to 5 days of school a week, with no gradual transition.
If you are able to, consider enrolling your child into kindergarten, daycare or even attending a free community playgroup session with your child in the year leading up to starting school.
Being around other children will help them develop essential social skills and learn how to communicate and play with other children more effectively.
6. Set Up Routines At Home
One of the biggest challenges for many young children starting school is adapting to the structure of the school day. This challenge can be minimised by setting up routines at home before the start of the school year.
Simple routines such as set bedtimes, teeth brushing and breakfast habits, dressing and helping around at home can help. You may consider setting up a structured day once a week where you and your child follow a schedule at home for play, meals and sleep, to get them into good habits early.
Try giving your child their lunch in a lunch box for a few days so they can practice eating what is provided. You can also set up a fridge snack station to encourage independence skills too.
7. Practice Writing Their Name
Writing their first name is a skill that will be beneficial before starting classes. This is not essential, and teachers will tell you many children do not have any writing skills initially. However, these skills are a confidence boost for your child and will help with fine motor skills which are essential skills to develop in preschool and beyond.
Try these other fine motor skill development activities too:
8. Maintain A Positive Attitude
One of the easiest and often forgotten starting school tips is around attitude. Children react based on our cues and the things we say. Be mindful to maintain a positive attitude with your child when speaking about anything school-related.
It is also helpful to avoid focusing too much on talk of being scared or their worries. While this conversation is great for them to be able to have if they feel they need to, it should not be our focus. It will give them a reason to wonder if perhaps they should be more scared about their education milestone.
Remind older siblings to keep the conversation position too. This is not always so easy to do!
9. Teach Coping Strategies
Whenever there are many people in one place, new situations will arise that are unfamiliar. These situations will at times leave your child unsure of how to react or respond.
Teach your child strategies to cheer themselves up if they feel upset. Make sure they know who to seek support from if needed. Practice sharing at home and communicating with your child about the impact of their actions.
Navigate these potential scenarios by having a conversation about some of the potential experiences they may have.
Children with siblings often have better skills in areas such as sharing, conflict resolution and communicating their feelings. For other children, it may be simply about giving them options.
While they may not understand all of these concepts well, it will set them on the path towards building resilience and suitable coping strategies at school.
These simple starting school tips can help your child to manage his anxiety, fear and stress related to school. At the same time, it will reduce the worries in your mind as parents as well.
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