Starting school is an exciting time of a child’s life and also their parent’s life. It can also be a time for a little anxiety for children and for parents alike. So there are some very simple things that parents can do to help get their child ready for school and hopefully minimise their child anxiety and with some luck, minimise their own anxiety as well.
In the next couple of weeks there are some simple things you can do to give you a child the confidence to be ready to face the challenges that school will present to them. Hopefully they will also give you peace of mind that your child will be ready to face school for the first time.
Let me suggest these things. Firstly if you get a chance visit the school. Some schools welcome the families to visit the school, explore the playground, walk past the classroom so the child is familiar with environment. This may have happened during orientation process late last year. It is an opportunity to remind the child “This is your school, this is the playground, this is your classroom.”
Second idea: get your child to try on their school uniform multiple times over the next few weeks. This gives them a sense that they going to be wearing these clothes to ‘big school’. It also means you have to wash the uniform and make it a bit softer, to take away that stiffness that comes with any new clothes. If they have to wear shoes for the first time, make sure they walk around spend a few hours in their shoes, spend a few hours in the uniform. I actually know of children who slept in their uniform with the excitement and anticipation that they’re going to be wearing this too big school in the next week. Children should be able to use buttons, manipulate zips, use shoelaces or velcro, so if they are allowed to take their shoes and socks off, or if they have to get dressed for a swimming lesson – then dress themselves independently. Remember the child will be wearing a hat to school so make sure they have ‘worn in’ their new hat.
Next – make sure your child can recognise their own name because you’re going to have labelled all their clothes and belongings, so the child needs to be able to recognise their own name. Not essential but really handy.
And – if they get the opportunity for a playdate with some of their classmates before school that would also be important. It also gives you a support base of other parents whose children are starting school for the first time. Have a conversation with the other mums while your child gets to chat, play, socialise with some mates. As a mum you get to share any concerns, you get to share any wisdom that the parents can offer each other in a supportive environment, so come day one you are as calm as possible.
More – To give your child a sense of independence and confidence it’s important that they can be independent with their eating habits. If they have a new lunchbox make sure the child can open the lunchbox. If you’re going to provide drinks for them and it’s a popper, make sure they can open the straw and puncture the popper.
Let me restate these ideas that will help give your child confidence to be ready for school.
- Try on the uniform.
- Visit the school.
- Have a playdate with other classmates that might be in your child’s class. Practise recognising their own name.
- Meet with other mums who have their child starting school for the first time. Practise opening up their own lunch box.
- Practise dress themselves.
- Practise articulating their needs e.g. Be able to ask if they can have a drink, go to the bathroom please (use common courtesies).
- Practise using a tissue or a handkerchief.
- Practise washing their hands.
- Practise carrying their own bag.
Now when it comes to the first day the child needs to told their teacher’s name. The children can practice saying their teachers name. Mrs Smith is easy. Mr Oberthur is not so easy – so practice saying their teachers name. Some schools will have released their class lists so you’ll know the teacher’s name and you know who’s in their class so if that’s the case practice their teachers name and familiarise the child with some of their classmates names.
There will be other parents feeling the same sense of excitement and possibly anxiety that you as a first-time parent maybe feeling. If there are share those feelings with your other parents because they will appreciate knowing that they’re not alone and that you’re not alone and you can share some of your concerns. When the school offers you Tissues and Tim Tams on the first day, or the first week, take the opportunity to go and meet other parents.
When it comes to your child’s learning experiences what you do and what you’ve already done will be setting them up for academic success. The greatest gift you give you a child is a love of reading so make sure you continue to read with your child now until school starts and certainly once school has commenced. Some schools may have given you a reading book that will be the basis for the first unit of work that they may do. I encourage you to read that book multiple times between there when school starts.
Children may also have the basics for learning. Engaging with books is critical. Naming colours, shapes, familiar words, knowing the alphabet, counting to ten, are all foundational skills with your hold your child in good stead for a successful start to school.
While Mum may be feeling anxious I stress that you cannot show that anxiety your child so practice your poker face. Your child needs to know that you’re feeling confident and the experience they’re going to have in school is going to be fantastic and exciting. They will feed off your emotion. So you need to have a smile on your face, you need to be speaking confidently and optimistically about the exciting challenges and experiences that your child will have at school. You can acknowledge their nerves and you can acknowledge they might be feeling a little bit anxious and that’s quite ok. That’s perfectly normal. Remember your child will feed off your emotion so if you appear confident, happy and excited, they will feed off that and they will be thinking “If Mum thinks it’s ok, it must be ok.”
We want children to be confident and independent at an age appropriate level.
I wrote a book called “Are You Ready for Primary School this year?” It talks about all these things and about building relationships with the school. It talks about communication, the questions you should ask teachers. It’s designed to create a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry so parents and teachers can work together so that children can have a good education.
Contributor: Andrew Oberthur
Andrew Oberthur is the father of two teenagers and a primary school principal with over 30 years experience teaching and leading primary schools in Brisbane.
In 2018 he published his first book “Are You Ready for Primary School This Year? which is about building a culture of trust, collaboration and enquiry between parents and teachers. His book is available from his website www.creativecollaborativesolutions.net
He has been on ABC Brisbane radio a few times this year, as well as doing podcasts for PakMag.