Get ready, get set, go! First day of school tips for providers and parents, to ensure a smooth transition.
Early childhood education and care (ECEC) providers and parents can team up to help children have a positive transitioning to school by following some simple tips, and managing one of the major causes of “school related jitters” – fear of the unknown.
Both Executive Director of Raising Children Network, Associate Professor Julie Green, and Pedagogical Thinker in Residence of Big Fat Smile, Michele Peden, have shared their thoughts about reducing any nervousness about starting school.
“Revisiting orientation and transition activities with your child will make the school environment more familiar; explaining school rules and why they’re important will also help your child adjust in the early days; and, showing your child key locations – such as where to be picked up will help address some of the anxiety they may be feeling,” Associate Professor Green said.
“Parents may also be emotional in the lead up and on the first day of school. Have a think about how you might manage your feelings in front of your child,” Associate Professor Green said. “Even if you are feeling anxious or worried, it is best to keep these feelings to yourself and send your child off with a big smile and lots of positive reassurance.”
Tips to make transition to school go smoothly from Associate Professor Green:
- Do some road testing: Try on the uniform and shoes, practise opening the lunchbox, pack and test the school bag, make sure you have any required equipment such as pencils and markers.
- Excitement is infectious: If you are enthusiastic about your child starting school you’ll send a positive message that school is fun.
- Make room for you: Think about how you’ll manage your feelings on the first day. Try to see your child off with a happy, confident goodbye – but plan something for yourself after and seek support if you need help with feelings of sadness or worry.
- Transitions can be tiring: School is a big transition so your child might need extra rest and emotional support in the first few weeks. For example, dropping off and picking up on time will help reduce anxiety.
- Patience pays off: It might take a while for your child to adjust – or to talk about their experiences. Gentle, specific questions like ‘what was one fun thing you did today’ can be more effective than open-ended questions such as ‘how was your day’.
- Prepare the whole family: Think about reining in the late nights and sleep-ins in the week before school, reinstating normal bedtime. This will make getting out of bed for school is easier and assist with fatigue in the early days.
Ms Peden, Pedagogical Thinker in Residence for Big Fat Smile, has suggested five strategies for parents, to help children transition smoothly from preschool to kindergarten.
- Promote open conversations with your child about starting primary school
Having open conversations with children about starting primary school allows children to ask a variety of questions and gain a better understanding about what school will be like. It is important to actively listen and talk about any fears or concerns they may have towards starting school so you can explore ways to help reduce their anxiety.
A good way to initiate discussion is by reading children’s books together that focus on starting school. It can help children to conceptualise what they can expect on their first day and prompt conversation.
- Encourage the development of social and emotional skills
The development of positive social and emotional skills is paramount to educational success, and a smooth transition into primary school. Children need the confidence in:
- Expressing their feelings and needs to others
- Asking questions
- Playing cooperatively with others
- Approaching other children and making friends
- Following directions and understanding rules
- Managing emotions.
Parents can support children by playing simple games such as board games which can help them learn to play cooperatively by taking turns, following rules and develop self-regulatory behaviours if they don’t win, as well as requesting them to complete simple tasks.
- Help your child develop self-help skills
Self-help skills underpin many school related tasks; therefore, it is imperative children are given opportunities to develop their ability to negotiate and handle everyday tasks such as dressing, feeding, toileting, brushing teeth, brushing hair, hand washing.
Parents can support children in these tasks by providing visual schedules of the steps involved, encouraging them to follow the same routine or strategy each time they perform it. Use consistent instructions and language and most importantly allow sufficient time for a child to practice an individual task.
It is vital that children have opportunities to practice tasks such as tying their shoe laces, handling buttons or zippers, unwrapping their lunch or dress in their uniform without time constraints so parents do not do it themselves to get the task done quickly.
Giving children opportunities to practice these skills before starting school will not only increase their competence, but it will give them confidence in independently perform these tasks in a new environment.
- Implement predictable routines
The importance of a predictable home routine cannot be underestimated. Parents can assist children in preparing for school by implementing a predictable night routine before the term starts.
Children feel a greater sense of responsibility, confidence and independence if they are encouraged to follow a routine. This will help children become more relaxed and co-operative at the end of the day when children are tired. For example, avoid any screen time half an hour before bed, as this only stimulates the brain and can unsettle children’s sleeping patterns.
Begin the night routine by encouraging children to have a bath or shower, followed by brushing their teeth (supervised by an adult) and getting into bed at the same time each night. End the night routine with a bed time story and finally some relaxing music to help calm and relax them as they fall to sleep.
Similarly, parents can also encourage children to have a morning routine. For example, get out of bed, have breakfast, brush teeth, assist parents pack their school bag and assist parents in preparing a healthy lunch. This will assist children stay focused and get ready to depart for school.
Some children even benefit from following a routine chart, as this encourages children to take ownership of their day and encourage self-help skills and increase levels of independence.
- Practical preparation
Now to the practical points… Parents should encourage children to wear school uniform at home before school, so it feels familiar when they have to start primary school.
It is also important that all school items are labelled e.g. lunch box, bags, clothes with a familiar symbol and the child’s name so they can easily recognise their own belongings.
Prior to the first day, jointly shop for school equipment (lunch box, stationary etc.) as this can assist the child in starting school with a positive mindset.