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Preparing for your child's first day at school

Posted on 02 August 2013

Primary school

A child’s first day at school is a moment of great excitement but can also cause a good deal of parental anxiety.  There is much that parents can do to prepare their child before the beginning of Reception and even more that they can do to make certain that their child’s school life gets off to a good start.

The Preparation Work:

Personal and Social Development:  Games and play activities enable children to try new challenges, learn to co-operate, develop social skills such as sharing and establish friendships and being aware of other people’s feelings.  These are crucial life skills.

Communication, language and literacy:  Children need to have the opportunity to use language by being encouraged to explain situations, to use an increasingly sophisticated and appropriate vocabulary, to respond to questions that increase their powers of observation and improve their memory skills. 

Reading: to your child is crucial and parents should set aside time every day to expose their children to a range of stories, picture books, fairy tales, poetry and non-fiction.  Re-reading a favourite story which your child gets to know is a key stage in learning to read. 

Mathematical development:  Games and play activities allow your child to develop their mathematical skills in counting, arranging things in order, sorting by colour, shape and size, basic measurement and making patterns.  Look out for opportunities to draw your child’s attention to weights on packages, house numbers and telephone numbers.

Knowledge and Understanding of the World:  Do not underestimate those visits to the park, the zoo or even playing in the garden.  These all provide opportunities to make children aware of plants and animals, insects and birds, the weather, the seasons. 

Encouraging Independence

Parents who do everything for their children are putting them at a disadvantage. Help your child develop skills that will make them feel capable and ready to face up to new challenges.  Encourage them to do things themselves from pre-school onwards in an age appropriate way.  If your child is afraid of trying new things, work at developing a “can-do” attitude.  On a practical level, make certain they can do up their own shoes, dress themselves and put on their coat. 

Getting ready for the big day:

• Tell stories about things you did at school or remind them of the lovely things an older sibling is doing;
• Shop for uniform early and make it a bit of an event;
• Do not miss the school’s “introductory” day which is often in the previous summer term;
• Drive or walk by the school if possible and chat about it;
• Make a play date with another child from the class who may live near you (perhaps met at open day or noted on class list)
• At least a week before the term begins, move from summer time – ie staying up a bit late/getting up a bit late – to what will be the getting up time for school days......and remember, give yourself plenty of time in the morning.
• Time keeping:  getting children to school on time, and collecting them on time can be stressful, especially if there are other children involved or you are coming for work.  But it is very stressful for children to come in late; and even being kept minutes at the end of the day, seems like ages for young children.

Starting a new school but not in reception?

For many different reasons children move schools and in some ways this can be more daunting for a child than their first day at primary school.  Teachers are well trained to welcome new children into their class whether they are starting mid-year or at a different time to the reception intake. However, much of the advice given for reception entry remains the same such as trying to organise play dates with the new class as much as possible either before the child starts or once they have started.  It is the easiest way for the child to integrate into the class.  Involve them in after-school clubs and encourage them to take part in any school activities that happen during the day e.g. knitting club, football club or choir.  Above all be understanding if your child finds it slightly difficult at first but rest assured that more often than not the children and the teacher over compensate for a new pupil and he/she will settle in very quickly.

Starting Senior School

Generally speaking, children are ready in Year 6 to move onto pastures new and rather than being a daunting time, the prospect of going to Senior School is exciting.  Year 6 teachers tend to give a lot of guidance in this area and without exception a school will have some kind of induction day or morning for the Year 7 intake.  If it is the first time that a child is travelling to school by themselves, ensure that the journey has been practiced before the first day of term so you know how much time to leave.  This new adventure can sometimes be more of a struggle for the parents than the child!  The suggestion of playdates still applies here and can be really useful if a child is the only one coming from their primary school.  Some senior schools sometimes provide ‘ownlies’ inductions.

Recommended Reading:
The Starting School Survival Guide by Sarah Ebner
Going Up! The No-Worries Guide to Secondary School by Jenny Alexander
Raising Children, a guide to parenting primary school age children by Liat Hughes Joshi



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