For all parents there are key events that remain firmly fixed in the mind. One such day will be the day your child commences formal schooling. Personally, I can still feel the tiny hand that clutched on to mine as it was gently pulled away and Mrs Honey, my son’s first Primary School teacher, gave me the reassuring ‘he will be alright’ as she led him away. With my second son it was different, he couldn’t wait to enter the classroom, to make new friends and cause mayhem in the book corner. So, what does that tell us?
Firstly, I am a softy, but then so are most parents when it comes to their children. Secondly, and more importantly, it tells us that every child is different and it is not always easy to predict how they will respond to the first day in their Primary School. For some it will be a great adventure; perhaps your child attended nursery in the same school and this is just another start of a new term for them, alternatively they may be used to Nursery education in a Private Nursery and will cope with the separation easily. You may live in a community where your child already has many friends of the same age all starting school at the same time. If you have only recently moved to the area, as was the case in my situation, your child may feel very alone and isolated as they join their new classmates. So what can you do as a parent to make the transition to full time education a smooth and pain- free experience for both you and your child?
Rather obviously, try to visit the school before the holiday period and if that is not possible then walk past the school gate and talk enthusiastically to your child about the next big step they will be making in their life journey. Try not to let your child feel any of your anxieties and certainly don’t discuss any concerns you might have in your child’s hearing. Increasingly, in the state sector, parents are not achieving their first choice of Primary School and whilst this may be concerning, it is important that your child does not feel your anxieties, but rather feels from you a confident commitment and support for the school they will attend.
The purchase of new school uniform can be adventure and made into a ‘special day’, perhaps with a trip to a favourite restaurant or followed by an outing to the zoo. If your child has a friend who is also starting school on the same day, then consider a joint shopping trip and outing for the purchase of new school clothes.
There are a number of important things in your child’s development that you can focus on to ensure a smooth transition. You may wish to check that h/she can recognise the first letter, or all, of their name. Can they hold a pencil, undress themselves for Physical Education lessons, use the toilet independently and wash their hands? You can borrow books from the library about starting school and begin to establish a ‘school friendly’ bedtime routine. This includes no television, no computer games or iphones after a designated time. This is to encourage deep and restful sleep patterns. Research carried out in a number of Birmingham Schools has demonstrated how much more receptive young people are at school when technology is disabled before bed time.
The week before the start of school you may wish to practise the school run to see how long it takes to leave the house to ensure you have enough time not to be in a panic on the first day. As the parent you need to label all clothes and equipment and make sure your child is confident enough to ask for help should they require it whilst also talking positively about the exciting time that lies ahead.
You will have given the school your contact details already. This might be the time to make sure they are correct and up to date. If you are not collecting your child it is important that clear information, and possibly a photograph, is made available to the school office in terms of who has the authority to collect your child in your absence. Where family tensions exist and members are not permitted access to the child, it is important that the school is given full and accurate information to act on.
Now, for the parent, make sure you are busy, have a list of things to do to keep you occupied. If you are not collecting your little one following their first day at school, ask your nominated collector to take a photograph of their bright and cheerful face as they leave the classroom. Have the photo sent to you on WhatsApp (or equivalent platform) to reassure you. Be prepared, by the time you come home, that they will be very tired. The first day at school is probably all you have focused on all day, but for them, it was fine and there is no need to ‘go on about it’. On this occasion silence is probably a good sign!
Professor Liz Browne
Oxford Brookes University. Education researcher, school governor, author of three education texts and a number of articles, consultant to Beijing Education Committee, China.