Starting school or childcare is an exciting time for children but it can also be very daunting. There is a great deal of change and some children (and adults!) adapt quicker and easier than others. Not only do you have to find the right placement for your child but it is also very important to prepare your child for this new step. There are a few things that you can do to help your child prepare.
Firstly, prepare your child by talking about school or childcare. Tell them where it is, how long they will be there and what they can expect when they go. Read books on starting school. Visit the school or childcare centre. Take a walk around the premises, through the playground and their room, and introduce them to their teacher. Talk about the activities they will be doing, things they are going to be learning, and the new friends they will make. It is often helpful if you already know some of your child’s friends who will be attending the same childcare or school, if not talk about the new friends they will soon be making. Some schools hold special orientation days where students and teachers are able to meet each other. If your school doesn’t have such an event they are often very happy to help you organise a parents gathering. This is a great opportunity to meet other parents with children of the same age. Getting to know some of these families before your child attends school will help your child adjust quickly, as they will be able to recognise familiar faces from day one. Once you have made contact with parents whose children are going to be at the same school you can then arrange to meet them with their children in a local park or have them visit your home so that the children can play together and get to know each other.
If you don’t already have a routine it may be advisable to have one in place before your child starts school as it is not easy to start a new schedule the night before school starts. You will also need to work out what time you will need to be up to prepare the family and get out of the house on time without too much of a rush. It can benefit to have a few practise mornings to help prepare both you and your child. Your rushing can increase the stress levels of your already anxious child. A tip to remember is to do as much of your preparations the night before. Prepare the school bag, lunches and choose the clothes to be worn, put the socks with the shoes. Talking about shoes, does your child know how to take off and put on their own shoes? If not they will need to practices with your help weeks in advance. Have they worn in their new school shoes? You do not want your child to have the discomfort of blisters as well as nerves on his/her first day.
Many schools and childcares will provide parents with a check list of items they require. Go through this list making sure all items have been put into the school bag. When preparing your child’s school bag, pack it ready to go the night before school so that you will not forget anything on that special day. Put all items in the bag except the lunch box perishables and put the school bag on the kitchen counter ready to pack with the lunch and snacks before you leave. Ensure that everything is clearly labelled. It is amazing how much lost property can be found at your child’s school without names on it. You spend a great deal of money preparing your child for school, so spend some time labelling all of your child’s property. It is a good idea too, to get into the habit of checking the labels as they can wear or peel off over time. There are often things you may like to pack into your child’s bag including a spare pare of undies, shorts and socks in case of accidents. It is embarrassing enough when your child has an accident, without the teacher having to find spare clothes. Your child will need to be reassured that this is something that often happens to children and it is nothing to worry about. Encourage your child to tell a teacher. If you show you are worried, it will make them feel that there really is something to worry about. For children attending childcare who have a favourite toy for sleep, please include this in there bag as well as the necessary bedding.
Good nutrition is essential for children at school. Choose foods and snacks your child likes keeping to the healthy choices. Try out a variety of different foods before sending them with your child to school, so that you know which ones will be eaten. Remember, many so call healthy snacks and muslei bars are packed full of sugar and are of no real nutritional value. Fresh vegies sticks and a simple cream cheese dip are a better choice. There are also a variety of different lunch boxes which allow you to send your child to school with a ‘taster’ lunch – small pieces of different foods they can pick on for example; cheese, crackers, dip or fruit such as grapes. It is important to make sure that your child can open all of the boxes and packets that you have packed for them. Have a practise-run picnic lunch in the garden just for fun, this way you will know your child can manage things independently at school. Remember to pack a bottle of water. This can be frozen the night before and added to the lunch box in the morning. A frozen bottle of water will often have time to melt before it is needed and will help keep the perishables fresh. If your child attends a childcare that provides lunch, it is not advisable to put special food in for them as this will not encourage your child to try new foods. If you child has a special food requirement, intolerance or allergies you will be required to fill in specific forms to inform staff. You will also be required to have a medical plan in place which is written in conjunction with your child’s doctor. This should be discussed well before your child’s first day.
Children attending school and child care usual come home exhausted. You will need to prepare them for their busy day ahead of time and this includes a good 12 hours night sleep and a hearty breakfast. You do not want your child starting school tired or running low on attention. Twelve hours sleep at night is needed to help little brains and bodies develop and to assist their immune systems recharge. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and will also provide your child with the energy needed to concentrate and learn at school. A good wholegrain cereal, toast and fruit or yogurt are all excellent choices. Foods that are high in sugar tend to provide your child with a lot of energy for a short period of time and as a result your child is often left feeling tired and hungry before the lunch bell.
Busy little bodies burn up lots of calories and as a result most children are often ‘starving’ at the end of the day. A healthy snack straight after school is a great idea – some children are often too excited to eat lunch! At the end of a long day prepare a healthy snack and water which you can take with you when you pick them up after school. A piece of fruit is perfect for this. If they are still hungry when you get home it is prudent to have an early dinner followed by a piece of fruit if they are still hungry before bedtime. This will prevent filling up on snacks and picking at a dinner. Some children are so tired in the evening initially, that this routine will ensure they have a good meal before going to bed. Give your child an early night before childcare or school starts.
Some children are very anxious about starting school. If your child is worried about starting school, ask them about their fears and what will help, for example; who would they like to take them to school? Where do you want to say goodbye? Where will you pick them up from? What would they like to do after school? If your child feels they have some sort of control over what happens, it can help with fears. Some children worry about you! Tell them what you will be doing while they are at school. Let your child know that you believe in them and know that they can manage school and that you can help them. Be flexible in the early days of school. Some children can be tired and grumpy until they settle in. If your child is really upset, if you are worried, or if there is bullying or teasing going on, talk to the teacher about it. Children do their best at school when their parents and teachers’ have a good relationship and work together to support them.
At the end of your child’s day, they may want to tell you about everything as soon as you pick them up. Make some time for your child at this time of day or as soon as you get home from work. There has been a great deal of time preparing your child for this special day, they are usually excited to tell you all about it. Some children are a little quieter. A good idea is to listen, but don’t ask too many questions. Children will talk when they are ready. Bedtime is usually a good time to listen. Use prompts to help you understand their day eg ‘What did you learn today?’ ‘Who did you play with?’ A story about school can also help as it will start a conversation with your child.
Every child and family is different. A new routine takes time for everyone to get used to. Allow your family some time and talk to other families experiencing the same things as you. Remember to take some time and enjoy these special times with your child.
Article by Lee Madigan primary school teacher and mother