This year my youngest child started prep (kindergarten/reception in some states and countries). She started the first year of formal full time schooling. BIG school.
2018 holds great significance for me as it marks 13 years of school aged children attending school. My oldest child is completing her final year of school this year too, and is gearing up to complete the large final assessment for her schooling career.
Obviously this is a very exciting year for our family. Looking at firsts and lasts.
As a teacher I have been involved in many children starting their first day of formal schooling. As a mother, I have now been through the first day of school 4 times.
Honestly, the emotions are always the same. The children are excited, nervous, teary, smiling …as they venture into the first day of school. As a mother I am always nervous to hear how their first day went. As a teacher, we try to make the experience positive and happy for every child. We all want the same thing. A successful start to school.
Parents suffer a lot of anxiety in this first year of school. If their child has been in an early childhood setting (which we strongly recommend they should be) before school, then they are used to receiving a large amount of feedback from their early childhood teachers. Teachers correspond regularly in formal and informal ways giving parents continued support and information about their child’s day. When the child starts BIG school this strong support is greatly reduced. This causes a lot of stress for the parent new to the primary school. While the teacher will probably email after the first day/days/week, this is a general message letting all parents know that their children have settled well. Of course, this is not the same level of contact the parent has received in the previous setting and may leave parents feeling unsupported or unsure of how their child has coped with the day. The teacher to child ratios don’t allow for the teachers to give the same level of individualised feedback to every family. The essential thing to realise as a parent is that—if the teacher feels there is a need to speak about your child’s individual settling in needs, then they definitely will contact you or speak with you after school.
It can take several weeks for children to settle into school. If you are one of the lucky ones, your child will find their way at BIG school as soon as they start. They will feel confident from the first moment they enter the classroom. Unfortunately, not all children respond to the start of school in the same way, and they may not feel settled and happy from the first day. As a parent, we need to make time to speak with our children every day. Your prep/kindergarten child may not want to talk about their day—especially not as soon as they leave school, however make sure that at some point before your child goes to bed try to discuss some of their day with them. You will probably find they will focus on something you were not expecting—it could be about something said, an activity in the classroom, something on the playground or even something that they noticed on the school bus travelling to school. The important part to this communication is that you are speaking with them and they know they can talk to you about anything happening in their day. They may not feel confident to say if they have some worries about their new school, it can take a few days for them to be able to voice concerns, or even understand be able to put the language to what is concerning them.
Overcome with emotion
During the course of the first term of school, invariably my child will have some tears at bedtime. If this occurs in your family, it can be a very upsetting time for the child and parent. Seeing your child upset by this can be heart wrenching as a parent, however this is a good opportunity to speak with your child about what is concerning them (this may have been the only time they have opened up about how they are feeling at school). The important thing to remember in this situation is that your child’s emotions are heightened at this time of day. They are probably at an exhaustion point and everything they are feeling becomes magnified. While the cause of their concern is still real, it is probably made worse for them at that moment because of tiredness. My advice as a parent is to listen and acknowledge that they are feeling very upset. It is good to try to console them, but don’t dwell on the situation too strongly. If you can make a suggestion for how the situation can be helped, it is good to do so, but try to get your child calm and ready to go to sleep soon after. As parents, we try to solve all of our children’s problems—bare in mind that their concern may not always need to be solved. You don’t want your child to get more emotional as they continue the conversation and go to sleep in a distressed state.
Don’t forget, that while teachers are usually too busy to take a moment to discuss each individual child’s day, they are also able to help. If you have any concerns about how your child is settling into school, take the time to email your teacher or book an appointment to discuss your child’s needs.
If your child is upset by an issue on a certain day, it is good to speak with them about some fun aspects of school—remind them about the fun of play. They may even need a reminder of something they will do on the weekend, that they can look forward to. It is really good to ensure they have a weekly schedule showing the day of the week. Download the ‘Days of the Week’ resource here. Using the days of the week they can look forward to certain activity on a particular day of the week or weekend.
If your child is expressing a problem with their friends. Don’t panic. Relationships can change very quickly in a 5 year olds life. The problem may not be the same tomorrow. If the problem continues and you still have concerns about your child socially make sure you speak to your child’s teacher. Teachers are very conscious of the social relationships in their classroom. They are able to assist interaction between students who might be of a similar personality. They are able to encourage play time together for children who might need some assistance socially. Teachers are particularly mindful of assisting their students to understand their own feelings. A new anti-bullying strategy that a lot of teachers are currently using is to speak with each of their students each week and talk about who they have enjoyed playing with, and if there is anything causing them concern. This is a fantastic strategy to assist children to understand how they are feeling and who makes them feel happy and also for teachers to be able to quickly assist if there are any problems.
Sometimes your child might be overcome with emotion which may cause a heightened reaction like a tantrum. Although this is not a behaviour to be encouraged, it is also important to not over-react to this behaviour. Try to ignore as much of it as possible. Your child will be tired and emotional in this first term of school, it is a big adjustment in their life.
Top 7 Tips for Surviving the First Year
- Let your child rest, expect your child to be TIRED
- Don’t overschedule your child after school
- Give your child opportunity to play—here I am talking unstructured play activities that they can chose on their own. The school day is a much more intense and busy day than their previous childcare setting. They will not have as many opportunities for play during the school day. Allow them that space after school.
- Don’t expect a lot of information after school. Often your child will not remember the activities from the day—detail from the teacher will be very welcome when you receive it
- Take time to spend time with your child after their school day. This will give them opportunities to speak and is also a lovely time you don’t always get to have as your children get older.
- Organise play dates. Your child will enjoy the chance to foster relationships outside the classroom. This strengthens their ties with the other children and may assist them socially at school also
- MOST IMPORTANT—get to know other parents in your class. Parents are an important village which should stick together. Without my other parent friends, I would forget important dates and occasions, would not have babysitting back up, would not have someone to assist me if I am late for a school pick up, would not have those extra pairs of eyes looking out for my child and MOST IMPORTANTLY have someone to have a cup of tea with on the hard days and rejoice with on the good days.
The first year of school is an huge adjustment for not only your child but also you as their parent. Your little one is growing older but definitely needs their parent as much as always, maybe just in some different ways this year. Enjoy every minute—I can’t believe my oldest daughter is completing her thirteen years of schooling this year. I have learnt as much as she has along the way. I am super glad that I have a 5 year old to share the next 13 years of schooling with too.