A version of this appeared in the Autumn issue of Mums & Tots magazine in 2014.
I used to be a sucker for magazines that displayed the tag line “First Day at School – How to Make It Easier.” I was convinced I was going to read something of worth, something I hadn’t read before or thought of myself. But it was yet another advice piece that didn’t deliver.
More common sense wrapped up as counsel about having the uniform ready the night before, getting everyone up a little bit early to avoid a stressful rush out the door and giving your child a nice piece of fruit to ease them into their new experience.
Come on! I wanted information on how to deal with the child who makes like an ostrich and blocks out the New Experience. I was looking for guidance on how to discreetly and politely intercept people before they asked, “are you looking forward to big school?” when I knew the thumb being shoved into his mouth was not only his way of self-soothing but also a stopper; his method of holding everything in.
What about the playground? There will be no swings and slides in this one. How was he going to deal with that?
I had done everything the magazine articles suggested; he’d been to the open afternoon and met his teacher. He had not one but two school bags to choose from. He also selected his own “easy open” lunch box.
His new school books would be arriving any day now then we would try on his uniform and purchase those very much coveted runners and new shoes especially for school.
I wanted my money back!
So I was thrilled when he asked me to tell him about school. It was the perfect opportunity to describe everything to him. His older brother was present and all set to offer his two pence worth.
He had something of great importance to impart, something I neglected to tell him on his big day and this was to wait until teacher tells you it is time to eat. Don’t just start eating your lunch when you feel like it. “Because you never told me that.” See how they remember even the tiniest little thing?
My fourth boy will be starting school in a few weeks. Even though I’ve bought and worn the t-shirt three times previously, I find the same little problems arise each and every time. The same little niggles and worries for both parent and child.
I have outlined the trouble shooters below. Hopefully they will help ease your child through the transition that is Big School.
Sometimes it can be as simple as talking about it. Don’t assume they know what to expect. There is a big difference between the unstructured play of Montessori and the expectations of a larger classroom setting. It is an idea to talk casually about school initially and then closer to the time discuss in a little more detail what the first day will entail. Turn it into a game and encourage a question and answer session at the end. Take advantage of any interest your child shows and talk about it.
A little prep goes a long way. What happens if there are three Spiderman/Dora the Explorer school bags? A key-ring on your child’s bag will solve that problem. What about their gorgeous new coat with all of those buttons and shoes with laces? A zipped coat is easier for little hands to operate and maybe Velcro-ed shoes are better kept until they master the art of lace tying. Also ensure your child’s name is on everything. It is inevitable mix ups will occur. Maybe not on the first day but if your child can recognise their belongings it will eliminate stress.
Yogurts. Yay or nay? I can still remember spilling the contents of mine. Does the school have a healthy food policy and encourage fruit and vegetables with a small treat reserved for Fridays only? What if they are too shy to approach the person they will come to call Teacher when they can’t open their brand new cartoon character emblazoned lunch box? Water bottles that refuse to open? Bananas that are difficult to eat? Of course, your child may opt not to eat anything at all due to utter excitement so a good, nutritious breakfast will stave off hunger pangs and an energy slump mid-morning.
Make sure your child knows where the bathroom is. Anxiety can prompt them to “hold it” until it’s too late. These days schools have boy and girl cubicles in the classroom which makes it a lot easier.
I feel this is an important one particularly if your child is nervous. Get to the school with plenty of time to spare. Absorb the atmosphere and just relax for a few moments before going into the classroom. Allow your child to indicate when they are ready. Most schools operate a staggered start time for the first day but one of the most important pointers is plenty of reassurance you will be back to collect them. Make sure you are not late.
Yours that is! I’ve been there. Your child is nervously looking around, not making eye contact with anyone and their lower lip begins to tremble. Water filled eyes look up and it is all you can do not to join in. Don’t join in. Wait till you are back in your car. Yes, it’s heart breaking. Yes, it’s hard. Tears can and will be frequent in the first few weeks but it is important that you keep smiling. A big hug and a confident reminder that you will see them very soon might not work the first couple of mornings and in the event that your little one doesn’t settle, remember, you have picked a school you believe in for your child. They will act accordingly and contact you if necessary.
You weren’t expecting that! I’m not talking about ghouls, goblins and ghosties, rather the shock to the system that can happen when small people realise they have to return to school after their first mid-term break. This can be devastating and lots of parents report upsetting refusals to go to school are very common at this juncture. Sometimes even Monday mornings have the same effect. Inform your child that they are just on a little rest from school and will be returning after a few sleeps.
There are lots of ways to help ease them into their new environment.
Each child is different and will settle in their own time and own way. Like every other event I was apprehensive about, the reality was easier than the perception and with a little luck, Big School for your child, won’t be any different. Before you know it, summer holidays will be on the horizon. You made it! Congratulations. Both of you!