Starting school is a huge milestone for children and parents alike.
So, with just weeks to go before hordes of newly-uniformed four-year-olds pass through classroom doors for the first time, what can you do to prepare them, and limit the potential for tears – theirs and yours – on the big day?
Get your child familiar with the general idea of school...
- Read storybooks such as Janet Ahlberg's Starting School, or I am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child. They're engaging ways to create positive impressions of what this school malarkey is all about. They will also help your child raise any concerns (and remember these can be things which seem obvious or silly to us grown-ups – from 'will there be any lunch' to 'how will I find the loo' and 'will I have to find my own way home'?)
- Ask (ideally admired) older cousins/ friends to chat with them about fun stuff they do at school (as long they won't mention someone thumping them at playtime or how they find assemblies really boring). - Discuss your own happy memories of school (provided you have some). Perhaps mention games you played at break time or how much you liked your first teacher.
- Be careful not to introduce worries they haven't considered and try not to pass your own anxieties on.
...and with their particular school and prospective classmates
- Walk or drive past, pointing out any appealing features. Whenever I showed my son the cool playground/ 'big field you can play football on' at his school before he started, his eyes lit up.
- Attend any settling-in sessions. This can be tricky if you're working but they allow your child (and you) to case the classroom, teacher, classmates, and find out where those all-important loos are, removing some of the unknown.
- Go along to the school summer fete if it hasn't happened yet – again this will help create positive associations, although do explain there isn't a bouncy castle/ candy floss stall there all the time.
- If you know of prospective classmates, meet up over the summer - familiar faces on day one will help.
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Need to know
Many parents worry their child will be the only one who can't tell an A from a Z or write their name yet. They won't be, and actually even if they were, it wouldn't matter. Reception teachers don't expect children to know letters/ numbers as, after all, that's what school is for. What they're far more bothered about are practical 'self-care' skills. They'll thank you if your child can:
- Go to the loo independently and clean themselves up afterwards, including washing hands.
- Put their coat on and change for PE. Teachers/ assistants will help with tricky buttons/ zips but the more your child can do the better.
- Recognise their name so they can find their coat peg and identify belongings which are labelled (and everything should be or it'll disappear into the depths of the lost property bin, never to be seen again).
- Eat independently, using cutlery (although many schools help younger ones with tricky to chop foods).
- Understand sharing, listening and being quiet/ sitting still for a short time when asked to.
- If you'll go back to work or already work beyond school hours, start planning your childcare now. Childminders are particularly good for after school care - local councils provide lists of registered childminders or ask the school office if they know who picks up from there.
- Also, if you don't have the uniform list or details of settling-in arrangements, contact the school before the summer holidays start, as after that the office will probably close until September.
This is the first of a weekly Parentdish series on starting school running through July and August.
Next week: getting kitted out.
Liat Hughes Joshi is a parenting journalist and author of Raising Children: The Primary Years, published by Prentice Hall Life.