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Article published 20th August 2010

The best days of their life?

Every September thousands of youngsters take the first tentative steps on an education journey that will shape their future. 'There's nothing quite like your child's first day at school, that gut-twisting feeling when your four-year-old waves you goodbye and sets off on the road to independence.' Elizabeth Grahamslaw A Parents' Guide to Primary School). (Article published 20th August 2010)


Even if your child has successfully navigated pre-school and enjoyed 'taster days', starting school remains a big step for both parent and child.

For most it's a mixture of excitement and trepidation with more questions than answers:

  • Likeability: will teacher and child like each other?
  • Friendships: will your child make friends and be invited on play-dates and to parties?
  • Ability: how will they cope with the work? Will it be too hard, too easy...
  • Problems: what if they encounter a difficulty, who will help? What if they are upset or lonely?
  • Joining-in: will they volunteer answers to questions?
  • Teacher's pet: will the teacher pick them for special tasks?
  • Getting dressed: how will they cope getting changed for PE?
  • Toilet - will they be confident enough to ask when in need and comfortable enough to use alone? 
  • Eating: what about lunch, how will you know if they have had enough to eat?
  • Communication: how will school communicate with you and what will they communicate?

The list is endless and while it's common to have anxieties, try not to worry too much.

Most schools issue guidelines for new parents, keep these to hand, consult as necessary. Try to trust the school. Primary school teachers are well-versed in settling children (and their parents) into school-life and making sure they feel comfortable and secure.

The first few days can be traumatic but the majority of young children quickly establish and adapt to new routines – as do their parents. If, after the first few days, you have questions or concerns that are not addressed do speak to your child's teacher so issues can be ironed out.

What helps?

Being organised

  • Allow plenty of time to get ready and to arrive at school in good time; if you are flustered your child will be too.
  • Try to collect your child from school, at least for the first few days; it's a good way to meet other parents and to gauge how your child feels at the end of the day.
  • Have a healthy snack at the ready. Don't be surprised if they are tired and tetchy, this is to be expected. Most youngsters perk up after a snack and a drink; a few raisins or a banana for the journey home can work wonders. 
  • Don't invade their space, leave them to tell all in their time - coaxing, if you think something may be amiss.

Having basic skills

You may be excited by your child's ability to recite their multiplication tables or even the periodic table but their teacher will be far more impressed by good behaviour and impeccable manners.

  • Initially social skills are more important than the academic: 'please and thank-you', taking turns, sharing, playing together, sitting still, listening to others, putting a hand-up to speak or ask questions  - all help build a solid foundation for learning.
  • Academically it is useful for children to: know basic colours, be able to recognise and write their own first name, have basic counting skills (being able to count-out is more important than reciting numbers) and if possible basic dressing and pencil skills. Don't worry if your child doesn't tick all these boxes, they're all part of the early years programme.
  • Getting dressed and fastening buttons help. Get them used to hanging-up their own coat on a peg and tidying their toys away after playing; all will make for an easier time at school. 

Establishing a routine

  • Try to establish a good routine for morning and evening and stick to it. Don't introduce too many variations too soon. A swimming lesson every Wednesday after school is fine, but an assortment of irregular activities, play dates and random trips out may leave your child at sea.
  • Early nights help. Consider bringing bath and bed-time forward. School days are exhausting and although your child may protest, they (and you) really will benefit from a good-night's sleep.
  • Ensure a calm and relaxing evening, avoid the temptation to give into requests for computer games and the like. Sharing a bedtime story and enjoying a warm drink together, remain our favourite ways to relax and unwind after a hectic day.

If your child has anxieties or worries they will usually come to the fore at bedtime and are much more likely to be voiced over a story than during a DVD.

Do listen to, and reassure, your child; try not to be too dismissive – especially if such anxieties persist over time. It's not uncommon for children who have been dry at night to start wetting the bed again; this is usually short-lived and self-remedying. Should it persist seek advice, bed-wetting can be a tell-tale sign of worries or woes; Eric is a particularly helpful website for information on childhood continence.

Helping out

Don't be afraid to offer your services to the school: there are  a variety of tried and trusted ways:

  • Classroom helper (if you have a particular skill do let school know). 
  • PTA a great way to meet with other parents and find-out what  is happening in school. 
  • Outings, consider being a regular for the trip to the swimming pool or an occasional aide for trips, visits, plays and fairs.
  • Governor. If you're especially keen, think about becoming a school governor.

Most schools welcome parents with open-arms, but a few like to keep them at arms-length, at least initially. It's the norm to have to complete a DBS form and to wait for clearance, don't feel affronted, DBS is in place to protect all children, including yours.

Dealing with problems and concerns

The odd hiccup is to be expected; children arguing and falling out is common-place.

Not all learn to read and write at the same pace either. Children enter school with a wide-variety of life-experiences and while a number are already well-versed in the rudiments of the 3 R's many more are not, but that's not to say they won't catch-up when given the right support and encouragement.

  • If reading is a concern talk to your child's class-teacher. Many schools advise sticking with a single reading scheme and it is well-worth listening to their advice but there is a world beyond Biff, Chip and Kipper so do explore.
  • If you suspect your child has special educational need (a learning or other difficulty that seems to be greater than most other children within their peer group), we have a range of articles offering help and advice in our extensive SEN section.
  • If you think your child may be especially talented or able speak to school so they are aware of any precocious talents as soon as possible. 
  • If you have concerns that your child is at the wrong school (or you haven't yet started the process) check out our section on Choosing A School.
  • If problems are serious enough to potentially merit legal intervention use this as a last resort. Schools should issue you with a complaints procedure as a matter of course. Don't be afraid to ask for a copy at any time; it is there for good reason. 


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