The first day at school is a large step for both parents and children, even those who have thrived at pre-school and are eager to move up to ‘big school’. So how can you help to make starting school an enjoyable experience?
Getting prepared for school
There are several skills that will make your child’s introduction to school life much easier. Try to ensure that:
They are toilet trained, confident enough to ask when they need to go and able to use the lavatory by themselves.
They can get changed by themselves, including doing up shoes (Velcro straps may help) and fastening buttons.
They are used to being without you – whether they’ve been to nursery, out for play-dates or with other carers.
They can sit still for up to 40 minutes. Practice at home listening to stories, doing jigsaws, painting or playing board games all helps.
They have basic social skills: 'please and thank-you', taking turns, sharing, playing together, listening to others, putting a hand up to speak or ask questions.
They are at least beginning to know basic colours, recognise and write their own first name, know the alphabet and be able to count to 10.
They are used to hanging up their coat and tidying away their toys after playing.
Rehearsing the routine
Tell your child what to expect: if they are used to coming home at lunchtime, they need to know they’ll be at school for lunch and for the afternoon. Let them know that lots of children get tired at first before the end of the day. Remind them that everyone in their class is starting school together, and that they will all need to learn what the rules are and how to find their way around.
Your child may have been to a taster session during the summer term, and be familiar with their new classroom and which entrance to use. But in any case it’s worth trying out the walk/drive to school beforehand so you know how long it’s going to take, get used to the route and can be sure you will be in good time on that first morning.
First day at school
Try to arrive calm and unflustered in plenty of time. Act happy and confident, even if you want to cry at the thought of leaving your child here. The school may let you in briefly to help your child find their peg and see them into the classroom on that first day – then wave a cheery farewell and assure them you will see them later.
If possible pick up your child yourself for at least the first few days, and make sure you are there on time. Bring a healthy snack – they are likely to be tired and hungry.
Don’t hassle them to tell you all, but ask open questions about how their day went. Details will come out gradually whilst you are doing other things.
The first few weeks of school
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 exhausted and fretful.
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 are favourite ways to relax and unwind after a hectic day.
Worries may come to the fore at bedtime. 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; www.eric.org.uk is a particularly helpful website for information on childhood continence. Equally, unexplained stomach aches in the morning may be a sign of stress.
If you have the time, there are a variety of ways you can offer your services to the school:
Classroom helper (probably not in your own child’s classroom) - if you have a particular skill do let school know.
PTA is a great way to meet with other parents and find out what is happening in school.
Being a regular for the trip to the swimming pool or an occasional aide for trips, visits, plays and fairs.
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 arm’s length, at least initially. It's the norm to have to complete a DBS form and to wait for clearance, so don't feel affronted - DBS is in place to protect all children, including yours.
Whether you think things are not going as they should academically or your child tells you they haven’t any friends, have a chat with the class teacher.
Friendship matters often clear up in a matter of days, but some children need help with socialising – whether how to join in with a game or how to make up after a quarrel. Adults in the playground can help, but so can playdates that give practice making friends in a calm atmosphere.
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), as well as discussing it with the teacher or school SEN coordinator, you could read a range of articles offering help and advice in our extensive SEN section.