This September will be the first in a long time that I won’t be returning to school. Be it the psychology school at university, education post-grad studies or teaching in primary schools, come August I’m usually getting my pencil case ready to hit the classroom. This summer is different as I won’t be returning to work but August is upon us and of course I’m still thinking about bloody school! (Teaching has that effect on you.)
One key memory of September starts is the look of panic and desperation in the eyes of new parents as they drop off their precious cargo during those first few days of school. I get that now, and I thought that I’d try to reassure any parents who are nervously-awaiting-but-at-the-same-time-counting-down-the-hours until the summer holidays are over that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE OKAY. I’ve put together a list of ways that you can help your child (and their teacher) and I really hope that you find some of it helpful! This is an (ex)Reception teachers guide to starting school.
Before I start, it is really important to remember that kids do things at different times and learn at different rates. Just like babies learn to roll/crawl/walk at different ages, children do all kinds of bits at different times. Try to remember that and avoid comparing your child with their peers from the get-go. A child who is starting school at 5 for example, has had 25% more time on earth than a child who has just turned 4, that’s HUGE. If you’re worried that your little one isn’t able to do some of these things, please don’t. Talk to your child’s teacher for ways that you can support them at home.
1.Things to talk with your child about before their first day:
- Start to talk to your child about their new school in the weeks leading up to the start of term. If you’ve had a chance to visit beforehand, that’s great! Pictures and social stories are very helpful too. The more that your little one knows about their new school, classroom and teachers, the more prepared they will feel on the first day.
- Validate their feelings about school. If they are nervous, instead of saying “don’t be nervous…” say “I can see why you might be feeling nervous….” and talk about the things that might be contributing to that. It’s normal to feel nervous ahead of change and you want them to feel listened to and understood.
- It’s a good idea to talk to your child about the different feelings that they will experience when they start school and what to do when they encounter them, for example how to cope with feeling upset. Reassure them that they can speak to their teacher about ANYTHING they’d like to. Especially, if they are feeling sad or need help, for example, when they are hurt or need the toilet.
- Children should also be aware that their own actions and words can hurt other children before they start school. If they have been to nursery it’s likely they’ll know this already but it’s a good idea to refresh before school starts in September.
- Finally, encourage your child to always have a go at things. Many times, children are too nervous about trying something new in fear that they will get it ‘wrong’. There really is no such thing as ‘wrong’ in Reception. Avoid this language! Being willing to have a go is what they really need to help them learn. Remember, the majority of learning takes place during the PROCESS, it’s not about the outcome. Children that want/expect/are worried that they’re work needs to be perfect are more likely to feel frustrated or give up instead of enjoying the activity at hand. The fun is in having a go and seeing where it takes them!
2. Things to practise with your child before their first day
- Your child should be toilet trained before starting school, this includes being able to wipe themselves after they’ve been to the toilet. Speak to your local GP if you’re struggling with this.
- Buy your child shoes (and coats/gloves etc.) that they can put on and take off themselves. Velcro is a good place to start. This allows them independence and saves your child’s teacher a LOT of time.
- Give your child lots of practice with dressing and un-dressing themselves. School shirts with buttons can be tricky but ideally they should be able to dress and undress themselves by the time P.E starts (which isn’t usually straight away!)
- An interest in stories is SO important for literacy skills. Read with your child as often as you can to foster a love for reading from an early age. This one is important.
- Your child should be able to use cutlery by the time they start school. Nana’s Manners create specialist children’s cutlery to help support children with eating using a knife and fork, these are a great idea if your little one is finding eating tricky. (Or do it the old fashioned way- practice, practice, practice.)
- When starting Reception your child should be able to recognise their name. It is a bonus if they can copy some of the letters or even better, if they can have go at writing their name.
- Any writing practise that you have/do do at home is amazing! Practise writing in lower case as opposed to capital letters (apart from at the start of their name.) Capitals come later on and children who have only practised writing in upper case can be confused when later learning lower case letters in Reception.
- Practise counting with your child as often as you can up to 10. Use everyday objects, such as carrots on the plate, to incorporate into everyday chat.
3. Things for you to remember
- Don’t forget named spare clothes, including socks for your child (wee travels down south quickly!!)
- Read the books, help with the homework, return the slips – If you are finding it hard to do any of these bits just speak to your child’s teacher. They are there to help and support you too.
- Your child will bring home a lot of what-looks-like rubbish. They will probably run at you with it, holding it high with pride. Although to you, this looks like half an egg carton with a loo roll stuck to the top, to them it is a work of art, it is time, it is imagination, it is hard work, it is precious. Many times I’ve heard parents say ‘oh, we don’t really want to take that do we?‘ or even straight out ‘we’re not taking that home.’ On other occasions, I’ve seen parents take bits straight from little hands and into the bin because yes, who really wants an egg carton with a loo roll stuck to the top of it taking pride of place on the mantelpiece? But please please, keep it (even just for a day) to celebrate their efforts. It means more to them than we know. Process is everything in Nursery and Reception.
- Don’t be on your phone when you drop off or pick up (just don’t do it.)
- Likewise, you will probably want to get a photo of your babe on their first day for you to keep (sob over once you drop them off.) Try keep snaps to a minimum. You don’t want them to feel too much pressure or overwhelmed. A few pictures is great, but constant videos of them walking to school and then pictures at every corner on the way and with every family member might be a little ott for them to comprehend.
- First days are hard. Your child might cry and it will feel awful. But after you leave, they will calm down and become happily engaged in activities and making friends whilst you sob your heart out on the way home thinking that they will never forgive you. Or they might not cry on the first day, but then shock you by crying on a different day, that is normal too. Do not worry! If your child’s teacher is ever worried that there is a real problem, the school will contact you.
- Make sure that you say goodbye before you leave on the first day and remind your child that you will be back later to collect them. There is nothing worse than a parent who thinks that they are doing right by just sneaking out and disappearing, only for their child to turn around and think that they’ve been abandoned in a room full of people they don’t know. That being said, when you do say goodbye, say goodbye! Don’t drag it out.
- Finally, your child’s teacher is there to help you (but they are only human.) I totally understand how scary it must be to leave your baby with a stranger for the day and why you would want to know everything that they got up to BUT your child’s teacher is there to help your child flourish, they will take notice of the important stuff. They might not remember exactly who your child played with at what time and what they enjoyed the most and how much of their lunch they ate and whether they went to the toilet enough and what their new best friend likes to do on the weekend. Try not to bombard them, but trust them. They are on your side and they will do their very best to make sure your child has their best year yet (and they will – I promise.)
This first year of school is brilliant in so many ways. Okay, I might be a little biased but I’m telling you, it’s the best! SO much learning takes place this year, for the both of you. Be prepared for your child to shock you, with their growth, with their learning and with their sassiness (some more than others.)
Everything is going to be okay. You’ve got this mama!