It is that time of year again. Shiny new books, pencils, and texts are all individually named. School uniforms are clean and waiting patiently in the wardrobe. Brand-new lunchboxes, drink bottles, and shoes are all lined up ready for the big moment. The first day of school is here!!!
Amid all the excitement and exploring the newness of everything, and the millions of photos that flood our social media feeds, the butterflies in the tummy can start to multiply (for both children and parents!). Questions about the classroom, the teacher, and the tuckshop start to creep into our minds, and ‘what if I don’t know the answer’ can cause the stress of the unknown to drown out the excitement for the start of the new chapter.
This doesn’t only apply to the thousands of preppies taking their first steps into formal schooling this year (although we are so excited for them and will miss seeing their bright smiles and curious looks at kindy every day), this applies to children each year. There is always an element of the unknown – will I like my teacher, are my friends in my class, what do I do in Grade 2 (or 3 or 8 – the questions never change). But I always take comfort in the fact that anticipation of the event is usually worse than the event itself!
School readiness is more than knowing how to count to 20 and reciting the alphabet. Starting school for the first time is such a huge step in our children’s life journey and can be filled with excitement, anticipation, trepidation, and sometimes anxiety – and that is just how we feel as parents!! Knowing how to support our children as they negotiate a brand-new environment, new teachers, new friends, and new expectations can be really overwhelming.
But if we think of our child’s first day of school like a first day at a new job (which most of us have experienced multiple times in our lives), we can start to practice strategies with our children that we know will help ease the transition to this whole new world. I have listed a few examples below, but there are so many more I could add to this list.
1) Find a friend:
Help your child to find the language to introduce themselves to people they have never met before. I remember my first job as an educator, I was painfully shy (and much younger) and the way I was able to walk out into a playground full of children and experienced educators was to make sure I said hello to someone – admittedly, it was the same person for the first few weeks. But over time I would start to say hi to 2 people as I started my day, and as I settled in, I was able to greet all my colleagues and build those relationships. But start small. If you can say hi to one person and ask them their name – you are doing great!!!
2) Plan your day ahead:
Walking into a new workplace, not really knowing the ins and outs of the company. How the photocopier works, what time everyone takes their breaks can be overwhelming. But as we can do with our children, when we start a new job, we plan out our day. We know when we are starting, and what time we are finishing, and if you are anything like me, I would plan something to look forward to at the end of the day – just in case the unknown was a bit too much to deal with. Young children might not be able to plan their day out, but we can help them to understand what the school day looks like. For example.
After breakfast you can get into your uniform and put your lunchbox in your bag, and we will head to school. Your teacher will find you when the bell rings and I will go home (or to work). During the day you will have time in your classroom, in the playground and you will have time to eat the food we packed in your lunchbox. Your teacher will make sure you know where to go. In the afternoon, the bell will ring, and I will be waiting for you. Maybe we could walk to the park on the way home from school for a play?
Having these quick conversations over and over again will help your child understand the general flow of the day and help them to plan their day.
3) Give it time:
The first day of school, just like the first day of work, very rarely looks like a typical day. Most of my first days at work have ended with me having a cracking headache, not knowing how to do the job I was hired to do yet, and a general feeling of “what have I done!!”. The first day of school can be very similar. So, give it time. Your new preppie might very well be underwhelmed (or overwhelmed) after the first day, or even the first week. Asking questions to help your child focus on specific aspects of the day can spark conversation and emphasise the highlights of the day:
- What did you pick out of your lunchbox first?
- What was the best thing you did today?
- What was something that made you laugh today?
- What are you looking forward to most about tomorrow? or
- What game did you play at lunchtime?
Take time to engage with your child about their day, just like you would with a friend or family member starting a new job. It is exciting and new, and as the days go by, the excitement will most probably wear off and the answers will most likely get shorter.
If this week is the first week in your child’s schooling life – just remember nothing is going to be perfect in 1 day – the 1st day of school transition can take a few weeks if not more, and there will be highs and more than likely there will be lows. Take this time to connect with your children, listen to all the stories, and recognise the big steps you have all taken. I can’t wait to see all the smiling faces in their crisp new uniforms on my social media in the coming weeks!