Next week a momentous milestone in my little boy’s life will be reached when he starts primary school. His going to school also marks a milestone in my own life and while I know it is right and necessary and for his own good, I confess I am feeling a little wobbly about it.
Like other mums with kids about to start primary school, I want my son to settle in to primary school as smoothly as possible. I turned to the many Bristol mums on the Bristol Mum Facebook page and on Twitter and asked them to share their advice and tips on how to help children settle in to primary school .
I hope you find their advice helpful…
1) Talk about primary school with your child
This will help your child mentally prepare for school and will help them feel calmer and more in control as they will know what to expect. Explain to them what going to school involves, for example, the role of their teacher, what a class is, what a classroom is, lunchtime, what that involves, play times, etc. We have books at home about children going to school which I think has helped my son understand the concept of going to school.
Talk about the exciting activities that your child will do at primary school. For example, explaining that they will make even more friends, learn about exciting things and doing any of the activities that your child likes to do, will help them see school as an exciting, fun opportunity rather than something to feel worried about. My son loves cooking so we have talked about how he will be having cooking lessons at school which he is excited about.
“I talked about school a lot and was clear that it was exciting and a new adventure. I found that asking him what he did daily would always get a “don’t know” response, so I would instead ask what was the most exciting thing he had done that day. I would remember the exciting things so on days when his nerves were apparent, I would talk about all the exciting things that he had told me so as to encourage him to see school as a lovely place.”
“Explain to your child how many children will be in their class, about the teacher and the discipline.”
“Buying books about starting school is good, also talking to them a lot about it”.
“My daughter started school two years ago. We talked about it for months and weeks to dispel anxiety.”
“Provide a listening ear and train your child on how to act around other kids.”
2) Include your child in primary school practical preparations
Involving your child in practical preparations for primary school will help them feel more in control of the situation as well as help them to feel excited about starting school. I have taken my son shopping to choose new shoes and clothes for school which he enjoyed and he is looking forward to wearing them when he starts.
“My daughter liked getting new things specially for school like her lunchbox”.
3) Let your child know that it is okay to feel nervous or scared about starting school
It is absolutely normal for your child to child to feel worried about starting school. Encourage your child to talk through any worries with you and reassure them that it is okay to feel nervous.
“Engage in lots of conversations about school and any doubts or fears they might have.”
4) The importance of school open days, pre-school visits, transfer visits and teacher introductions
We didn’t have the option of a teacher home visit or a teacher pre-school class visit, however, my son’s primary school had a “transfer afternoon” to which he and the other in his class had the option of doing. This involved him meeting his new teacher, his new class mates and spending an hour in what will be his classroom the parents waited in the library. Luckily, he enjoyed his transfer afternoon and meeting future class mates.
“It definitely helps if the child’s pre-school has close links with the chosen school and the reception teacher does a class visit before the start of term.”
“My daughter’s primary school teacher came to the house which really helped.”
Transfer days, teacher home visits, etc are all important stepping-stones in the primary school transition process and will help your child settle in more easily.
5) Go to any class meet-ups in the run-up to the big day
There have been several organised meet-ups during the Summer holidays for the children and parents of the kids who will be in my son’s class at primary school. This means that my son has already met a few of his future classmates so there will be familiar faces when he starts which will hopefully make starting school less scary.
6) Ensure your child has a proper bed time and routine in the weeks leading up to starting school
It is wise for your child to not have late nights in the weeks before starting school. It is also advisable that in the last few weeks of the school holidays, you start to establish a proper school day routine for your child, getting up a little earlier and going to bed a little earlier too.
This will help your child slip into the school day routine more easily and having to be up, dressed, fed and out of the house at a particular time won’t be such a shock to their system when they start school (nor such a shock to yours, too!).
Getting up early means that you will have plenty of time to get your child ready in the morning and therefore you won’t have to rush and get stressed in the process.
“Having a really structured morning routine helped my child, leaving the house with plenty of time to wander on the way to school, having a little play in the playground beforehand and plenty of time to chat about how he felt on the way to school. We focused a lot on time, so I would remind him that I would pick him up at 3.30pm every day every time I dropped him off, that I would be armed with lots of snacks and that I would always be there at home time, that there was plenty of time after school to ask about how he felt, what were the best things and the worst things of the day. We also did lots of outdoors stuff after school if he wasn’t too tired and would have a slow wander home and a play after school”.
7) Remember that primary school is not the only option
If you are unsure about formal schooling being right for your child it is not too late to change your mind.
“I am still unsure whether starting kids at school at 4/5 years of age is right. So I am feeling quite overwhelmed by the decisions facing our family this year.”
Another mum quite rightly pointed out that home education is also a “valid legal option”. You do not need to be a qualified teacher to do so. For more information on home education, visit www.educationotherwise.net
8) Advice for the big day
Obviously, it is essential that your child’s first day at primary school goes smoothly.
“Leave nice and early so you’ve got time to talk, so you’re not late and so you’ve got time to answer any last-minute questions. The last thing you want is to be late, I think that’s very important. Expect them to be apprehensive on their first morning.”
“On the first morning it is always nice to walk with someone else, a friend who has a child starting school as well.”
9) Beware of being a “Helicopter Mum”
This was among the most popuar advice offered to me by mums!
” Don’t be a ‘Helicopter Mum’ – always hovering. Settle them in, then let them get on with it; any tears usually stop pretty damn quickly. You see Helicopter Mums in the playground. Let your child take some risks, they’ll learn and grow in confidence. You still see helicopter mums with teens. too”.
“Let them make their own way, Settle them in class on arrival for only a few weeks, then let them do it themselves. I still see Helicopter Mums at year 2 – hanging around in class for a good five minutes – making sure their little one is in”.
Even a Bristol teacher warned against being a Helicopter Mum!
“Teacher here! Don’t stand at the window peering in at them. leave them to settle. They’ll be fine once you’ve gone, we promise! And don’t project your own worries or insecurities on to them; that’s on of the biggest problems I have to deal with”.
One mum offered advice on the best way to leave your child at school drop-off:
“The best way is the hardest way and that is to give them a big hug and a cheery goodbye and just leave. But if your child is still unsettled when leaving them after a couple of weeks, I would suggest talking with the school as they will be able to help.”
10) Go easy on yourself!
Your child starting primary school can be as big a milestone for yourself, too. It is natural to feel a range of emotions about your child starting primary school; it is a huge change for you both and you are not the only mum struggling with the thought of it.
“Be as positive as you can as if you are nervous or sad, so will they be. Treasure the pick up and hearing about their new adventure.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself…school is a big step for both of you!”.
“It is the start of many brilliant new adventures to share. I say this easily now but am almost hysterical about my youngest starting nursery in three weeks, it never gets easier!”
“My kids are much older now but remember their first days well. My only advice is to find some other mums to have a coffee, cry and a chat with. I used to run a special morning at school called ‘Tea and Tissues with the PTA’, mums stayed as long as they wanted. We had really great feedback.”
“I think that it’s important to see it as the next step forward rather than the end of an era. They still need you, more than ever.”
Remember that when your child starts primary school, it is not the end of a chapter, it is the beginning of an exciting new one.
Did you find these tips helpful? Or maybe you can add some more to the list? Please do comment below.