The move to 'big school' is a very big deal for little kids, and their parents! So, we asked an early childhood expert for some advice on how parents can support their children through this significant and sometimes scary milestone.
"When it comes to going to 'big school', the priority is definitely the child's social and emotional development," says Dr Katey De Gioia, lecturer at the Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University, Sydney.
"It's important that children feel comfortable leaving their parents, and making friends and being in a new environment. Also, the partnership between parents and the school is essential," she adds.
"Communication allows everyone to understand expectations and address any issues which may arise."
Preparing your child for their first day of school
It's important for your child, and your own piece of mind, they feel ready, confident and comfortable walking through the school gates on their first day. Try these simple tips in the lead up to the first day of school, they can make a big difference in how your child will take to the school environment.
- Speak positively about going to school. Tell your child about your experiences; and what they are going to learn.
- Go for walks or drives past the school and point out excitedly; "There's your school!".
- If your child has already been to childcare or pre-school, try to find out which children from there are going to your child's new school. Organise play times with these children so they will know some familiar faces.
- Take your child to the park, so she can learn to mix and interact with others. Grab every opportunity to be social, in a safe environment.
- Make sure your child is able to 'self-help'. This means being kindergarten ready and able to take care of themself by going to the toilet (and hand-washing) alone; taking their own jumper off is they are too hot; and putting their own shoes on and off (Velcro makes this much easier for children rather than trying to tie laces).
- Play 'turn-taking' games to reinforce waiting and sharing.
- Encourage your child to try and try again with anything they find difficult. Even if the outcome is not a success just say: "That was great trying! You really gave it a go".
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Helping your child overcome common school issues
School is a very new environment for children; they'll be confronted by a whole new set of rules while navigating playground politics, socialising, homework and more. Here Dr De Gioia's lists dome tips for dealing with common school issues:
Try some role-plays to help them think of ideas. For example, ask the question: "How do you think you make a friend?". They'll probably say something like: "Sit and talk, or ask their name".
Find out what the teacher expects from your child in terms of homework. There must be a strong partnership between the school and parents regarding everyone's expectations - such as how much should parents 'help'? So if you're unsure of exactly what your role needs to be, ask the teacher. Families can ask for specialised help if they need assistance due to language barriers etc.
It's so important for children to understand that it's OK to talk about what's happening at school. So if issues arise, children need to feel comfortable sharing with parents or other important adults in their lives.Try open-ended questions such as: "So what did you like about school today? And what didn't you like?" on a regular basis. Sometimes the most relaxed conversations occur over dinner or in the bath. Give your child strategies on how to deal with bullying, and again you can do this by role-plays. If you're worried about anything you think is going on, speak with the teacher or Principal straight away. Every school has a policy on bullying; and welcome any feedback. This is again why it's so important to have a great partnership between parents and schools.
If you're worried about your child - either academically or socially - make an appointment to have a conversation with their class teacher for their perspective. For instance you might hear from your child that "nobody plays with me at lunchtime". But if you talk with the teacher, you might learn that your child's group of friends went off to play a game, and your child chose not to be involved.Schools send out reports yearly and half yearly, and if you have any concerns, see the teacher. And in-between those times communication remains critical.