Surviving the first month of Prep!
Starting school can be both an exciting and stressful time for you and your child. For some children it may be the first time that they have been away from their parents. They may be going into a strange environment with unfamiliar people and things around them. Some kids will head into their new year without missing a beat, but others (in fact most) will experience some degree of apprehension.
What are some of the emotions and experiences you can expect from your first month? And what are some of the things you can do to help make the process as smooth and enjoyable as possible?
- School presents enormous change, so expect a range of emotions from your child – the range of emotions will go from excited to apprehensive, sad, fearful, worried etc. So it’s important you support these feelings as normal responses to change. Remind them that the other children will be feeling the same as them. And as the novelty of this new, fun thing wears off and they realise this is a permanent fixture in their life, this can cause stress and at times, tears. So be ready to understand this roller coaster of emotions they are going through.
- With all this change and new learning, expect your child to be feeling very tired. Not only are they expanding their literacy learning, but there are other subtle lessons happening in class as well. The social elements of sharing, turn taking skills, advanced play mixed with learning to sit still and listen for extended time periods, taking instructions and so on. Eventually this will become their normal and they’ll adapt quickly, but initially, it is likely to fatigue them significantly.
- A couple of surprising things you’ll notice is; one, they may not eat. While schools generally enforce ‘sit down and eat’ periods, your child may just find that there is too much happening to eat! This won’t last so don’t worry too much. The other behaviour surprise will be their behaviour at pick up. After full on days that stretch their emotional capacity and depletes their energy, you may find you have a very lovable, happy individual when you come to pick them up. Whether it’s a big hug or just a general sense of being so happy to see you. It’s great to acknowledge this with how impressed you are with how well they are coping with school and how happy you are to be picking them up.
- Finally, remember that children’s emotions are not so dissimilar from adults in times of stress and anxiety. As adults we can experience sleeplessness, poor appetite or revert to bad habits to deal with stress, and children will often do the same among other behaviours such as being a little irritable, perhaps bed wetting or having toilet issues, and clinginess to mum and dad. Again, this shouldn’t persist for long.
So what are some steps you can take to make the transition more enjoyable and relaxed?
Ideally, you’d start working these prior to starting school, but if they’ve already started, these are still worthwhile doing with them so they become more and more comfortable with the routines and expectations of school.
Encourage independence by helping them to get used to:
- putting on and doing up their shoes
- eating and drinking without help (opening lunchboxes, wrapping and unwrapping school lunches and drinking from drink bottles)
- caring for and putting away play things
- using playground equipment safely
- carrying his or her own bag
- identifying belongings
- making his or her own needs known
- responding verbally when spoken to
- knowing their full name, address and phone number
- knowing their parents’ names
Familiarise your child with the school environment and routine by:
- driving or walking by the school a few times so it becomes a familiar place. If possible, do this sometimes when other children are there so that your child can get used to the number of children, the playground and movement around school grounds
- attending the orientation program and/or open day so you can meet the teachers and see the classrooms
- showing your child where to put his or her things, such as a school bag and hat
- making sure your child knows where to wait for you in the afternoon.
- checking with your pre-Prep provider (kindy, childcare) about how they can help children make a smooth transition to school
- encouraging children to understand that teachers are at school to help.
You can also help your child progress at school by taking some simple steps at home:
- show an interest in your child’s schooling and the value and importance of attending. Ask your child over dinner: “What new things did you do at school today?”
- read aloud to your child. Reading aloud helps develop the imagination, because it allows listeners to form a picture in their minds. It also helps develop an awareness of the patterns of language
- jump on a trampoline. This helps to decompress them but also assists with increased blood flow which means more energy and oxygen and therefore makes their brains perform better.
- provide a variety of experiences to stimulate your child’s imagination – for example, visit the zoo, park or airport
- play card games and board games with your child. This helps to develop mathematical, problemsolving, language and social skills such as turntaking and accepting loss
- spend time together as a family – activities such as shopping, going to the park or working in the garden build children’s awareness and knowledge of the world around them as well as develop language skills
- find opportunities to write with your child. This includes making lists for grocery shopping or things to build children’s awareness of vocabulary and the importance of reading and writing
- sing familiar songs and nursery rhymes together with your child
- help your child become responsible by encouraging him or her to pass on school notices and newsletters or to pack his or her school bag each day.
At the end of the day, remember that all of their behaviours are normal.
If there is one takeaway from this, it would be to arrive at pick up with an undistracted hug, lots of good food, water, and go straight from school to an unstructured, outside play environment and let them unwind and have your full attention for 20-minutes (it doesn’t have to be a long play).
And try to show patience through these weeks of change.