Surviving the First Few Days of School
Mary Batterham from Discovery Montessori School discusses how parents can help children ease into the new school year.
Starting school marks a major change in a child’s life. Some children adjust more easily than others. An eager, alert, independent child comes into the classroom and immediately begins taking advantage of the learning environment that has been meticulously prepared to assist them meet their full potential. However, children who are more dependent on adults will need time to adjust and become independent. A child who has been the centre of attention at home now finds themselves as part of a larger group (for perhaps, the first time), and may need time to discover their own ability and satisfaction that comes from individual accomplishments.
The way a child’s day starts has an important impact on the outcome of their experiences. It is essential that the child arrives on time to begin their day with the rest of the children. A sense of order gives children a feeling of security in a world that is, for the most part, out of their control. They enjoy routine and learn to balance their days to include academically stimulating activities, outdoor play, activities within a social context, and time to eat and rest.
Beginning a new school term is tiring for young children. They form new relationships within the dynamics of the social group and experience new procedures and lessons. A good night’s sleep, a nutritious breakfast and plenty of time to dress for school at their own pace will do much for your child’s attitude throughout the day.
There can be many unknowns regarding your child’s feelings and emotions that they are unable to express accurately. If a child is not adapting to the life of the classroom within a given period of time, their teacher will contact you. Teachers are equally as anxious as you are for your child to adapt easily and will put forth every effort towards your child’s comfort and security during the early stages of school. It is vitally important that all stakeholders work together to achieve the best outcome for each child.
Do not be discouraged if your child does not relate many specifics about their school day. Usually the child has been working with many different activities throughout the day and specific recall can be difficult.
Starting a new year is a very exciting time! Remember, going to school for the first time is a big event for children and it will also be a big event for you too. Familiarising your child with the physical environment is a good first step so I suggest a visit to the school before the first day. We encourage parents to bring their children to visit the school, have a play and meet the teachers etc. Even though your child may not remember where everything is, at least the journey and teachers will be more familiar on their first day.
Here are some things you can do to help your child make a smooth and positive transition:
Establish a routine
Mornings can be especially stressful for both of you. Establish a morning routine and make sure your child eats a nutritional breakfast. Give yourself and your child enough time to get ready in the morning, especially if they are beginning to dress themselves. Arriving to school relaxed will ensure a good start to the day.
Short good-byes in a positive, non-worried manner convey to your child an unspoken message they are being left in a safe place that you chose for them.
Show a genuine interest in everything your child does, both at school and at home. Encourage them to talk to you about how they are feeling, but beware of turning interest into pressure.
You don't need to go over the top with praise - it is often better to show interest and encouragement. This will help them to feel confident and secure. Don't be afraid to constantly tell them you love them.
Time to relax
When children start school, the day can be very long and tiring for them, so allow them time to relax when they get home. Children have a continuing need for love, support and encouragement from those who love them most.
Sometimes a child’s behaviour can regress when they start school. They can swing from being dependent one minute to independent the next. Be patient with them, give them a cuddle and show a genuine interest in their worries.
Spend time together
Try to spend even just a small amount of time doing something together each day; play a game, read a book or just have a chat.
Starting school is an anxious time for all children. Having fun and playing with your child helps to alleviate some of their stress, as play helps children manage new situations and develop social skills.
Talk to the teacher
Make a point of talking to your child's teacher if you are worried about anything at all. It's best to voice concerns early on, even if you think it's just a small thing. Regularly attend parents' evenings and school meetings - it shows your child and the school that you are interested in how everything is going.
Look after yourself
Parents today have a difficult and complex job to do but they don't need to be perfect. Make sure you look after yourself and have people to talk to when you need advice. Try to spend some time thinking about your own life and priorities. This is another step in your child’s journey to adulthood; embrace every moment, as they grow up very fast. Life is a journey, not a race. Enjoy!