Primary School is different to pre-school in many ways. There’s more timetabling and less choice of activity. There are far more children and adults, most of them unknown to your child. The buildings and layout will most likely be different, even confusing at first. Children are expected to be more independent and to take responsibility for themselves and their possessions.
Take advantage of orientation days or weeks at your school of choice. These are a great way for both you and your child to gain some idea of the changes you can expect. If you work, try to take time off so you can meet the new teacher and future classmates. Visit the toilet block. Make sure a boy knows how to use a urinal (and wash hands afterwards.) Some kids have not used a bubbler for drinking water or certain playground equipment. This is a great time to look around and orient yourselves.
Be organized and think ahead. Sometimes, kids come to school with brand new lunch boxes or snacks. Does your child know how to open them, how to eat them? I’ve seen kids become distressed because they were unable to break into a packaged cheese stick, or cope with a begged-for lunch order. Are items of clothing named, and can your child read her own name? Does your child know what to do with a wet raincoat when he takes it off? Can kids untie and retie shoelaces? Having a weekly calendar with library, excursion, special days and sport days marked where the whole family can see it helps with organization. And encouraging children to check and add to the calendar themselves as they mature is a great learning experience. These may seem small things, but mastery of them will make children much more comfortable.
Be punctual. Kindergarten/Prep IS important. If your child is consistently late, she may miss important announcements and chunks of lessons. Kids often find it difficult to walk into a room late, and that makes it hard for them to settle in. Modelling good manners to our kids is important – unpunctuality is another way of saying other peoples’ time isn’t important.
Plan for the weather. Unfortunately, in Australia, this stressful beginning time for Kindergarten children takes place during the hottest days of summer. New shoes and sweat often make blisters. Running around excitedly in the heat of the day can be exhausting. Understand when your child arrives home tired, over-wrought and dehydrated, and take steps to make them feel better. A cool bath or shower, changing into play clothes, and a healthy snack will allow them time to unwind before being ready for more play or even homework. Packing a raincoat and making sure your child understands wet weather plans is sensible, as is a jacket for cooler days.
Keep reading. Maintaining your daily read-aloud schedule when school takes up a big percentage of the day can be difficult but not impossible. If kids are too tired to share a book at bedtime, consider reading aloud during bath-time or over breakfast. Always packing books into a bag or the car means you can take advantage of those incidental moments in waiting rooms and shops where you can snatch a few moments of reading pleasure. If you have an i-Device, e-books and book apps are sure to chase boredom away. Maybe that visit to the public library can be on Saturday morning?
Get to know your child’s teacher and other staff at the school. A smile and few words of greeting can lead to snatched conversations when time permits. If you get the chance, volunteer to help in the classroom, canteen or the library.
Introduce yourself to other parents. Scheduling playdates is a great way to get to know your child’s classmates and their parents. Make sure though that your child understands they must not leave the school without your permission.
Double check. While it’s important for kids starting school to become more responsible for themselves, it doesn’t hurt to check their bags each day. An afternoon routine of taking notes and lunch boxes out of a school bag might not always work – just ask all the parents who’ve found a note asking for cupcakes to be cooked when about to leave for school!
Often kids start school with unrealistic expectations or fears. It’s important to be as positive as possible when you’re discussing big school with, or in front of, your child. But being realistic is important too – some little ones get disappointed when they are not able to read on Day 1. If a problem should arise, don’t hesitate to discuss it with the teacher. Above all, don’t forget that while school can be an incredibly exciting and fulfilling time for kids, the most important relationship your child has right now is with you.