Starting school can be a daunting prospect for families. Children who seemed like toddlers only yesterday are suddenly heading off into the world in tiny uniforms, carrying enormous schoolbags.
Some parents are overjoyed at their child reaching such a wonderful milestone; but others are fearful of sending them out into the world.
In this blog we hear from two families about their children starting school.
With a cousin of a similar age also starting school, Beau’s four-year-old daughter, Lucy, was an enthusiastic school starter.
For Beau and his wife Marie-Anne, there was some anxiety about Lucy starting school. She was only four, and was small for her age.
Lucy’s kindergarten and her new school, a local Catholic primary school, were both proactive in preparing her for Prep (also known as Foundation in some schools).
“An assessor came to the kinder periodically to help determine if she was ready, and that was very important for us,” Beau explains.
“The school also had a very good orientation program for kids and parents as well.”
Beau and Marie-Anne also ensured that Lucy knew the practicalities of everyday school life – how to open her lunchbox, use her drink bottle and put on her school shoes.
“We tried to make sure she could concentrate for a bit longer, because it’s a lot more unstructured at kinder,” Beau says.
“Lucy’s kindergarten teachers advised us that concentrating can be a challenge for school starters. We made an effort to help Lucy concentrate for longer by making our activities at home a bit longer, such as reading longer books with her, giving her more time when she’s doing mazes or drawing, and even some minor school role play with her,” he says.
Lucy also started doing Taekwondo classes to help her concentration, focus and discipline.
“We also tried to build her enthusiasm and hide our own anxieties, because kids are very perceptive.”
The first day of Prep was an emotional one for Beau and Marie-Anne.
“We didn’t show that to her, but we got through it,” he laughs.
“The school was fantastic – they brought all the parents to the hall and had refreshments and we could debrief about what was a really big milestone for parents,” Beau says.
Lucy has settled in well at school and her parents have adjusted to a new world of pick-ups and drop-offs.
“My wife works from home, which is an advantage, so she’s able to do school drop-offs and pick-ups and she works around that,” he says.
“We had to introduce a new routine in terms of Lucy getting up earlier and having breakfast, getting herself ready and so on.”
Lucy also had to get used to new routines at school. A minor issue was her habit of taking a long time to eat meals. She often took all of her lunchtime to eat, and sometimes didn’t finish.
“After experimenting with a couple of options, we agreed that she only has to eat certain parts of her lunch at school. If she doesn't finish it there, she has to eat it once she gets home after school."
“This approach has worked well. She’s eating enough to keep her going, and she has playtime outside with her friends,” says Beau.
Liz’s daughter, Isabel, was five and a half when she started school, and adapted extremely well.
Isabel’s school, a state primary school, offered a four-week period of orientation before school started. In addition, the Preps stayed home on Wednesdays for the first term.
The school also offered parents the chance to stay in the classroom after drop-off to help with reading, along with opportunities for parents to socialise and get to know each other.
Liz says she and husband Steve were both relaxed about Isabel starting school, and tried to keep the atmosphere fun and positive at home.
They gave her a guideline of what her school day would look like, to alleviate any worries.
“I didn’t want her to feel that it was a massive change,” she says.
“For us, it’s all gone really smoothly. It’s so nice to see her thrive, to take responsibility and learn to look after herself.”
“At times, Isabel and her school friends find it hard to navigate ‘playground issues’ and she may feel left out, but we tend to let her sleep on it and don’t interfere – it’s usually all good again the next day.”
Liz and Steve have also learned to accept that children learn at different speeds. “We try not to compare Isabel’s reading and writing with other children – she’ll get there eventually. It’s been amazing to see how quickly she’s learning!”
For Isabel’s three-year-old sister, Amelie, it’s also been an adjustment.
“She really misses her during the day and she asks when we’re going back to get her – that’s been a big change,” says Liz.
Tips if your child is about to start school
Liz’s and Beau’s families offer these tips for anyone who has a child starting school:
- Make sure they can use their school bag, lunch box and drink bottle.
- Do lots of activities in the lead-up to starting school, so they get used to the idea that they won’t be with you all day, every day.
- Encourage your child to go to the toilet at school, and explain that they may have a little accident if they try to 'hold it in'.
- Pack a spare set of underpants and socks in your child's schoolbag in case there is an accident, which is not uncommon among school starters.
- Take advantage of any resources the school offers, including orientation.
- Try to hide any anxiety you might have – be positive and enthusiastic.
- Find out about healthy eating policies the school might have.
- Check whether there are any food restrictions. Some schools have a nut-free policy, for example.
- Find out if there’s a uniform shop or second-hand uniform shop.
- If your school doesn’t have a uniform, find out what the dress code is.
- Check what day your child has sport, and if they have to wear different clothing or shoes.
- Label your child’s belongings so they are easier to identify and harder to lose. If every child has the same school bag at your school, add a ribbon or a keychain or something else to help your Prep find their bag.
- Investigate how correspondence works – if the school has a newsletter, blog or social media page for communication.
- Ensure your child is getting a good night’s sleep – it’s best if they have a solid bedtime routine in place before starting Prep.
- A good, healthy diet at home is very important.
Better Health Channel has more information and tips on starting school.
Where to get help
Starting or returning to school
Lunch boxes - how to make them healthy
Discipline and children
Anxiety and fear in children
Young children and communication
Children and shyness
School support for children with special needs