GUEST BLOG: Preparing for school

written by Frances Mulligan

I am Frankie, Mum of three and wife of one. I started my teaching journey while pregnant with my now 11-year-old. Since graduating I have worked in mainly new entrant classes. I have loved my time as a new entrant teacher and supporting children and their families as they begin their school adventure. When my middle child started school I stepped back from my new entrant role so I could focus more on my own children. I am now working part-time in a special school and work full time as Mum to my three not so small people.

Check out her blog here or follow her on Facebook.

Starting school is a massive deal. Not just for you as a parent but for your new five-year-old too. Even children who have been in fulltime daycare struggle with the adjustment.

School is very different than day care/crèche/ kindy. It requires much more independence and self-care, even at a New Entrant level. School also involves a way of thinking that many children are not used to. Many parents don’t realise what a huge adjustment it can be and often wonder why their child is so tired and awful at the end of the day.

That is not to say that every child will behave the same when they start school. My three were all so different over those first few months. My eldest handled the adjustment well. She was fairly familiar with the classroom setting as she had spent time in my class during school holidays, weekends and after school.

My middle child was a whole different experience; he would get home from school at 3 pm and lie on the stairs crying and crying. Eventually, I’d make him a toasted sandwich and put him to bed. He would sleep from 4 pm right through until morning, he was exhausted! Our youngest was different again. He was so familiar with school and the people because school has been part of his life since he was born. However, he was a five-year-old living in a pre-teens world. Being dragged around to after school activities and often having dinner in the car as he wouldn’t last until we got home. He also didn’t do as much “homework” as his teachers would have liked.

So, with my experiences as a parent of three now school-aged children and an ex-New Entrant teacher (still a teacher just in a different role now) I have come up with some guidelines to (maybe) help you and your child have a successful transition to school.

I have already written an article about how to best prepare you, preschooler, for school (you can find that here). This is what comes next.

First things first, what to pack in the school bag. Every school will have their own requirements around stationary and book bags so best to talk directly to them in regards to this.

  1. A lunchbox is pretty important and a school lunchbox is a bit different from a daycare lunchbox for two main reasons. Your child needs to be able to open everything themselves and they will most likely only be given two 15 minute opportunities to eat. This is of course just a guide as every school is different but typically a school breaks itself into three blocks with a morning tea break around 10.30/11 am and a lunch break at 12.30/1 pm. Children are encouraged to sit and eat for the first part of break but once that time is up I guarantee your kid will be up and playing whether they have eaten or not. The best way to help your child eat a proper lunch in that short time is by giving them a variety of small things that will fill them up. Eg, yoghurt, fruit (chopped up), eggs, meat, nuts (check your school’s policy around this), small sandwiches etc. Your child is far more likely to work their way through these than they are to navigate a large filled roll or a whole apple in the time frame. While teachers/teacher aides will most likely be supervising eating time it is unrealistic to expect on a person to unwrap 20 sandwiches, open 20 bags of chips or peel 20 mandarins. If your child cannot manage these tasks themselves then help them learn these skills at home. In the meantime make it easier for them by not wrapping items and peeling/chopping fruit.
  2. A change of clothes (even underwear!). Most children are well and truly toilet trained by the time they turn 5. However, it is not uncommon for children to regress a bit once they start school, particularly with their toileting. This happens for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the toilets are too scary so they don’t go. Some children get confused around when they are allowed to go and the protocol around asking (make sure you talk to them about this with the teacher so everyone is on the same page). So, pack them a change of “easy to put on clothes” and let them know they are there (also include a wet bag for those dirty clothes coming home or the bag will stink!).
  3. A rain jacket and jersey! The weather can change so quickly and it is easy to assume your child will be inside if the weather turns nasty. This may not always be the case. For example, in an emergency, your child’s class may be evacuated. You don’t want them waiting to be collected in the rain with no coat (this happened to a couple of my students after a big earthquake, we, of course, gave them our coats and kept them warm but we couldn’t have managed if the whole class were without jackets).
  4. A wide-rimmed sunhat. This will most likely be in your child’s school policy. No hat, no play.

When sending your child to school it is very tempting to send them looking great in their best clothes. It is a better idea to keep those clothes for best and send them in easily washable clothes that you won’t mind getting messy. Also, keep in mind that your child is independent at school so make sure they are wearing clothes they can take off and on themselves. If your child can’t yet tie shoelaces then pop them in Velcro shoes until they have learned.

Expect the unexpected. You chill and happy five-year-old may turn into a tired monster after school. They are tired, they may not have eaten properly, they have had to manage new situations. School is hard! Most children tend to fall apart after school despite being complete darlings all day at school. The teacher may not believe you as they never see the behaviours your child is bringing home. Be patient and don’t expect too much from your child after school. If they are too tired to read the reading they have bought home, read it to them. The first few months at school are definitely an adjustment period. I also recommend not starting new extra-curricular activities in the first few months after starting school.

Most new entrants cry at school drop off. This can be very difficult as a parent to watch your child crying and clinging to you. I guarantee that they will be happy and playing with their friends only a few minutes after you have left. The best thing you can do to support them is reassure them they will have a good day and remind them you (or whoever is picking them up) will see them in a few hours. If your child continues to be upset after you have left the teacher will let you know. Remember that your child’s teacher experiences this every day and wants your child to be happy.

Finally, don’t compare your child to others. They all learn and develop at different rates. If the school has concerns about how your child is progressing they will talk with you. If your child is up for it then practising their sight words and reading with them is the best head start you can give them. Don’t worry if it isn’t happening quickly, your child is learning so many new things right now and it will take them a while to adjust to all the changes.

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