Starting School

I don’t know how normal this is but I can vividly remember my first day at school. As my birthday is the last day of August I didn’t go to school until January. I remember that the room seemed enormous (and as classrooms go, it was pretty big). I also remember that the teacher Miss Grice who soon became Mrs Cox was very kind and very tall.  Although I can definitely justify the label kind, I’m not sure if she was genuinely tall or just tall to a 4 and a half year old! I also remember meeting my friend Kass, who is still my friend to this day.  She had the same hair do as me (children of the ’70’s will remember this well) – two plaits that were crossed over the top of our head and secured on the other side with clips.  My hair has always been unruly and my Mum had obviously decided this was the best way to try and tame it for a whole day in school. Overall, my memories of this momentous occasion are happy.

Each authority differs on when they take children in now but either way September is the time when many children start full time school for the first time.  And it’s a time that both children and parents can dread.  This blog aims to offer a few words of comfort at this time.

During my teaching career, I welcomed a lot of new children not just to the new school year but to school itself in Reception. During that time, it was clear that some actions most definitely made starting school fun and enjoyable for the children and as calm and stress free as possible for the parents.

What Helps Children?

Obviously, it’s vital that children enjoy their first days of school. These first days can determine if the child engages with school and the education system in a positive way. Here are a few things that definitely help…
  • Parents telling them that school will be fun and full of lots of lovely things to do.
  • Well established morning routine. This way children know that certain things have to be done on a school morning. It also makes sure that everyone leaves the house at the right time, with the right book bag and coat in a relatively calm way.
  • Well established bed time routine.  Ditto above.  It also ensures children get enough sleep to prepare for school.  Believe me, they will be exhausted for the first few days.
  • Arrive at school on time.  Everyone hates being late, it can disrupt you for the rest of the day and it also disrupts the rest of the class.
  • Packing the book bag and putting it by the front door the night before. 
  • Labelling ALL your children’s clothes and I mean ALL.  Nothing is more upsetting to a child (and parent) than a lost jumper, cardigan or coat in the first week of school.  If you label it, there’s every chance it can be found and returned. Labelling clothes will also prevent teachers and staff losing their minds on PE days.  Just imagine 30 identical white shirts to be matched with 30 different children with no name labels.  Hideous doesn’t even begin to cover it!
  • Share books and stories with your child every evening. Research has shown that a mere 5 minutes sharing a book and reading to your child will do amazing things for their knowledge of words, story structure, characters and how to hold and look after books.
  • This will sound obvious and as if I’m trying to tell people what to do but it’s so important.  BE ON TIME TO COLLECT YOUR CHILD. There is nothing more heartbreaking as a teacher than to see a child anxiously checking through the window for signs of their grown up. Tears are often the result and no matter how great their day in school has been all they will remember is they were the last to be picked up.
  • Ask about your child’s day.  If you haven’t got a clue what their painting or drawing is, ask them to tell you about it.  
  • Check your child’s book bag every night for letters and other important info.  That way you won’t miss out on dress up days, parent’s evening appointments etc.
  • Give your child a huge hug when you collect them and enjoy the rest of the evening.

What Helps Parents?

  • Tell your children they will love school, talk about it in a positive, enthusiastic way (even if you are dreading the very thought of it).
  • Well established morning routine.  This will keep you sane, calm and ready for the day.
  • Well established bed time routine. Ditto the above, it will also ensure you have some quality ‘you’ time.  You need chance to recharge your batteries too.
  • Get to school on time to ensure your child doesn’t miss anything.
  • Keep tissues with you so you can hastily mop your eyes as you leave through the school gate but congratulate yourselves that you didn’t cry in front of your child.
  • Pack the book bag the night before and avoid the panic filled cries of “Where is your book bag?” at 8.00 am!
  • Label ALL your child’s clothing.  In these tough economic times, nobody wants to buy a new jumper every week.  If you label everything (including socks and gloves) your life, your child’s life and the teacher’s life all become much easier.  A named object is much easier to identify and return than one with nothing written on it.  Buy a pack of Sharpies, you won’t regret it! And even better, no sewing required!
  • Read to your children every night (this is probably part of your bed time routine any way) and not only will you enjoy this time together, but you are giving them early reading skills.
  • Make sure your child is collected on time.  If you know you will be late let the school know asap. That way, teachers can prepare your child and divert the tears.  Oh and without sounding bossy (but I’m going to!) leave the mobile in your bag or pocket until you have spoken to your child.  I’ve seen more and more parents glued to their phones and just beckoning to their children from the school gate. Surely even the busiest of parent has time to say hello to their child?
  • Ask about your child’s day. Sometimes children can be a bit obscure so you may have to ask the question in a non-obvious way.  Maybe start by saying “Did you make anything fab from playdough today?” “What was in the water tray?” And if all they say is I didn’t play in the water, at least you will have learnt something.
  • Check the book bag! This is crucial.  Schools can’t possibly phone every family to give them a daily update.  The easiest way to communicate is through letters in the book bag so go through it and you may find some gems in there including news about the next social event, parent’s meetings or information about school trips.
  • Give your child a huge hug and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Enjoy these first few days of school as they will be full of memories certainly for you and probably for your child too. Now take a deep breath, have a good cry as you remember your baby is all grown up and then go and enjoy the adventure that is school. And don’t forget, all the staff will have your child’s interests at heart. Most of all, they want your child to feel happy, safe and secure.  Not so different from you really…

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