Five ways to help your child make the transition into school life

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto 

A child's first experience at school is an exciting and sometimes challenging time for parents.

There's the new routine to get used to, the hope your child will adjust well to their new environment, and the heightened emotion or separation anxiety that can come with your child walking through the school gates for the first time.

It's important to remember that children are very sensitive to how their parents are feeling, so if you are worried or uncertain about how to support your child's transition from day care or home to school, here a few ideas to help. 

1. Do your homework

The more you know you about what your child's first few days will involve, the better equipped you'll be to guide them through this new experience.

Your child will undoubtedly have questions in the lead-up, so being able to confidently explain what lies in store for them can be an effective way of helping ease any apprehension that they (and you for that matter) may be feeling.

Check the school's website for orientation information, such as how long the school day will be at first, if there's a buddy system in place and where at the school your child should be dropped off.

Have some questions ready for when you meet the teacher. For instance, find out about the things your child will need to do on their own, like going to the bathroom or tying their shoelace. You might also want to know about their approach to helping a child settle if they're feeling upset or lonely on the first day.

2. Prepare with your child

Including your child in the preparation can add to your child's excitement and positive feelings about school life. Shopping together for things like their school bag, pencil case, lunch box and water bottle is a fun idea.

When choosing these items, make sure your child can easily open and close them before buying them, this way you'll know that they can easily manage them on their own while at school.

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You might also like to include your child in deciding what they would like in their lunch box for the first week.

3. Try some dress rehearsals

Encouraging your child to practice tying up their own shoe laces and find items in their school bag in the lead up to the big day can help ensure that they will be self-sufficient and comfortable doing these things independently.

This will help reduce any challenges that may unsettle or frustrate them when they're at school. Another helpful idea is to drive or walk past the school so they're visually familiar with it.

Role-playing games about school can give you a chance to teach your child about how to manage likely scenarios they'll encounter in the classroom or playground.

This might take the form of you letting your child be the teacher, and you the student, so through you they can see the kinds of things students should and shouldn't do. Like how and when to ask the teacher for help, or how they can introduce themselves to a classmate. Write your ideas or paste pictures on a large piece of paper and put it on the wall at home. Review and add to the ideas poster in the lead up to the day.

4. Don't rush the learning process during the first days and week

Your child has been learning all their life, so don't worry too much about the speed at which they are learning in the classroom. Children pick things up at their own pace. They will learn by engaging with their whole environment over time – seeing, feeling, singing, dancing and clapping their way through the day. 

At school they will have the chance to learn through visuals (smart boards, books, posters, video clips), movement (sport), audio (listening, repeating, singing), and with their peers.

After school, ask them specific questions about their day.  Questions like "what did you do today?" can be too broad.  Instead, ask "What stories did you listen to today? What numbers did you write? What games did you play at lunch time?"

This will help keep you "in the loop", lets your child know that you're interested and is another way to keep connected to each other.

5. Ensure they get enough downtime

The first days and weeks at school will be consuming for your child, so ensure you create time for them to relax, unwind and get decent sleep.  Be prepared for the emotions that may come with this new and exciting transition. 

Any change can make our feelings wobbly, so keep to routines, and perhaps hold off on introducing new weekend activities until they've adjusted to school life. 

Take time to slow down and hang out.

Leith Sterling is the Executive Director of The Benevolent Society and Co-Chair of the Every Child national advocacy campaign