Sarah Gillam, Head at Maple Walk Prep School
Whilst many will be looking forward to a summer of more freedom and activities for their families the autumn term will bring a new routine as their children move to ‘big school.’
Unlike the sudden changes imposed by lockdown, one change that parents can prepare themselves and their children for is that of moving from nursery to ‘big school’ and, with it, the multitude of emotions from excitement to anxiety. Many children don’t understand these feelings and the associated discomfort can be reflected in withdrawn, mood swings, ‘testing’ behaviours or perhaps physical symptoms such as stomach cramps or headaches.
At Maple Walk, we have years of welcoming and teaching four-year-olds. This, combined with our flexibility and smaller classes ensures that all children, whatever their previous education experience, transition successfully and happily – a particular concern for parents this year with the impact of lockdown and whether their children will indeed be reception ready? These are our tips to ease the transition and help make the move a positive experience.
- Prepare yourself
According to a study a few years ago nearly half (48%) of parents were more anxious than their child about starting schools. This year, in particular, that figure could well be higher as we emerge out of lockdown. It’s important that you try to keep your anxiety from your children as 80% of parenting is modelling. If children see us concerned and unsure, they may also start to doubt. Remember, it’s not what they’ve learnt in the first 4 years, more that they are ready to learn in the years ahead.
Try to encourage your children to sleep 30 minutes earlier and remember the after school snack to keep children’s blood sugar levels on track that will help with any after school meltdowns! Don’t be hard on yourself, it is a landmark step for you too and if you feel anxious and tearful it’s normal!
- Talk with children to help them cope with feelings
Some children don’t speak about their feelings but parents can often guess when something isn’t right and need to address the underlying feelings. Don’t try to make it better. It is important children learn how to deal with these feelings and not be protected from them. Often, once expressed they are ready to focus on solutions.
For example, if they get upset when you leave them:
Keep practising what will happen when you/someone else leaves them at school
“ what is mummy/daddy/carer going to say when they drop you off?” and then “what are you going to say?”
Acknowledge the sadness if they have feelings of anxiety about being left “You might feel sad when I leave you and that makes you want to cry. You might be worried about what’s going to happen at school or you might be thinking you’ll be missing something at home”.
Involve them in solutions. “What could we do to help you feel less sad? Shall we have a special kind of good-bye kiss? Or a goodbye song? Would you like to take something of mine to keep with you? …What do you think?”
- Talk about your positive experiences of being a child at school. Mention friends, the activities you liked best, the games you played, and the teachers you remember fondly. Maybe find a photo of you when you were at school.
- Make opportunities to talk to ensure good communication. Sometimes these come up when you least expect it and they may not be at very convenient moments. Your child may open up at bedtime or something may come up as you’re trying to get them to school or the child minder. You can invite opportunities for conversation through reading books, playing fantasy games or doing an activity and wherever possible try and have chatty time before bath time so any worries and anxieties are not discussed just as the lights are going out!
Ultimately managing extreme emotions, such as frustration and disappointment, can be hard for young children and those that get angry and withdrawn easily may struggle to navigate normal classroom politics. By encouraging your child to talk about their feelings, it will help them understand, and therefore better manage, their emotions.
- Build up their confidence by preparing them for what to expect and familiarise them with the school by:
Visit, look at pictures or watch videos of the new school
Read books about starting school
Try your drive, cycle or walk during peak hours
Get the uniform well in advance and let them practice putting on their new uniform. Choose child friendly fastenings where possible on coats and shoes to encourage independence.
Teach them a morning routine and if they’ll be going to breakfast club, speak to staff about getting them settled.
Practise going to the toilet independently and all that entails – wiping their bottoms, washing their hands, etc. Give them lots of descriptive praise so that they can start school as this will be expected.
By repeating these daily tasks, not only will your child feel more confident but will know what is expected of them, making mornings less stressful.
- Basic Life Skills
Sharing is caring and so much more!
Encourage your child to share children need to learn to share so they can make and keep friends, play cooperatively, take turns, negotiate and cope with disappointment. Sharing teaches children about compromise and fairness; they learn that if we give a little to others, we can get some of what we want too!
Encourage your child to tidy up from an early age. Learning to put away their shoes neatly is as important as how they care for their toys and other precious possessions. This is particularly invaluable when 20 children are changing into PE kits in the same room as the Bermuda Triangle of school uniform. On that note, make sure you label everything and show your child where to check for their name, so that they can be reunited with stray socks.
To get the best out of school, and for their own safety, they will also need to follow instructions and to understand rules. It is therefore a good idea to discourage your children from interrupting other people’s conversations. Similarly, sitting still does not always come naturally to children and so family mealtimes are a good opportunity to practice many of these skills, including waiting their turn to talk and helping to tidy up afterwards.
When the big day arrives, be upbeat, don’t linger around the classroom door at drop off unless the School encourages you to and say a cheery goodbye. Even if your child cries, their tears are unlikely to last and teachers are masters of distraction with lots of fun activities. A quick reassuring phone call will be sent later in the day by the staff team if you child was particularly anxious.
With a little preparation the whole family will be reception ready, confidently starting this new exciting chapter ready to learn.
62 Crownhill Rd, London NW10 4EB