Parents with a child starting school in September will doubtless be feeling a sense of excitement coupled with a tinge of nerves and even sadness at the end of an era – an era when the parent was the absolute centre of their child’s world. The first day of school is undoubtedly a key rite of passage.
This is the start of a new adventure: playing and interacting with new friends, sharing, taking turns and settling into a new routine.
But of course, this is not the start of your child’s education which began at at birth, since when you will have been your child’s most influential teachers. During this time at home your child will have learnt more than at any other period in his or her life.
As the big “first day” approaches, I have some recommendations for parents.
- Make trips past the school – discuss with your child how they will go into school (with a friend or with you or maybe by themselves?)
- Mention the teachers by name
- Have playdates in the holidays with another new starter and potentially making an arrangement to come in together on the first day of term
- Try on the uniform – always exciting (and then label everything!)
- Read stories relating to starting school
- Encourage independence in dressing/undressing, hanging up clothes, putting on/taking off shoes as well as in using the bathroom, and washing/drying hands
Being good at such skills at this stage is far more important than knowing letters or numbers or being able to read. I would also encourage parents to take on board the value of “chatter” with your child – share a book or talk over the breakfast table. This naturally enriches vocabulary and gives your child important opportunities to ask and explore meaningful questions.
During your child’s first year in school, much time will be spent in learning to read and he or she needs to know that this is fun and worthwhile.
Your child will naturally copy you so it is important that you are seen reading and enjoying books, newspapers and magazines rather than just engrossed in screens. Make reading fun – cuddle up together, enjoy a book together, talk about the pictures, ask questions and involve your child.
Common concerns of children before starting school often centre on food and going to the loo. Reassure your child that they will be able to use the bathroom whenever they wish and prepare yourself that your child might have eaten very little for lunch – you should have a large snack to hand when they leave school.
Starting school is usually an exhausting business — emotionally, physically, socially and mentally. Your child will be spending every moment trying their hardest to fit into a new environment.
Don’t be surprised if they come home feeling very tired and reluctant to talk about their day. This is not the time for playdates and organised after school activities – feeding the ducks is far more valuable followed by a meal, a bath, a cuddle, a story and, above all an early bedtime.
If you are lucky enough to have reports of school, take any negatives with a pinch of salt. But check things out, however trivial they may seem, with a teacher, so that you can be reassured. Never let things fester.
Ultimately, an excellent education should be a complementary partnership between parents and teachers. A child’s year splits fairly neatly into thirds: a third at school, a third asleep and a third awake at home or on holiday.
Irrespective of the quality of a school, a child’s home life is of key importance; it is the critical determinant of their academic success. Your child may have started on a new journey but your work is far from finished.
Experience shows us that the most successful pupils (in all senses)…
- Have the most sleep
- Have genuine free time
- Have the least ‘screen time’
- Do not have tutors
- Experience play at home – building LEGO spaceships, cutting, gluing and sticking, baking etc.
- Are encouraged always to think for themselves
- Are not waited on hand and foot
Anita Griggs is headmistress of Falkner House, a preparatory school in London