Starting school is a crucial stage in any child’s development. At the best of times, it can be a daunting prospect for our little ones, but given the last 18 months has been a completely unprecedented and unsettling time for everyone, this year could be particularly tricky! I know as a parent myself that I’m starting to feel the anxiety creeping in too.
I’m currently experiencing this with my own daughter, who will be starting reception this September. Normally a confident and outgoing little thing, she is in complete denial that she will be leaving the safety of her beloved nursery class and making that huge leap into reception.
This has been where the inspiration for my new book, ‘Mystic Bunny Boy Steps Out Of Time’ came from. The story is about ‘first day of school nerves’ and includes a simple calming technique that children can easily learn and apply to any situation that makes them feel anxious. I’ve been practising this with my little one, subtly giving her the tools to help calm her and prepare her in the best way I know how.
I thought it would be helpful to share some additional tips of the things I’m doing with my own daughter, alongside reading her the book, to make sure starting school is the exciting adventure it should be!
Visualising with your child what school will actually be like is a great place to start. Lots of schools offer a settling in sessions, so it’s a good idea to take your child then talk afterwards about the experience – it will give them a good sense of what might happen on their first day. I know this may not be possible at the moment due to social distancing, but if you can it’s really important to attend these so your child can meet the teachers, make friends and get a feel for the place.
Talk about the journey to school and what they will need to remember to pack in their school bag. The more a child talks about the whole experience of being at school the more they will have practised it in their minds, and the more confident they will feel.
Making new friends can often be a huge challenge. It’s good to remind your child that others may also be feeling a bit unsure and so saying hello, smiling and asking another child if they want to play is a good place to start. Over the summer holidays, why not try to create opportunities to practise this in the park, or when going to summer social activities. It is also a great idea to connect with local community groups and find other families in the same situation that you meet up with to make sure your little one has a friendly face on their first few days.
Establish good routines
Creating good habits during the holidays will really help. It’s also a nice idea to have a calendar that gives your child a visual reminder of how many weeks/days are left before they start school. A good night time routine is a great example: bedtime routines that include a chat about the day will help your child develop a way of reflecting on the day – which will be an important tool for both of you once they start school.
get things ready
Help your child to make a list of the things they will need for school – you can even make a game of finding some of them around the house. Then, plan a shopping trip to buy everything. Remember, labelling clothing and equipment will also help children feel that they know what belongs to them, and will help them feel organised.
walk the walk
Get your child familiar with the morning routine and journey. Get up and ready, and ‘practise’ going to school, talking to them about what they can see along the way. You can turn this into a game, perhaps making a map and getting your child to draw/find certain landmarks along the way.
All of this preparation will help your child feel confident in the run up to their first day, and will help them feel that this new experience is one that they can manage and enjoy.