Monday, 1 December 2014

A Teacher's Rough Guide to Starting Big School

Dear Parents, 

Do not worry. Do not panic. It is all going to be OK.

With love and care from


Photo credit, Isaac Boateng 

Part of my reality has been my short stint as a Kindergarten teacher in Sydney. Many parents are understandably anxious and excited about their first child starting school. Here I share some advice from my perspective as a Kindy teacher.  

Note: I am going to preface this post with an emphasis on the word ROUGH in the title. Although I very much hope that this article will give you helpful information, I want to acknowledge how very individual the process of starting Kindergarten is for each child. It is so important that you listen to the advice of those who know your child best, the school you are going to attend and the preschool/care situation your child has been in up until now. Schools can have very different expectations of what a child will need to be able to do, can cope with and have achieved by the time they begin school. The points below are based on MY experience as a Kindy teacher. 

So. What are some of THE most important points you need to know as a parent sending their first child to school?

1. Your child does not need to know how to read or write to be 'ready' for school. We are the teachers. That's why your child is there. We are more than happy to do our job by teaching your child these things.

2. The most important skills your child needs before starting school are social and emotional based, not academic. How your child will cope away from you, cooperating with other children and how they handle the routine and discipline of the classroom is a greater factor in determining school readiness than any academic ability.

3. The teacher is on your side and wants to get to know you and your child. Unfortunately, many parents have negative experiences with the teachers of their children. I have always tried to be open and ready to communicate with my class parents. You are an invaluable source of information for us. We need you to do our job to the best of our ability and we care about your child very much. Approach the teacher with important information and concerns. Schools often have their own systems for communication. Use them! Note: Just be wise in your timing. A side chat isn't suitable whilst the teacher is supervising students. Try not to think your concern is too petty for the teacher. You often hear/see/pick up on things we don't always see straight away. 

4. If something is wrong we will contact you. In other words, usually no news is good news! If your child is not performing at the level we would want them to, we will definitely chat to you. If you hear nothing, assume your child is doing what the average Kindergarten child should be doing. (Unless your instinct is alerting you to a problem, then see point three.)

5. DON'T start multiple extra curricula activities at the same time as starting school. Unless your child is already in the rhythm of piano lessons or tennis, do not choose the first year of school to start a new extra curricula activity. Children are exhausted by the change big school brings to their routine and need a lot of sleep (and often food) in that first year. You will find you might even need to set an earlier bed time. Time outside of school is best spent playing, spending time doing family activities and resting (and possibly doing the small amount of reading and homework that has been set). I often come to parents with concerns about their child's progress only to find that their lack of concentration and irritability coincides with the child starting other activities and becoming over stretched. Save the new instrument, sport, dancing, drama classes etc for year one!

6. Read, read, read! If you haven't already incorporated reading into your regular family routine, start now. It is one of the BEST pursuits you can do at home to support your child's learning and motivation to become a long-time learner. 

7. Make sure your child can look after themselves and their belongings. This is part of being socially and emotionally ready for school. Practically, your child needs to be able to look after and use their school bag, lunch box (and know what is recess and what is lunch/how to unclip the lid etc), go to the toilet independently (including using urinals and locks) and organise their belongings such as hats, jackets, pencils and library bag. Yes, they are young and may have a little difficulty with these things, which is understandable at first, but they do need to be close to having these skills down pat. And SO IMPORTANT: label everything! (Even socks)

8. Be positive and open. Research has actually shown that THE highest contributing factor to a child's success in school is their parents' attitude towards schooling and education. The quality of the teacher, resources, the school, even the child's own motivation all come under this. Be positive about school. Demonstrate enthusiasm, show interest and be willing to get involved (if you can!). This is also an amazing time to connect with other families at the same stage as you. You can possibly make new life long friends. Be open to new connections and the new community you are a part of at the school.  

9. It's OK to be emotional. But don't be anxious. It's a huge day and a huge change. You will probably cry. And that's OK. Try not to worry about starting school. Anxious parents can create overly anxious children who struggle with the transition into schooling. Attend school orientations. If you are still concerned, speak to the teachers and, if needed,  request extra visits to get to know the school and classroom. It is a great idea to meet up with fellow Kindy families the holidays before starting school so there are multiple familiar faces on day one.  

10. Talk, talk, talk about school. It is a great idea to talk to your child about school well before they start. If they have been to preschool ask them what they think will be different about big school. Talk to them about how they might approach new friends, what to do in difficult situations and where they can go for help. Talk about using the toilets during break (even if they don't have to go right now!), drinking water and looking after their things. Talk about what they might learn about and anything else the school has outlined for you. 

And just a few other points:
  • It does help if your child can write their own name
  • Children may learn their colours and basic counting before starting school
  • Organise uniforms well before school starts (and Winter uniform well before second term starts)
  • Buy another hat
  • Include your child in the food prep/lunch packing process if you have a fussy eater
  • Enjoy nursery rhymes and songs together often as this helps get their brain ready for learning sounds and the process of reading
  • Expect it to take terms, rather than weeks, for your child to settle in and find friends
  • Be organised yourself: check their bag for notes, write down important dates from the calendar and try not to forget sport, library, excursion or mufti days
  • Pack a spare pair on undies and socks. Even the most well trained kids can have an accident.

Thanks to the wonderful ladies on the Hills District Mums Facebook group who helped with some of the extra ideas. 

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