Hannah Davison, author os the My Big Moments book, ‘Ready For School‘, hears from experts for practical ideas to help your child start school feeling happy.
We often ask kids if they’re ‘excited about starting school’, but, unless they’re familiar with the concept of school from having an older sibling, they may not know how to answer, or how they should feel about it.
“It can be overwhelming because everyone makes such a big deal about turning five and starting school,” says Abby Linn, Registered Play Therapist at Creative Coping (creativecoping.co.nz). “It can actually cause anxiety for children. If your child brings up school and asks questions, then that’s your opportunity to talk about it.”
Is your child ready for school?
Turning five doesn’t mean that a child is necessarily ready to start school and enter a more structured classroom environment. In New Zealand, parents have the choice of starting their child at school any time between the ages of five and six. Determining the best time to start may be a decision that parents come to on their own, or by talking to their child’s preschool teacher and prospective new entrant teacher.
Mind & matter
Kylee Habgood, Assistant Principal at Amuri Area School, says it’s practical skills that serve school starters best. “Writing and recognising their name is helpful, butnot essential,” she says. “If your child turns up keen and interested, then they’re ready. They’ll pick the rest up really quickly.”
There is now greater emphasis on a child’s sense of wellbeing as an indication of how they’ll adapt to their new environment. Children who first need to overcome feelings of anxiety are neurologically less able to take on new learning and information.
Parents can help children build confidence by fostering their independence around some of their ‘big kid’ abilities, making their daily life at school much easier.
“If your child can manage those little things like putting their shoes on and getting themselves to the toilet, it goes an awfully long way,” says Kylee.
Developing greater self-sufficiency around getting dressed, putting on shoes, packing their bag, being able to open everything in their lunchbox, looking after their belongings, and getting themselves to the toilet helps as they enter an environment where they are expected to do more things for themselves.
Abby Linn recommends involving kids in the preparation process by letting them choose their school bag, lunch box, drink bottle, name labels and book covers. Allowing children to take the lead on decisions that help them prepare for going to school, gives them a greater sense of ownership and control over the changes that are coming. Starting school becomes something they then feel part of, rather than something that’s happening to them.
Practising dialogue at home with kids is a good way to build their confidence in reaching out to their peers and making friends. Through role-play, you can teach them words and phrases they can use to invite someone to play, sit with them at lunch or ask for help when they need it.
Abby points out that children may not yet have the vocabulary they need to communicate new and unfamiliar issues that may arise. She reminds us to keep an eye out
for non-verbal cues, indicating something is creating anxiety, and helping them name the feelings they’re experiencing to build their language tools.
“It’s about reading what your child’s not saying and acknowledging that it’s new and it can be overwhelming, then putting a plan in place so that they don’t have to feel worried,” says Abby. “They might be fussing over their shoes, uniform or hair, or not wanting to get in the car. It’s not necessarily about those things, it’s about what the next step is after that.”
Abby recommends parents celebrate the effort and curiosity a child puts towards their learning rather than being concerned with outcomes and results.
“It’s really important not to put our own views and perceptions on what’s good or bad, or what’s expected, or what’s not. It’s about encouraging the learner and the trier in your child,” says Abby.
Hannah Davison is the author and co-founder of award-winning children’s book initiative, My Big Moments. The personalised books start at $19.99 and cover topics like school, resilience, a new sibling, grief, and going to hospital.