Ready, set, Grow! A guide to a smooth start to school

It’s a team effort getting ready for a new school year, as Yvonne Walus explains.

Transitioning your child from the Early Childhood Education (ECE) centre to primary school is a biggie. They have to leave their playmates and teachers behind, setting into a new routine, navigate a new environment with new rules and new features (like the school bell!). On top of that, they’re expected to learn new things and make academic progress. Each child will deal with it in their own way. Some might look forward to being a big boy or girl, others may experience anxiety, or not know what to make of the imminent change. ECE teachers are trained to help families through this tricky period, and they will make sure you all feel secure, confident and included in the process.

What can I do to best prepare my child for school?

To support the ECE’s work, start talking about the new school at home. Be enthusiastic: remind your child that they will get the opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills, become more independent, confident, and have heaps of fun along the way. If possible, visit the school so that your child gets an idea of how classrooms are run. Stay for the morning break to observe where children take their lunchboxes and what they do once they’ve eaten. Ask whether you could attend assembly of part of a sports day. If visits are not practical check out the school’s website or Facebook page for photos. Read lots of books about starting school to normalise the event and to make sense of the changes to come. It’ll also give you some time to answer any questions your child may have. Play “school”, and include props such as school bags, school books, uniforms, drink bottles. This will help familiarise your not-s0-little one with the process. You could even have a trial-run morning, where you do the morning routine (breakfast, teeth, uniform, lunch and bag check), and even walk or drive to school.

What could be the biggest change for my little student?

Perhaps the biggest difference between ECE and school is the number of things children are expected to do by themselves. Going to the toilet independently is an obvious one, but here are some of the things you might like to think about: can your child unbutton and button up their jeans, are they confident to use a toilet they’re not familiar with, will they remember to wash their hands, do they know not to pull down their knickers until the cubicle door is closed, are they able to lock and unlock the cubicle door? Teach your child to be lunchbox-smart: practice opening and closing the containers, discuss what to do with empty sandwich bags, and which food to eat for morning tea and what to leave for lunch (you may want to colour-code the food or mark it with stickers). Practice being responsible for your own possessions: sunhat, school bag, shoes.

Do children in Aotearoa have to start school at five years old?

The Education Act 1989 states that every child from the age of five has the right to go to their local school. Note that following the Education Amendment Act 2019, children may not start school before they turn five. Although many children start primary school on or soon after their 5th birthday, they don’t have to. The New Zealand Now website ( explains: “All children must be enrolled with a school or in home education by their sixth birthday. Once your child starts school they must go to school every day unless they have permission not to, for example because they are unwell.” Your ECE centre will be able to offer advice about your child’s level of school readiness.

I’m anxious! How can I prepare myself?

Your preschooler is not the only one saying goodbye to familiar surroundings: you will be, too. During your child’s time in ECE, you will have formed relationships with teachers and fellow parents. Now it’s time to give it all up for the big unknown, and you might wonder how your child will cope and if they will be happy there. It’s an exciting time, a milestone to celebrate, but it can also be a stressful and scary time. Remember to look after your emotional wellbeing, perhaps taking some time off work to regroup, or planning something special to look forward to on the weekend. The good news is that you and your child will soon become part of the school community. You could join the PTA, or run for the Board of Trustees. Give yourself ample time before and after school to meet the new teacher and to speak to other parents. Say yes to playdates and make a point of hosting them at your house regularly.

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