5 strategies to ensure your little one is ready to start school and thrive!
There’s no doubt about it! Starting school comes with a whole host of feelings at the best of times, excitement, curiosity and maybe a little bit of worry – for us and our little ones! Add to that the fact that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and it’s fair to say that these feelings may well be heightened!
In order to help you best support your little one as they prepare to start school, we’ve prepared our top 5 tips to help your child to thrive through this transition.
Even if your child seems ‘OK’ with the idea of starting school, it is super important to create some time and space to ease out their feelings about it – whatever these may be! You may have a child who talks about their feelings naturally which is wonderful. If your little one needs a little bit of prompting here, which is totally normal, here are some tips to help them:
- Role play – sometimes children find it easier to talk about how they feel when role-playing – you can use lego figures or any other characters to help here. Simply set up a scene which is ‘the first day of school’ and assign roles to different characters for e.g. A parent or carer, a teacher and a child. Then, you can ask your child how they think each ‘character’ is feeling as they go into school for that first day.
- A dedicated space and time – It can also help to ensure that when you are asking your child about how they feel, there are no distractions. Life is busy, but if you can dedicate some calm time to this conversation your child will likely open up far more than if you’re both distracted by other things.
- Motion Releases Emotion! – If your child is reluctant to share their feelings, you might want to try going for a walk or bike ride and having the conversation as they are moving – this works wonders for some children!
Remember that the aim here is to talk about feelings that they have, not to plant worries or fears. So, if they seem absolutely fine about the return don’t feel the need to labour this!
Routines are a big part of the change that happens when your child starts school. Even if they’ve been in a structured environment like a nursery or pre-school, their routine definitely go up a gear when they start school. One of the ways in which you can really support your little one through the transition is to prepare them for this new routine by helping them to understand it and then practice it! This helps to remove the fear of the unknown which is often the source of worry.
In order to help them understand the routine, there’s some really simple things you can do. We recommend starting by explaining the structure of the day – what time is lunch? Who will pick them up and take them to school etc?
Your child will really benefit from experiencing some of the new things about their routine before they start school as this will really help them to familiarise themselves with each element of their day. Here are some tips on how you can practice different stages of their day.
- Practice the school run, whether this is a walk or a drive, do it a few times with them so they know the route.
- Practice putting on their school uniform so they know what mornings will look like
- Have a look at the school website to familiarise them with their teacher’s picture and perhaps look at some of the photos of the fun activities that they’ll be doing.
- Will they can be having a packed lunch or school lunches? If they are taking their own lunch you could have a practice run and get them involved in choosing what they’d like – why not make it a fun picnic! If they are having school lunches you can usually find the menu on the school website – maybe make one of the lunches at home.
It is also worth your child understanding what their school is doing in order to support ‘back to school’ in the context of the pandemic. Here are some questions you can ask your school to help here:
· Will all staff be wearing Personal Protective Equipment? If so – what type?
· What will happen at playtime?
· Will children need to socially distance at all times?
· How often will they be asked to wash their hands?
Explain that things may look different to normal but that this is all designed to keep them safe as this will help them to understand that they are safe and cared for when at school.
Finally, we’ve all been following a slightly different routine over the last few months and it can be really helpful to start to get back into some more structure at home before your little one starts school. Whether that is having a set bedtime, lunchtime or maybe even introducing a set time for structured activities. Getting your little one (and yourself!) back into a regular routine will really help them to adjust when back to school comes around!
- Get them Excited!
As well as preparing your child for the ‘new normal’ by helping them to get used to some of their new routines, it’s really important to get them excited! Helping them to feel positive and excited about starting school will really help to dissolve any feelings of worry that they may have.
To help, here are some things that you can do:
- Take some time to research the EYFS curriculum so you can talk to them about some to the things that they’ll be learning – there are lots of free resources online to help here. Pick out the topics that you know they’ll really enjoy.
- Play school! This is a great way to role-play things like lessons and playtime and they’ll love it.
- Talk to them about your favourite memories of starting school and maybe even pull out some old pictures of your first day!
- Really involve them in things like buying their uniform and planning their packed lunches. Make a day of this and take them to their favourite park afterwards.
- Use the school website as a resource to show them what they’ll be getting up to in school and familiarise them with the school grounds.
Ensuring you are helping them to feel excited and positive about returning will help your little one to associate starting school with being a positive experience.
4. The Why
It can be really easy to get so focussed on the WHAT will happen when they start school that we can forget to explain the WHY!
Helping your child to understand exactly why things work the way they do at school and why they have to follow certain rules is a really important part of helping them to adjust to their new normal.
Explaining to your child why they need to go to school in the first place is a key step here. This may seem obvious but the language we use around this will have a big impact on the extent to which they embrace this change. Focussing on the positive aspects of school life, like the fact that they’ll make friends, learn to read and write etc rather than saying things like, ‘you need to go to school so Mummy can work’ or ‘everyone goes to school’ is critical in helping them to embrace starting school.
It’s also important to explain the ‘why’ around those parts of school life that may be different as a result of the pandemic. Explaining what Coronavirus is and why we need to protect ourselves by for example keeping a social distance or teachers wearing PPE, can really help your child to understand and so comply with the new rules.
By talking to your little one about how they can stay safe at school for example by washing their hands before and after eating, you are reassuring them that the school or nursery are totally focussed on their safety.
This free guide (which includes a fun experiment!) may help you to have a simple but powerful conversation around Coronavirus and I would encourage you to use it as you work through this step.
Of course, we don’t want to worry them as we have this conversation, but it is important that they understand why things are different and why the precautions are in place.
5. Be Kind to Yourself
We have all been through a rollercoaster of emotions as parents and carers over the last few months. Whether that has been job uncertainty, health concerns or just the feelings of fear and worry that this pandemic has brought. Returning to some ‘new normal’ therefore will come with a variety of emotions for us all. Maybe you’re not sure about sending your little one back into a school? Maybe you are looking forward to getting some routine back?
Wherever you are on this, it is important to talk about your emotions with a partner or friend too. The thing to remember is that however you are feeling – it is OK. There is no such thing as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ feelings when it comes to your little one starting school. Acknowledging that and taking the time to look after yourself is super important.
Self care is healthcare! Looking after you and taking time for you is not selfish – it is critical to enable you to be the awesome parent or carer that you are.
Children pick up on lots of little clues about how we as parents or carers are feeling – and they use this information to inform how they should be feeling. If we look worried, they pick up on this and start worrying too!
I hope these tips provide you with some useful and practical advice on how to make sure your little one starts school with a smile on their face! All of the team at myHappymind send you our very best wishes.
Founder, myhappymind.org. Author.