If you have a child born between 1st September 2015 – 31st August 2016 then you (hopefully) have applied for their Primary School place. In just 6 short months your precious little baby will be starting their Education journey. If the thought of this in some way terrifies you then you are certainly not alone. For me the fear is mostly because I’m realising how quickly time is flying by and how much my eldest daughter has grown. The leap into starting school for her is exciting but for me marks the end of an era and although I am confident she will love it, I will be needing the tissues and a hug after that first drop off. Part of me is definitely in denial about how close it is!
Despite partly dreading September, and pretending it’s still years away, I feel lucky that I know what school will be like for her. I have worked in and seen lots of Reception classes and I understand how the start of school works; what the routines will be, what the expectations are and what she needs to know. But, I understand that this is not true for most of the population who will be dropping off their little ones in September and I know this sparks very understandable anxiety and worry for many.
Anticipation of the unknown is always difficult to manage. I would love to reassure you that their first day will be fab but to really know, you will have to wait until your little one skips back out of school from their first session and tells you all about it (which actually never happens, they say they have done nothing, but that’s a whole other blog!!) Because I’m a serial organiser, we always have a ‘plan’ in our household and I truly believe that ‘forewarned is forearmed.’ So I have been thinking more about the expectations of school and whether my little one will really be ready for what is expected of her in September. I’ve also been thinking about what I need to do to get ready. There is so much focus on getting children ready for school that I think parents are often forgotten in the whole process. Parent’s emotions have a sneaky way of flowing over into children’s own feelings and behaviour. We need to feel confident and as positive as possible in order to support our children and to get started on the best foot.
I think developing confidence often comes when you know what they are going to encounter at school and what the expectations are. Here are the top two elements to think about in the moments that you’re not pretending they’re still tiny toddlers!
Think about independence and giving your child opportunities which are similar to school. At school they will be expected to find their way around including finding belongings, make choices about what to play with and be able to do this without an adult and also do things like put their coat on, go to the toilet and eat their lunch independently.
There is lots of time to practise these things and you can do it in a fun way and reward independence: have dressing races, make treasure hunts for items to find, have picnics
To work on playing independently try to set up play situations which they can find and start by themselves. You could set up a tea party with teddies, lay out part of a train track to be completed or put playdough rolled out with toy animal footprints in to explore.
If children start playing alone they are likely to be able to continue, you can dip in and out and praise them for great independence. Try not to feel guilty about letting them get on alone, fostering their independence and getting used to not always being with them is good for both of you and you might even get an uninterrupted coffee if you’re lucky!
Think about how well you both can listen and I don’t just mean listen to music or stories. At school, your child will be expected to listen to these things but in a large group which can make concentrating more challenging. They will also be expected to listen to and follow instructions which involve more than one part for example ‘go to the toilet, wash your hands and line up by the door.’ This can be difficult for children and requires some practise for them to remember key parts. Many children will use other strategies when in school to help them, teaching them to ask an adult to repeat the instructions or following others’ lead can be really useful.
When you give instructions at home try asking them to repeat back to you the things you have asked. Maybe they could count on their fingers and then check at the end if everything has been done. Bedtimes or the dreaded ‘trying to get out of the house’ routines are great for practising these skills and also sending us parents running to the wine rack!
If your child really finds several instructions difficult try using pictures of the routine, just draw a quick picture of each thing in a line. For example getting up, having breakfast, putting on clothes, brushing teeth. It acts like a map so they can follow what to do next. You could keep key ones to use each day for regular routines.
Your listening skills will be really important when they start school too. These are more about tuning in to your child’s emotions than always listening to their words. Starting school is a hugely overwhelming experience even though it’s an exciting one and often children can’t communicate their feelings with words. They will need you to be in tune to offer hugs, chill out time, physical activity to run off frustrations or a trailer load of after school snacks!
We are passionate about supporting parents and children with everything relating to school. School readiness is a cause of anxiety and worry for many families and so we are launching some brilliantly fun and cleverly planned classes to dispel the fears and give families a window into a Reception class. Developing Independence and listening skills are a key part of the sessions. ‘’Ready Teddy Go’ classes for parents and children in Exeter focus on getting ready for school and start in April. Check out the website or find us on instagram or facebook for more information.