I’ve been asked to make a presentation about transitioning children from their pre-school lives into starting ‘big school’ – Prep – the commencement of their long, long journey of education.
While I don’t think I’m an expert at this topic, I do have a few credentials.
I have sent my own two children off to Prep in the past two years.
I have been a teacher on ‘day 1’ (back in the day when Year 1 was the first all-day, five days a week experience for little people)
I have lived, breathed and sworn by the book ‘How to talk so kids listen’ for the last four years, and this has helped me deal with all children in all situations – full stop.
So, my first point. If I have learnt anything about sending kids to school via my own children, it’s that ALL CHILDREN ARE DIFFERENT. For starters, Master 7 was chronologically older than most of the kids in his class (being an August baby) and therefore seemed to get an extra year of learning, playing, exploring and socialising. Madam 5 was only 4 when she started and while she was happy and enthusiastic, that lack of ‘extra’ time seemed to shine through. I learnt not to put an expectation on number 2, just because number 1 had that experience. The teacher pointed this out very early in the year – ‘she is not like her brother’. On the bright side it’s been a lovely new experience this year, not just ‘another’ year of Prep but an exciting new journey.
Next, I realised parents get VERY excited about their kids going to school. Me included. We talk about ‘big school’, eating lunch, sitting on the carpet, making new friends, learning new things, going to the toilet and solving our problems. It all comes from a place of love and support but this can be completely overwhelming for some children. We don’t want to overload these poor little creatures before they step in the door!
This is where I put on my ‘How to talk so kids listen’ hat – as hard as it may be, BEFORE children go to school try not to paint a picture of school for them. Let them experience it for themselves. IF they ask questions or show concerns then acknowledge what they are saying ‘Oh, you’re really thinking about what you’ll do at playtime’ or ‘It can be worrying starting somewhere new’ – but let them lead the conversation, don’t paint the picture for them.
Now, Day 1. I’m putting on my teacher hat this time. Don’t linger. It’s perfectly ok to come in, make sure they are settled, take photos, give cuddles (it’s totally exciting!) but when the bell goes – simply say ‘Bye! I’ll see you this afternoon’. 99.99% of times if they are upset – they are completely fine five minutes after you go! If it’s a traumatic separation you can acknowledge their feelings by saying ‘I can see you are feeling worried’ or ‘I know you don’t want to say good-bye’ but follow it up with ‘but it’s time for school to start and Mummy/Daddy needs to go’ – and don’t look back. I know – it’s harsh! But by acknowledging their feelings they will know you care and by giving information about the day (that you have to go) helps them understand how things are going to roll.
Later that day, in the blink of an eye it’s home time (and let me just say you fantasise about ALL this free time you will have when they go to school – it SO doesn’t happen). You want to know everything about their day – right? Who did they play with? What was their teacher like? Did you make a new friend? Did you eat your lunch? This is me!! And for Master 7, he obligingly answered every question and even gave more! But Madam 5 – no deal! The problem with all these questions is that it can put pressure on kids and they might not even be able to process their ideas and reflections at that time. So again, as hard as it might be, a big smile and ‘HELLO! Great to see you’ can relax children and give them time to process their day and what they wish to share. Sometimes as I’m tucking Madam 5 into bed she remembers a fantastic science experiment she did that day and enjoys sharing it with me – on her terms.
In a nutshell, we can help prepare our kids for the start of school by letting them lead discussions about it and paint their own picture about what it will be like. Acknowledge their feelings without putting our own judgement on their thoughts. Be strong on Day 1 at drop off time and try not to bombard them with questions at pick up time.
Now repeat this for 13 more years! Each year will be different – let’s give our kids the power to shape it for themselves.