Even though Naftali, my eldest son, was a November baby and would be one of the older ones in his school year, we were still very concerned about how he would feel when he started in Reception. How would he react to the new place and people?
We put lots of thought into planning his move to school, and his lovely childminders and nursery carers were absolutely brilliant in making him the happy schoolchild he is now.
Developing independence at nursery
Naftali attended a local nursery from the age of 2 for several hours each morning and always thoroughly enjoyed it. Our nursery workers gave regular fun and stimulating activities for us to complete together with Naftali at home. These activities helped him get ready for the homework that he received in Reception.
The nursery staff also helped the children to become more independent, for example, by letting the parents say “goodbye” at the door, rather than helping them with their coats and nursery bags before they went into their classroom.
Moving up to pre-school
We debated moving him to pre-school the year before he started infant school and even though he was so happy at his nursery (and it was considerably further to drive), we eventually decided to move him to prepare for Reception.
This worked out well, as the pre-school was on the same site as his future school. His group occasionally visited the Reception classroom so he became more familiar with the building, teachers and pupils.
Reception was more structured and a longer day, but it was an incremental change with familiar friends as opposed to a drastic change of people and surroundings.
Children enjoy structure; they enjoy familiar settings, routines, purpose and friends. The best way to manage the emotional transition from a childcare setting to school is preparation.
How would you prepare for a trek across the Amazon or moving to Hong Kong? You would research the destination, the requirements, the local customs, and find people going through a similar experience or someone who has been there before. It seems logical to apply the same approach to children, and as they say in the scouts, “Be prepared”.
In most cases, childminders and nursery staff will support potty training, which is an important part of being physically independent.
They are likely to be highly experienced in dealing with other developmental scenarios and may have some recommendations and best practice advice.
Planning for the first day
The first day of school for a child and parent is one of those monumental life experiences that you will probably always remember. Each experience is different and depends on so many factors: are they young or old in their year? Are they a natural extrovert or introvert? Do they have older brothers or sisters in the school?
Parents and childminders play a key role in how the child perceives this challenge and can help prepare them for the road ahead. Talking about feelings is one of the best ways to disperse anxiety. Compliments also help: there is nothing more appealing to a child than being told you are so big that you have to go to big school with all those other big girls and boys.
Another great way to prepare children for school is to build up their friendship networks.
I set up play-dates for Naftali with other children who would be attending the school later in the year. On his first day in Reception, he wasn’t on his own – he was greeted by some familiar faces and that made a big difference to his confidence.
Some schools have buddy systems too, where older children befriend the Reception kids.
If preparation in advance of the big day is proving especially difficult, short-term rewards may bridge the gap. Lavishing praise and giving gifts before and after the first day may help your cause. This was what I tried to do, though I think that the compliments are more effective than the presents in most cases.
The first few weeks: what parents can do
Once school has started, the first few weeks are critical in ensuring your child is adjusting to the environment well. Ask simple questions like: “Did you have fun today?” “Who did you play with?”
This helps you understand how they are coping. You can always keep a record, so that you can review the transition and spot if you think the child is feeling overwhelmed.
Starting at a new school gives you lots to talk about with your child, and it can be a real bonding experience.
This not only helps develop your relationship, but also helps you to spot anything that you may feel is wrong. If you have your doubts, simply ask the teacher. If you are unsatisfied with the answer and feel something is amiss, speak to them again. Much as teachers are wonderful at helping kids through school, you know your child best.
About the author
Esther Radnor is the Director of Mum Plus Business, which is dedicated to helping mothers develop flexible careers. The website offers start-up resources and a job board supporting flexible work opportunities. For more information, visit Mumplusbusiness.