Margaret Roc is a North Shore Mum (and soon-to-be Grand-mum) from Turramurra, a local teacher, librarian and author of ‘Jellybean Goes To School’. With years of experience helping children start school, she has compiled a list of her top tips to help mums to prepare their child for starting kindergarten next year.
We all get anxious and a little nervous when we go or do anything new, so it is not surprising that our children starting pre-school, school, a new class, or changing schools, feel like that too. And it is not just the littlies that feel uncertain, but first time parents too.
As a local teacher, librarian and children’s author, I have taught hundreds of new pupils facing those early days at school and describing their feelings and experiences. This led me to write my latest picture book ‘Jellybean Goes To School’ to reassure little ones starting school.
Like Jellybean in my book, some children are excited and eager to start school and some are reticent and shy. But even the most confident child can be overcome by anxiety on that first day so it is important that you acknowledge this and explain to your child that it is perfectly normal to feel nervous and other children feel like that too.
If your child has attended pre-school they will be well prepared for school and already familiar with a ‘school-like’ setting, routines and being left in care so separation anxiety may not be such an issue.
To help your child adjust to starting school, there are a number of things you can do to reassure your children and yourself.
1. Prepare them for ‘separation’ from an early age
You can help prepare your child for this challenge from when they are very young. You start leaving them for short periods of time in care of those they are familiar with such as grandparents, friends and neighbours. You can build up confidence in your child by using the same language and routine each time you leave them. For example, one mum told me she had a little phrase she repeated with a special routine. It went something like this:
“Bye sweetheart.” Kiss and cuddle (action). “You’ll have a lovely time. I will pick you up at ___ (e.g. after lunch). “Kiss, kiss, double kiss I’ll be back before I’m missed.” (throwing kisses and a special wave as she left).
You can make up your own phrase and routine to suit yourself and your child. Teach your child to mirror your words and actions back as part of the routine (e.g. “Kiss, kiss, double kiss you’ll be back before you’re missed”) and remind them you always come back. Be patient and consistent, but be firm. Once you tell your child you are leaving and that you will return, don’t dilly, dally, go.
2. Participate in school orientation visits
These help your child become familiar with their new surroundings in the big school. However, as these may have occurred at the end of the previous year long before school starts, it is important that you keep talking about the orientation visits and school.
3. Talk about and get your child excited about going to school
Ask your child to recollect their visit to the school and talk about the teacher, the classroom and their classmates and how they felt. Discuss the things they did in the classroom and what they liked most. Tell them about the things they will learn about and the friends they will make. Encourage your child to draw pictures about their experiences and tell you about them.
4. Make friends with other mothers with children starting the same school
This may be from pre-school or a play-group or the school may be able to put you in touch with other mothers who have children starting in the same class. Arrange meetings in the park or have them over to play and get to know each other.
5. Make buying things for school fun
Make the buying of the school uniform, bag and books etc as much fun as possible. Get them excited with trial “dress ups” to get used to putting on and wearing the uniform.
6. Practice packing their bag
Pack the bag together and get them to practise packing it and zipping it up by themselves. The teacher won’t always be at their side to help them do this in the afternoon before home time. Attach a very distinctive coloured ribbon or toy to the handle and show them how to recognise their bag easily. Get them to practise putting it on and off their shoulders and putting it away in a special place each time.
7. Teach them to tie their shoe laces
By demonstrating, practising, encouraging and rewarding their effort at every stage of trying. This task can be difficult for young children but like all skills, practise makes perfect, if done in a warm supportive environment. If your child is having particular difficulty you may consider Velcro shoes until they have developed their coordination skills.
8. Have a ‘Pretend’ School Day
Before school starts have a “pretend” school day, (perhaps with another mum whose child is starting school), where you get your child up, dressed in school clothes, pack their school bag, have breakfast and go to school. If the school is open for the older students, walk your child to the new classroom. Be up-beat and enthusiastic. Then have a fun picnic in the park with the packed “lunch”.
9. Eating from their School Lunch Box
Get your child used to eating the kind of food you will be packing in their lunch box. Practise getting the lunch box out of the school bag and eating morning tea and lunch from their “school lunch box”. Get them used to opening and closing securely their drink bottle so it doesn’t leak in their bag. Teach them to put their left-overs into the lunch box and pack it back into their school bag. Remember they a little people. They will not be able to pack BIG lunch boxes, drink bottles and pencil cases into their bags with all their other things e.g. library bag, school books, raincoat, etc and zip them up. Medium or smaller sized everything is the key for them fitting things in their bags.
10. Label Everything
Make sure everything they take to school is clearly labelled and secured with their name.
‘Jellybean Goes to School‘ provides a useful avenue to introduce and discuss starting school with your little girl or boy. Jellybean is keen and excited to go to school and learn to read and write and find out about the marvellous things in the world and best of all, to make friends. But when she gets there she finds the school so very big and the playground so very noisy she wants to go home with her mum. With reassurance and encouragement from her mum and her kind teacher, Miss Benson, she meets a new friend, Alex, and together they discover school can be a wonderful, magical place as they participate in the activities during their first day at school.
Jellybean Activity sheets: There are 15 activity sheets for use by teachers and parents that enrich the story and provide discussion points for many aspects of the Unit “School” taught in term 1 in most school systems. These will be available to download for free from www.margaretroc.com
‘Jellybean Goes to School’ can be purchased from all good book stores, including these local retailers:
- Lindfield Learning Hub: Shop 14 12-18 Tryon Rd, Lindfield. Phone: 9415 8818
- The Children’s Bookshop: 6 Hannah Street, Beecroft. Phone: 9481 8811