• Dr Helen Care

5 Tips for a happy start to school

To any parent of a child starting school for the first time this September I am sending massive best wishes and hugs! It is often a tough time. Some children may appear very ready to move on, but others might look like they are just too young. And it is a big step for all of them.

Most children will navigate the transition to school successfully, but for some it can be difficult. Schools, pre-schools, nurseries and childminders are often great at getting them ready and making the transition a smooth one. But this year has been harder than most. It hasn’t been possible to do many of the transition events we might have wanted to do. Some children haven’t had the chance to visit their new school or meet their new teacher. Some have had really disrupted experiences of early years settings over the last 18 months and that might make September feel even more of a challenge, for them and for us as adults supporting them.

Don’t despair. There are things you can do and it isn’t too late.

Here’s our top 5 tips for preparing children for starting school in September:

1. Talk about it – you don’t have to force them to talk about it all the time, and children need a break from it too, but make sure there have been lots of opportunities to talk and ask questions about school and any concerns they may have.

  • Chat to others about school – if you know older children who are already at the school, have a conversation with them and help your child ask anything they want to know e.g “What is the best bit about it?” “What don’t you like about school?” “Who is your favourite teacher?”

  • Get other adults to talk about their time at school (But only adults that you trust to be understanding and realistic. Some people can get very carried away sharing their best horror stories about school, or the times they got into trouble, and that is rarely helpful for a child who is new to the experience.)

  • Make sure you let your child stop the conversation, walk away, or talk about something else if they want to. Although it is good to talk, they can also get sick of it!

2. Share the book “Fearless & Daring Say “Let’s go to school!” – Well we would recommend this one, we wrote it! Our book about starting school was written specifically for adults to share with their children and contains practical exercises for managing worries, making new friends, talking to teachers and joining in at school. It encourages children to have a go and join in with the engaging main characters, Fearless Fairy and Daring Dragon, and learn skills that they can use when they go to school themselves. (For more information, see here). There are lots of books out there about the practicalities - like finding your coat peg - but this one is about the emotional aspects of starting school well and happily.

3. Check the school website – Most schools have good websites, with photos and helpful information. Many schools have also put welcome information on their web pages this year with video tours, photos of key staff or helpful pictures about the classroom and what the playground looks like. Even if your child hasn’t been able to visit the school in person this year, it is a good way for them to feel more familiar with it.

4. Practice the ‘school run’ – do a visit to the outside of the school. Go there the way you will probably go when it is school time for real – walk, scoot or in the car – and talk about what you can see on the way. Don’t force your child, but open up opportunities to talk about what it will be like “What are you looking forward to?” “Who else do you know who is going to school with you?” etc. Look at the building from the outside, if it is visible, and talk about what looks interesting about it. If there is play equipment in the playground or pictures up, point these out and talk about the fun things about school

5. Read books and watch TV programmes about it – this opens up good opportunities for conversations and gives a chance to make it all seem much more normal. Young children often respond better to stories about others, rather than direct questions about themselves. Try the CBeebies episode about Topsy and Tim Starting School or The Scottish Book Trust have a list of recommended stories about starting school: https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/book-lists/books-about-starting-school

I wish you and yours all the very best with starting school this year.

Dr Helen Care


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