With the school year nearing a close, kids are looking forward to Christmas and parents are looking forward to a holiday. And for some parents, their attention is turned to preparing for Kindergarten Orientations and Information Nights. As I look back over the last year, I have to marvel at just how far we’ve travelled since those first forays into the world of ‘Big School.’ So much has transpired and my little man is not so little anymore. Together we’ve navigated the tricky waters of our first year at school and my daughter will be better off for our experience when she starts in 2017. With that in mind, I asked a number of parents what their best tips for starting school are for those that are looking for a smooth start, (middle and end) to kindy next year.
The responses below are not from professionals or teachers, but from parents.
- What is the most valuable piece of information you could pass on?
- What do you wish you had known when your child started school?
- What are your best practical tips?
The Social Aspects of School
When it comes to the social aspects of starting school, being proactive appears to be the biggest factor. Most parents suggested helping your child to foster new friendships. Many pointed to play dates early in the year as a great way to help a new kindy child to make friends. Even the act of asking for a play date seems to cement relationships as the kids chat about it at school. Parks are a great option, especially at the beginning of the year when the weather is warm. And many responders caution new parents not to be too deflated if it seems like you are doing all the asking – your child may have made friends whose parents work or have older children who have been there before, (making both the child and the parent less anxious about starting school and making friends.) Or, you may just be the first to take the initiative.
One suggestion was to set up a few play dates prior to the start of the year. You can post on online mother’s forums or Facebook groups for people who live in your area and are starting at the same school, (local Facebook Groups are great for this) and meet at a local park. And if you even know one person starting with your child, ask them and tell them to ask a friend. Familiarity is of great comfort when your child feels like a tiny fish in a huge ocean at the beginning of the school year.
Another great tip was to practise different social situations before school starts. Role play what would happen if you were left with nowhere to sit in the circle at lunch, what you would do if someone said something nasty or criticises your work, what you would do if you couldn’t find your friend at lunchtime. (This does happen – with uniforms and hats often even the parents can barely tell the kids apart). If this is a problem once the school year starts tell them to set up a meeting point like the bubblers. Most of all, teach your child to be the one that makes room in the circle and says nice things to their peers – being friendly, after all, is a great way to make friends.
For practical ways of making and maintaining friendships, let your child take a (well labelled and inexpensive) ball to school. Sport is often a great ice breaker. Boys and girls play handball and skip, so it can be gender neutral. Have a stock of balls, (handballs, footballs etc), for when they are inevitably lost or thrown on a roof. Paper planes are also winners.
Some parents recommend doing a few days of after school care even if you don’t need to. Its a fantastic way to meet kids and form bonds and it is usually pretty inexpensive. But don’t focus on friendship too much – and don’t repetitively ask who their friends are or who they are playing with. They may forget, and it gets tiresome plus it puts added pressure on kids to be ‘popular’. It is comforting for parents to know, and natural to want to ask but there are better ways to stay in touch. If you are worried about your child in social situations or they don’t appear to be making friends, speak to their teacher. They will either reassure you that little Annie is happy and thriving socially, or they will be able to help by setting her up with a friend at lunch time, particularly if Annie is shy or overwhelmed by large numbers of children. You can then reinforce those friendships scaffolded by teachers with a few play dates.
Birthday parties are crazy in Kindy and Year 1, but they are also a good way to get to know the other parents and they are a good way for kids to form bonds. For children with December or January birthdays, consider having a beginning of year birthday party in February or March. Don’t go overboard with the set up – you don’t want to be spending hours in the kitchen. You’ll want to socialise just like the kids, and at that age they love running around a park or a back yard anyway. Stock up on sale items for other kids’ presents and buy in bulk, but go for simple presents and not trends, (or they will quickly become less exciting gifts).
By far the best thing you can do as a parent to help your child socially is to smile to other children and parents and say hello, even if the school feels cliquey. This models confidence and makes meeting new kids seem a little less scary to your child. Besides, if you are on good terms with the other parents, your child will feel more a part of the social scene at school.
One final note on the social stuff – if you have any inkling that your child may struggle with the change to school, get on it as early as you can. Whether you have a child with special needs or simply a child that is shy and not comfortable in large groups, or whether you may have niggling concerns about social development, there are ways to make the transition smoother for everyone. Set a meeting for his or her teacher when you know who it is, even as early as the orientation at the end of this year. If you don’t find out till the beginning of the year set a meeting with the deputy principle and explain your concerns. They will have a wealth of experience, some great tips and tricks and will be more likely to keep it in mind when selecting teachers. If you are concerned about anxiety or your child feeling overwhelmed, consider seeing a developmental psych even just once or twice for a professional strategy to deal with the transition.
If you have concerns about your child’s development and are looking for more information, click here.
In Part 2 of this discussion, we will delve into responses that cover the school community, academic and practical aspect of schooling.