Starting school is one of life’s major milestones and for many parents it can be an emotional time, too. It’s natural to feel nervous and excited, however, with a little preparation, both parent and child will be able to cope with the transition more smoothly.
The first national lockdown saw a massive impact on the school readiness level of the September intake. It was evident from the outset that the lockdown had interrupted the excellent work undertaken by nurseries and pre-reception classes throughout the spring and summer terms in helping children prepare for the step up to ‘big school’. It is important for parents to take an active part in this process even if their nursery and/or pre-reception class is working on this with the children.
It’s Good to Talk
Parents are encouraged to talk about school in a really positive and realistic way. Whenever there are opportunities to visit the school – at Holmwood House we host termly Taster Mornings or invite families to watch school productions, for example – these should be taken. Use the school website and any videos the school may send to help your child familiarise themselves with faces, buildings, etc. Parents should stay calm about things, even if they are anxious, as this will transfer to your child.
This should be the number one area of focus for everyone. The more able your child is to do small practical tasks, the easier the transition to school will be. The following tasks may be small in themselves, but will be enormous in supporting their smooth transition to school life. Why not print this list out for your child and pin it to the fridge?
- Dress and undress myself
- Put on my shoes
- Do up my shoes
- Put my arms in my coat sleeves
- Do up a zip to the top
- Sit nicely at a table whilst eating my food
- Eat with a knife and fork
- Wash and dry my hands
- Tidy away my toys
- Say ‘please’ when I ask for something
- Say ‘thank you’ when I receive something
- Follow simple instructions
- Sit and listen to a story
- Clean myself independently
- Go to the toilet on my own when I need to
- Share toys with a friend
- Use a tissue to blow my nose and put it in the bin
It’s a good idea to encourage your child to try their new school uniform on at various points in the run up to starting school. Perhaps when grandparents pop round or just for the fun of it. In our Pre-Reception class we ensure some school uniform items are available with other fancy dress clothes.
Recognising their own name is crucial! The chances are, they will have a coat hook at school with their name on it.
Starting routines in the summer term and over the holidays can be really helpful. Nothing too regimental, but perhaps always putting our shoes in the same place when we come in from the garden, hanging their coat up, trying out the morning routine to leave the house on time, and so on.
You will notice that I haven’t listed expectations regarding your child’s literacy and numeracy skills. This is intentional. Experience tells us that children develop these skills more quickly when introduced in a fresh and exciting environment at school.
SUPPORTING YOUR CHILD AT SCHOOL
For young children, at the start of their school careers, they need stability, love and structure. For a child to thrive in the early years of education, a structured approach at home is essential; sensible bed times, regular nutrition, carefully monitored use of technology, gentle, clear and firm boundaries, excellent role modelling in terms of manners and courtesy and an exciting interest in the world around them. These attributes will prepare your child to be able to absorb everything on offer at their school.
Unless specifically suggested by the school, it is unlikely that younger children will require extra tuition or overbearing expectations to allow them to blossom. Parents should steer clear of ever comparing their young child with other people’s children. Children are unique; they grow and develop at different rates and there is no definitive road map. The child’s teacher will monitor development against broad learning milestones but will be well aware of the range of learning rates. All in all, where parents enthuse about what the school is doing, gently enquire and discuss activities from the week and encourage, encourage, encourage, the child will be happy.
As children grow and the academic side of things develops, most of the earlier points remain important ingredients. Your school will let you know how your child is progressing and any areas which may start to present as strengths or weaknesses. Again, where parents create the space and time for children to enjoy their learning, without comparison or overt pressure, the child with high self-esteem will flourish. This is achieved through calm, supportive parenting and rarely through pressurised extra tuition. In independent schools, your child will likely be benefiting from small class sizes, specialist teaching and supervised homework sessions; all ingredients which will lead to progress appropriate to each child’s age and ability.
Parents should be realistic about their children. Some children are slow burners, late starters, academic superstars, sporting prodigies, middle runners, outliers, social whirls and so on. Your child will be who s/he is and parents and schools need to respect this whilst working hard to support their learning. Education was never meant to be about an exam. The best schools should be creating opportunities for children to develop a wide range of learning skills which will enable them to progress into life. I often encourage parents not to answer their child’s questions with answers but to answer them with questions. Remove the spoon from the learning process and encourage children to enjoy the struggle that learning sometimes presents. All of this needs us all, parents and schools, to create the right environment, guidance and support. Embrace the process and not the product.
Holmwood House holds regular Taster Mornings and we are always happy to arrange an individual appointment for you to visit the school. For more information please visit www.holmwood.house/admissions
By Alexander Mitchell, Headmaster of Holmwood House School