Tips for a Pain-Free First Day at Pre-school
Your child's first day at pre-school will be an exciting and emotional event for the whole family. As a parent the thought of sending your child off to pre-school could well be slightly traumatic and for children the reality of starting ‘school' can be a scary yet highly anticipated event.
Pre-school is designed to help children transition from life in the family, or a child care centre, to the more formal school system. Pre-school programs are designed to develop children's communication, problem solving and thinking skills and to familiarise them with the routines and rhythms of school life.
Emphasis is placed on the importance of teaching children independence and giving them the confidence to ask for what they want or need in a classroom environment.
With a little preparation and planning prior to the big day you can help ensure your child's first day at pre-school is a positive and rewarding experience for all of you.
Before the First Day
- Talk to your child about pre-school and what an exciting adventure it will be. Have a chat to your child's future teacher and principal and gain as much information as possible. This will ensure you can answer all your child's questions about what they will do, where they will go to the toilet, where and when they will eat lunch and so on. Being as thorough and as honest as you can, will ease your child's concerns.
- Help your child prepare mentally for pre-school by spending extended amounts of time doing activities which require patience and concentration, such as reading a book, playing a quiet board game or working on a puzzle. Listen and direction games such as Simon Says will teach your child how to follow instructions.
- In the weeks leading up to pre-school encourage your child to be as independent as possible when it comes to dressing, feeding, going to the toilet, looking for things and washing his/her hands. This will give your child the confidence to perform these tasks on their own at pre-school.
- If possible spend time with other pre-school aged children in the days leading up to the start of school so your child builds up confidence in his or her ability to communicate with older children.
- Visit the local pre-school with your child during school hours. This will ensure your child is familiar with the staff and surroundings and will give you an opportunity to ask any questions you may have.
- Find out what your child should take with them to pre-school for example, sun hat and sun block, water bottle, lunch box, pencils. Make a point of labelling all of the items, this will help your child identify their belongings and will save money and possible upsets in the case of your little one losing something important to them.
On the First Day
- Get up early to ensure you have plenty of time to get everything done in a peaceful and positive environment.
- Plan a celebratory breakfast for your pre-schooler, make a fuss and present him/her with a small gift, such as a new bag or a Starting Pre-School Certificate, this will make your child feel very important in their new role.
- Pack a change of clothes, so that your child has something of their own to change into, in case of a messy emergency.
- When you arrive at the pre-school, take your child in, show him/her where to put their belongings and introduce him/her to the teacher.
- If you are leaving straight away, give your child a cuddle and kiss, say good bye in a positive voice and leave. Try not to turn around if your child starts crying as this only prolongs the farewell. Remember most children stop crying as soon as their parents are out of sight!
- If you are staying, let your child do their own thing, but remain within their line of vision. Encourage your child to be as independent as possible. If you leave before the end of the session, give your child a kiss and a cuddle, say good bye in a positive voice and leave.
In the Long Term
- If you have time, try and get involved in pre-school life. This might include helping out in the classroom from time to time, going on class trips or assisting with special events such as school fairs.
- Maintain regular communication with your child's teacher, both on a formal and informal basis. Remember you know your child better than anyone and are in the best position to provide the teacher with information to help them ensure your child receives maximum benefits from pre-school.
- Advise your child's teacher if something happens at home which could impact on your child's performance at pre-school. Things which might affect your child include the birth of a sibling, divorce, moving house, visitors or a death or illness in the family.
- Remember that pre-school should be a positive and rewarding experience for your child. By employing some of the suggestions provided above you will be working to ensure that your child has a great time from the outset and this will pave the way for a successful transition to school.
Pre-school is designed to ease children into the structured learning environment and routines of the formal school system. However, many children only attend pre-school on a part time basis so the transition to full-time school can still be a bit of a shock. No matter how well your child adapted to life in pre-school it is worth taking some time to prepare him or her for life at ‘Big School'.
Before the first day
- Talk to your child in advance of starting school and tell him/her where they will be going and what they will be doing. Talk openly about school and tell them stories about your most enjoyable moments at school.
- Take your child to visit the school on a few occasions. Find out where the important places are and show your child how to find his/her classroom, the toilets, the canteen, the office and so on.
- Answer all your child's questions openly and honestly and reassure them that everything is okay.
- Attend orientation, buddy and transition programs at the school if they are available. These services can be a great way of building confidence.
- Remind your child that she/he will make lots of new friends and find out if any of the children in your child's pre-school will be starting at the same school. A few familiar faces may be very reassuring for your child.
- Teach your child about the rules he or she will need to follow, so they don't come as a surprise on the first day.
First day jobs for you
Arm yourself with information to ensure you can deal with everything which comes up:
- Find out the obvious stuff:
- What time does school start and finish?
- What is the name of your child's teacher?
- Is there before and after school care and vacation care? If so, how do I enrol for these programs?
- Where do you take your child on arrival and where do you collect him/her at the end of the day?
- What will your child need? For example uniforms, hats, sunscreen, lunch, books and pencils.
- What is the standard uniform and where can you buy one?
- How can you get involved in school life?
- What happens if your child falls ill during school hours?
- How can you contact staff? Do you need to organise it through the office or can you approach your child's teacher in person?
- What do you do if you suspect your child is being bullied?
- What special programs and extra curricular activities does the school offer?
Helping in the transition - what you can do at home
As mentioned above pre-school is designed to ease your child into the more structured and rigorous learning environment offered at school. For many children the biggest challenges when moving from pre-school to school is sitting still for long periods and completing tasks which require patience and concentration.
Skills that may help your child transition easily into the school environment include:
- The ability to pay attention for extended periods
- The ability to focus on and complete assigned tasks
- The ability to work with rules and regulations
- The ability to work independently
You can support your child in the development of these skills by spending some time on the following activities before he/she starts school:
- Reading is a great way of increasing your child's attention span. Take cues from your child as to how long he/she can pay attention. In the beginning, teachers may expect a child to attend a group activity for about 20 minutes and by the end of the first year this will increase to around 40 minutes.
- Introduce your child to new experiences for example attend a children's play or visit your local museum. Provide guidelines so your child knows when it is appropriate to talk, go to the toilet and when he/she has to wait for their turn.
- Give your child responsibilities at home. Start assigning chores for your child to complete independently such as setting the table, helping with the laundry or unloading items from the dishwasher
- Practice Writing - encourage your child to write new words, copy letters and numbers and draw pictures
- Encourage counting and measuring activities and show your child how these skills are used in the real world, for example weigh the fruit when you go grocery shopping.
- Practice using the family computer or take your child to your local library and show your child some basic functions.
- Build your child's co-operation and team skills by playing games that involve taking turns.
- Play school games with your child, pretend you are calling the roll, try on his/her uniform, write some pretend lessons up on a blackboard at home or practice writing in a notebook.
- Encourage your child to talk about his/her daily experiences with you, ask lots of questions and keep the conversation flowing.
- As much as possible, offer your child natural opportunities to build skills that enhance his or her readiness for school and at the same time keep it fun.
On the first day
If you do enough preparation your child's first day at school should go well, to make the first day special consider some of the following ideas:
- Encourage your child to go to bed early so he/she is up in enough time to get ready in a peaceful and relaxed fashion. A mad rush will be stressful for everyone.
- Prepare a nutritious breakfast and pack lunch the night before so you don't have to think about it.
- Leave for school in plenty of time, if possible travel with your child by foot, car or public transport and talk through any last concerns.
- See your child into their classroom, put all his/her gear somewhere and find your child's teacher.
- When it's time to say goodbye give your child a cuddle and in a bright voice explain that you are off and that you will see him/her later, then leave.
- Your child is bound to be tired his/her first day so hear straight home for a special afternoon tea. Spend some time chatting to your child about his/her big day before you launch into the evening routine.
Remember, your child's school is part of your local community so if you have the time try and get involved: volunteer for working bees, do canteen duty, accompany the class on excursions and try to attend sports days and fetes. Your child will find the transition to school easier if they know you're involved and taking an interest.