Starting Kindergarten - How To Help The First Weeks Go Smoothly (Advice from a Teacher and Other Parents)
Starting school is a big milestone for every child (and parent!), so how can you prepare as a family for the first few weeks? We asked Helen, an elementary school teacher and other parents, what tips they would give to fellow parents with a child about to start school.
Helen says, "While many children will have already had experiences of preschool, for others August/September will bring their first steps into a formal school setting. Regardless of previous experiences, every parent wants their child to have fun, make friends and develop a love of learning in these early days of schooling.
"A little preparation is all that’s needed to ensure anxious moments are kept to a minimum and your child has a happy and memorable start to their school days."
What can parents do to help?
A visit to the new school can be a great way to allay any fears or apprehension. Showing your child where to go when they arrive on the first day, where their coat peg is, where the toilets are, having a look around their classroom, the school building and showing them where the playground is, will help them have a more confident first day. If this isn’t practical, look through the school website with your child to look at pictures of where things are.
Dig out old family photos of your own school days and talk about your memories of your time at school. You could also chat about the things that are the same or different between school days now and then.
Although many kids will be familiar with saying goodbye to their parents each morning, even the most confident kid can get caught off guard when the routine changes.
Use the week or two before school starts to get your child used to the school routine. Have a consistent bath time, bedtime, story, getting up time etc, and try to ensure they have a healthy and nutritious diet.
Regardless of whether your child is nervous or excited about starting school, discussing the types of activities they’ll be doing is a great way to instill enthusiasm and interest in their first days at school.
Focus on things they like, such as playing with Lego or playdough and making new friends. Talk about how grown up they’ll be learning to read, write and count. Let your child know how much you enjoyed school (even if you didn’t!) and how excited and proud you are that they are ready to take this step.
Bedtime can be a great time to read stories about starting school. This time can also be used to talk about what your child is looking forward to, anxious about etc. If they appear overly anxious, try and focus on the things they enjoy or are good at.
Leaving old favorites
If your child has a favorite toy or security blanket, it is worthwhile to slowly wean them off it, so it doesn’t come as a complete shock on the first day at school when they are told it can’t come with them.
Should this cause big problems, it is worth asking your child’s teacher if they could keep the toy or blanket during the school day for anxious moments in the early days of settling in.
Dressing and undressing
It's likely there will be at least 25 kids in your child’s class with just one teacher and a teaching assistant, so you can’t underestimate the importance and value of kids being able to independently dress and undress themselves. By encouraging your child to persevere with getting the hang of buttons and zippers etc, you will give them a real head start.
Every kid has PE lessons at least once a week, plus coats for outdoor recess in colder weather, so the quicker they can get changed, the more time they can have for their activity.
Show your child tips for easy dressing – holding shirt cuffs before putting on a sweater, crumpling down socks so toes go right in where they're supposed to be, making a fist before putting hands and fingers into gloves…and any others you might have!
Using the restroom and personal hygiene
By the time your child starts school, it is so important that they can use the toilet, wipe themselves, flush, and wash their hands properly.
Talk about how they should tell an adult if they have a little accident. If your child is prone to this, have a chat with the teacher and maybe put some spare clothes in a bag to be left at school. Little touches like this can greatly reassure a child.
Your child’s teacher will be most impressed if they are able to properly blow their nose, put the tissue in the bin and remember to wash hands after!
You can show how germs get spread, by covering kids’ hands in baby powder and letting them do their normal activities – the little powdery trail is quite an eye-opener!
New routine adjustments
If you child is unsettled by starting school, don’t panic. A change in routine often causes a few snags. Stay calm and talk to your child about what is upsetting them. Often something that feels like the end of the world to them is something easily resolved with a chat, advice and a big cuddle.
Reassure your child that the problem can be resolved and arm them with some positive strategies to try to deal with these situations.
One such strategy to deal with another kid that may be annoying your child is to teach them to say ‘stop that, I don’t like it’ and signal stop with their hand. If the situation continues, encourage your child to tell an adult.
Communicating with teacher
It is important to encourage children to deal with minor incidents themselves and jumping in at every little thing won't help them in the long run. However, there will be occasions when you need to approach your child’s teacher.
Most teachers can be contacted via email should you need to pass on information that may affect your child’s behavior that day. You may not get an immediate response, but you can be sure the teacher will get the message if it is sent before the start of the school day. It is really helpful for a teacher to know if a child’s pet has died or they’ve had a poor night’s sleep, so adjustments can be made if necessary.
If something is really bothering your child, speaking directly to the teacher is often the best policy. Either ring the school office or email the teacher to set up a meeting to discuss the problem.
Enjoy the journey
The likelihood is your child will have a wonderful start to their school life and will come home full of excitement and tales of all that has happened each day. Do be prepared for ups and downs along the way, but above all things, enjoy sharing every moment of their magical learning journey.
Tips from other parents
And who better to ask than other parents who have been there and done that? Here are their tips (offered through our Facebook page - why don't you join in the conversation?):
"Get a supply of iron on and stick on name labels - you'll need them. LOTS of them."
"As a mom, I found learning about the way kids are taught to read has helped loads!"
"Set up a class Facebook or Whatsapp group for the parents - that way you can remind each other about gym days and school trips etc."
"Our children had no idea that adults weren't there for hugs on demand. They got them at home, got them at pre-kindergarten. It can come as a shock so it's worth explaining gently beforehand!"
"Let your child pick their own water bottle, lunch container etc. Makes them feel a little bit in control."
"Accept they will pick up bad habits you have protected them from, so don't be angry, just explain that in our house we don't use that word/saying/gesture."
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