With Ewan starting school in September, it got me thinking about sharing some Top Tips around preparing your little one for Starting their first day at school. Most of you won’t be aware that I trained as a teacher many years ago, before deciding to take a totally different career path. I thought it may be useful to share some advice from a teacher’s point of view.
Having previously worked in a First Year classroom, I saw those children come into school on their very first day. Its such a difficult time for everyone involved. But there are so many ways in which we as parents can make it a really smooth transition for everyone.
For the past couple of years I feel like I’ve been training Ewan for this big moment in his life. After speaking to other parents I realised I haven’t been training him in all those areas most parents expect to be of importance. I’ve been gently guiding him towards being totally independent and self-reliant, with his personal development in mind as opposed to his academic abilities.
So from a Teachers Point of View here are some great ideas on how you can prepare your little one for school , in ways that will have more benefits to them & their teacher, then them being able to count to 10.
Toilet Training – Your little one being able to use the toilet on their own, pulling down/up their own clothes, sitting on the toilet, wiping, flushing & washing/drying their hands, is top priority and a total must. Not just from a teachers point of view but for their own confidence. Your child may feel reluctant to use the toilets, meaning they hold their needs, if they don’t feel confident to fulfil this task independently.
Recognising their first name – Being able to recognise their first name is really important too. Learning to spell & write it isn’t the priority here. But simply being able to pick out their own name in a group of others is super helpful. It helps them to be able to easily identify their belongings, their peg & tray.
To achieve this, I’ve been writing Ewan’s name for him since he was around 18 months old. I knew then he wouldn’t understand, but it was teaching his brain to register that those letters were his name. I then moved on to writing down his name surrounded by a bunch of other names and getting him to point his out.
Dressing & Undressing themselves – Being able to dress & undress themselves is really helpful to both your little one & their teacher. For P.E lessons your children will need to change their clothing to take part. Just picture the work involved in 1 teacher having to help 30 small children with this task, it’s a huge task & takes a lot of time. Time which eats away out of the lesson itself. Teaching your child to be able to complete this small task for themselves means they will not be waiting for help from their teacher, which will allow them more time to participate in the lesson itself.
Which leads me onto a handy little tip for you as their parent. If you have a girl, I’d highly recommend that for P.E lesson days you send them to school in trousers or socks instead of tights, as tights are far too tricky for them to tackle on their own.
Another part of Dressing themselves, is teaching your little one how to put on & fasten up their own coat. Whether that be learning Zips or Buttons. Again during the colder months the children will still be heading outside to play during break times. They can end up wasting so much of this free time waiting on the teacher for help if they’re unable to do this for themselves.
Sitting & Listening – This is something most parents wont have considered when preparing their little ones for school. During your child’s school day they will be required to sit on the carpet & listen to the teacher a number of times. For a young active child this can be a concept they’re just not familiar with. Your child will be able to learn so much more if they're able to sit for just a short amount of time.
To help Ewan prepare for this at home we will often sit with him on the floor & read stories, look at numbers & letters with him or set him small tasks to complete that require him to sit & focus for a short amount of time. I feel this will really help him to stay focused when he is expected to sit & listen in the classroom.
Peeling Fruit – This is something that prior to teaching I would have never even considered to be so vital in preparing a child for school. But having been in a classroom of 30 small children and peeled their oranges for snack time, I now know the importance of this. Again for your child this can be extremely helpful. It means that they will not be reliant on waiting for help from their teacher, as he/she makes their way through the classroom peeling oranges.
Another area to this is offering your child whole fruit, as opposed to cutting it up for them. At school their fruit will be not chopped up, they will be offered whole pieces of fruit. Lots of younger children often refused fruit served this way as its something they are not familiar with. Meaning they are missing out on their snack time.
Using Cutlery & Cutting Food – If your child is going to be eating school dinners then this is another key skill. Although the Lunchtime staff are on hand to help the children with cutting up their food, for me personally I’d rather Ewan be able to do this food himself, rather then needing to wait for a member of staff to come & help him, meaning that his School Dinner is potentially going cold while he waits. He isn’t yet an expert in either area, using cutlery & cutting up his food, however he I feel he is skilled enough to get him by if he needs it.
Opening Packets – Along the same lines as the above. Making sure your child is able to open the packets of any food you provide them for lunchtime is Super handy to your little one. Personally I always make sure that Ewan is able to eat everything in his lunchbox without requiring any help. For instance anything that may have been in a packet, I pop into an easy to open container for him. I pop his yogurts into Reusable pouches too, so that he only needs to unscrew the lid, which I don’t do up too tightly.
Tidying Up – Now this is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m a bit (a lot) of a neat freak, and so I find it much easier & better to just tidy up myself. However I’ve always been conscious of the fact that in the classroom the children are expected to help with the tidying up. We all know how much mess just one small child can create, so times that by 30 and its not surprising the teacher rallies the children in to help with this task.
Right from the very early days of Ewan’s life I’ve always involved him in tidying up. Whether that was mess he had made, or mess others had made. I’ve always taught him that working as a team regardless of whether he created the mess makes for things happening much quicker. Most of the time I end up having a proper tidy up once he is in bed, but I feel that I’ve allowed him the opportunity to learn an important skill.
Being apart from Parents – For Ewan my career has meant that from being a baby he has attended a nursery & been apart from me daily. But for lots of other children, starting school will be the first time they have really been away from their parents. This part of going to school can be the biggest and most challenging for any little ones who aren’t yet familiar with this.
There is nothing more upsetting for everyone then a little one crying & clinging onto their parent at the school door each day. I know I found this incredibly hard from a teachers point of view, you’re unfamiliar to this child and this environment is totally new to them. You have limited knowledge of this child to be able to offer any real comfort to them. Its tough.
Where its possible to do so, I would highly recommend preparing your little one for this in the months leading up to starting school. Maybe by leaving them with familiar faces for a few hours each week, just so the idea of you leaving & returning becomes something they're used to. I don’t believe this will stop those initial classroom door tears each day in the first few weeks of starting school, but it might help them to overcome them in a much shorter time frame.
Sun-cream - During the warmer months I’d highly recommend popping sun-cream onto your child just before they come to school, although the school will help each child apply sun-cream, its much easier & quicker for the children to get outside for activities if its already been done. There can often be some children who refuse, so lots of time can be wasted on encouraging those to wear it. Meaning outdoor activities are delayed until everyone is ready to go. Just let the teacher know you’ve applied it on dropping off your child.
Learning to Share & Take Turns – For some children being surrounded by so many other children is totally new. If your child has only previously had to share with a very small number of children being dropped into a classroom with 30 others all wanting that 1 Shopping Trolley sharing can often go out the window. This is where learning to take turns comes in. Teaching patience & taking turns for me is much more important then the idea of sharing. Sharing really only refers to a very small handful of people. When in a classroom of young children being patient and taking turns is key.
I’ve been helping Ewan learn how to wait his turn & be patient at home as best as I can, without inviting 30 of his friends over! Simple things like when he asks me for something I won’t always immediately respond to his desires. I ask him to be patient and wait. Whenever we are out places, i will send him to the back of the que to wait for something, so that he is learning to wait for longer and be patient. I don’t always allow him to be first to have a go with something, even if he got to that toy etc first. I make him wait for his turn. It does sound rather ‘mean’ but I feel this is something that will help him cope so much better when in the classroom with all the other children.
Name tag Everything – Nothing more to add to this, other then be prepared for belongings to go missing in those early years of school, whether the items were name tagged or not. Its incredibly hard for little ones to take care of their own belongings, but it does make it much easier for everyone if all items are Named.
Lastly Bedtime & Routine – School days can be extremely long & tiring for small children, in those first few terms of starting school many young children start to struggle by the afternoon. This is often because they aren’t yet use to such a structured day. Putting in place a set bedtime & morning routine a few months before they start can really help them be prepared when the time comes to be up, dressed & ready to leave by 8.30am each day.
Putting your children to bed at the same time each night and waking them at a set time each morning, including having breakfast, getting dressed & brushing their teeth before the time you’d leave the house for school, can make for a much smoother transition when that time actually comes. It also means that you & your child get to school without feeling upset & stressed about how you get there.
Most of the above skills are things your child will need to rely on the teacher for help with if they aren’t yet able to do for themselves. Your child’s teacher is not yet a familiar face to your child and having that confidence to ask for help can take a child quite some time to be able to do.
For me, preparing Ewan to start school has been largely focused on making him feel ready to embark on such a big new & exciting adventures independently and with confidence, rather than focusing on his academic abilities.