Having a child start school is emotional at the best of times. However with the added complexities around lockdown and social distancing, not to mention a heightened anxiety after many children will have missed months of preschool, this year is going to have some extra challenges.
To help parents best prepare their child and manage any fears they might have about starting school in these challenging times, we put some of your concerns to Sarah Mackenzie, Chief Academic Officer at N, and got her top tips of what you can do at home to make the transition post-lockdown feel a little less daunting.
How different will reception feel to nursery?
Although the sense of challenge is naturally increased during a child’s first year at school and the day may be structured a little differently, remember that at reception they will still be learning from the Early Years Foundation Stage – which forms the basis of our curriculum at N.
How do you support the children’s emotional readiness for school?
At N we ensure that we give each child a wide range of opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding they will need to succeed in the next stage of their education.
We will spend time looking up the school together and look at things like the uniform to create a picture of what school will be like. We also create information books on schools to act as a talking point, all helping to gently familiarise them with this new place.
We also broach the idea of school through play – such as role play with props including school bags and registers. Starting school will also be discussed during small group times, including stories, puppets, dolls and exploring the ‘colour monster’ feelings.
In the current Covid pandemic, we also encourage our team to involve some level of play about germs, about what’s clean and what’s dirty, maybe about doctors and nurses amongst the children. It’s our responsibility to gently use these sessions to clarify questions they may be looking to answer as well as reassure them where we can about their worries.
What can I do at home to help prepare my child?
As a parent it’s important to discuss how they are feeling about going to school. Teach children how to label their feelings by asking questions and providing them with some options of emotional vocabulary (such as worried, excited or nervous) if needed. It can be helpful to talk about what specifically is making them feel worried, and see if you can come up with solutions together.
What if my child is feeling anxious?
We can all feel anxious in certain situations, but getting over stress and recovering from difficulties is something we can learn to do. Helping children to learn how to become resilient is life changing stuff. Our ability to be resilient increases when we’re supported, respected, listened to and valued – and that’s the same whether we’re 2, 22 or 72.
How can we build resilience?
At N we have lots of ways to nurture resilience. This includes helping children to learn how to label their feelings and empathising with children (ie taking their feelings seriously and not just saying ‘it’s ok’ ).
It can also involve playing out coping strategies, calm responses or problem solving as well as promoting mindfulness and physical exercise, which increases neurochemicals that can calm the brain.
As parents, it can also help to do things such as:
- Talking about changes before they are set to happen
- Letting your child take considered risks and not immediately rushing to their rescue
- Planning learning experiences to develop creativity and problem solving.
- Being generous with your love, attention and affection.
1) Read stories about starting school
Stories are a great way to explore how your child is feeling about school, through identifying with the characters and their emotions.
If you’re on the lookout for suggestions, some great book recommendations are:
Usborne First Experiences: Going to School
2) Role Playing and Traveling to School
Role playing what it might be like to be at school is a good way of preparing both yourselves and your child for the change of going to school – this can include anything from wearing the uniform to packing the school bag.
It’s possible that your morning routine at the moment looks quite different to the routine you’ll need for school. If this is the case, I’d start shifting into your ‘going to school’ routine. This might also include familiarising your child with the new school journey, by walking past their new school, and checking out all the fun they might have in the playground!
3) Getting to know their teacher
We’d usually look to invite your child’s teacher to visit them at nursery, but we won’t be able to do that this year. We can however assist with hosting virtual visits if this is something your child’s school teacher would be able to do. If not, just having a photo of the teacher that you can look at with your child can also be really helpful in familiarising yourself and your child with the key people from their new school.
4) Make new friends
It can also be helpful to find out who else will be in your child’s class and make an introduction. If possible, also see if you can set up either a virtual or socially distanced meeting before they start school. This way, your child can not only begin to make new friends before school starts, but you can also get to know the parents of other classmates.
5) Encourage independence
Due to the nature of a classroom environment, and the greater ratio of children to teachers, it helps for children to know how to be relatively independent at school. This means it’s a good idea to make sure your child understands how to independently meet their needs, such as asking for a drink when thirsty, learning to carry a tray if your child’s school serves lunch on a tray and going to the toilet by themselves.
How do I best avoid any separation anxiety post lockdown?
You, of course, are the expert in your child. You know how they’ve responded to lockdown and are in the best position to know how comfortable they will be with being left. It also means you are in a great position to support and ease them out of lockdown and into the environment of school.
As a parent, you also need to be prepared for the transition. Your children will pick up on your anxieties and feelings, but that doesn’t mean you need to hide them. Instead, try to communicate them in a contained and clear way. Something like – I know you’re sad that I’m not coming to school with you but I have to work while you play with your new friends! ‘I’ll pick you up later’ is a good explanation and a short and clear goodbye is more helpful rather than a long lingering goodbye.