How to give your kid the best start at big school

Kinderling News & Features

The first day of big school can be scary for children and parents alike. With over 300,000 Aussie kids about to start, Kinderling Conversation’s Shevonne Hunt spoke to Lyn O’Grady, psychologist and National Project Manager at Kidsmatter, who shared these essential tips to ensure a smooth landing for your little one.

1. Consider when they’re ready to start

“(Whether they start at four or five) is a really individual thing and the research has often been inconsistent, because children’s experiences vary quite a lot," explains Lyn. "The main focus is on their ability to manage the school day, which involves with coping with social interactions, emotions and the struggle of doing things independently. Sometimes parents get caught up with whether their child can write their name or draw good pictures, but that’s not the focus – that’s what they’re going to school to learn.”

2. Realise they're probably more chilled about it than you

“I think children often roll with the punches. They’re often very excited about going to school. They see it as what older children do and often they’ve been prepared in early childcare settings… Remember if you’re worried when you’re leaving them, they’ll pick up on that.”

3. Understand your child’s concerns

“It’s always good for parents to check in and ask how they’re feeling. Ask (direct) questions or get them to draw a picture about what they think school might be like and what they’re expecting.

Sometimes, their worries can be something small they think is big. It might be something they saw on TV or an older kid has told them. Don’t dismiss it, recognise it is a concern. That way you’re setting a scene that any worry is okay and you can work together to resolve it.”

Listen to Lyn's full interview and hear parents Jason and Hannah discuss their preparations

4. Visit the school, meet teachers

“You can’t always do it before the school year, but hopefully the child has an idea about what and where school is and how they’re going to get there. Practising packing their bags is important but don’t overdo it either. It’s about knowing your child and whether it’s going to be helpful to them or trigger off more anxiety.”

5. Don’t fret about them making friends

“Some children will do it naturally and easily – they’re automatically do it and enjoy that. Other children will find it challenging and might need some prompting or rehearsal at home. Acting out and doing some roleplay can be really helpful, or reading books about making friends.”

6. Realise that school is exhausting for kids

“Part of it is excitement, part of it is that the school day can be quite long. They have to interact with a lot of people, follow instructions, do work - there’s a lot of demands. So they can come home tired for the first few months."

7. Don’t overdose on after-school activities

“It’s important not to overdo the extra-curricular activites just to give them a chance to settle in and have some down time when they get home. It’s important to manage that. Any transitional change does place demands on all of us.

8. Check in with their teachers

“If you are concerned (about your child's progress), talk to their teacher early. They get to see a lot of children and their different responses. It’s good to check in with them, particularly if the child’s upset when you’re leaving. You can find out how long they’re taking to settle in (after you leave) or if they're getting upset during the day.”

Hear Kinderling Conversation weekdays at 12pm and check out the podcast

Check out Kidsmatter's video guide for starting school