Getting your little one ready for their first day at school
The first day can be a challenge – and that’s just for you! Here’s some advice on helping your little one settle in at school.
At a glance
- Get organised so you aren't rushing around in the morning looking for things
- Children will settle at their own pace so don't worry if it takes a bit longer than you thought
- There’s a lot of learning through play in the first year, so it shouldn't feel too different from pre-school/nursery
Needless to say you will have all uniform laid out the night before, everyone will be up and ready 10 minutes early and there will be absolutely no last-minute panics, crying or even lumps in throats.
Back in the real world... A bit of pre-organisation will definitely help things go more smoothly on the first day (don’t forget to leave a few minutes for doorstep pictures), but it’s best not to aim for perfection. You don’t want to pass on any stress you’re feeling to your little one, who will naturally feel a bit anxious. The mood you want to convey is calm, efficient and positive, but not too manically eager.
Be prepared for clinginess
Even if they've been to nursery/pre-school and are used to being away from you, be prepared for a bit of clinginess. There’s something very big and real about school, and it feels different from nursery. Some kids are settled in a week, others take most of the first term or even longer. They’re all individuals, but they’ll get there in the end.
When you drop them off, tell them what you’ll be doing that day (the duller the better) and re-iterate when you’ll be picking them up. Don’t appear rushed but say your goodbyes cheerfully but quite decisively (give them kiss for their pocket, or a tissue with your perfume on). Then guide them in. Try to keep any tears in check until you walk away from the door – you won’t be the only one with a lump in your throat.
Afterwards, you could take them to the park for a low-key treat or make their favourite tea. Most mums who've been through this stage advise not too many playdates in the first few weeks as they’re so exhausted.
At the end of the first day
That evening, try to resist the temptation to grill them about their day. It may be a couple of weeks before you get any sensible information out of them. Rather than say, ‘what did you do at school today?’ which rather invites the answer ‘nothing’, try ‘what was the best thing that happened today?’ or ‘did you play football/mummies and daddies at play time?’ Later on, playdates can be great sources of information: just eavesdrop at the tea table for an in-depth report.
Get to know the teacher
Talk to the teacher if you have concerns they’re not settling within a few weeks. This can be daunting to new parents as the school set-up feels more formal than nursery, and there are 29 other parents all trying to get a word in. Best not to collar the teacher first thing in the morning when they have 30 children to settle; try at pick-up time or make an appointment for another day.
Keeping on friendly terms with the teacher is really important – you’ll have to face them all year (and perhaps again with younger siblings). Lots of smiles and politeness are the order of the day, as well as saying thanks when something has gone well.
Help them do well at school
We all want our little ones to do well in life, and that means getting the most out of their school years.
That doesn't mean we have to hothouse them with extra lessons and weekend workbooks (this can actually have the opposite effect in the end unless they’re really keen).
Let your little one know you think school is important. Research shows that a parent’s interest in a child’s education is the biggest indicator of their future success. Ask them questions about their friends, work and teachers and make sure they’re there on time in the morning, having had a good breakfast.
They’ll probably need a bit more sleep than usual (possibly 12-13 hours) in the first term. Set aside time for homework and make sure you've got somewhere they can do it.
Learning during the first year
There’s a lot of learning through play in the first year, so it shouldn't feel too different from pre-school/nursery – although most schools start teaching phonics/reading as soon as they arrive.
A great way to help your little one stay interested in school is to pick up on any topics they’re studying – dinosaurs, minibeasts or whatever – and arrange weekend family trips to museums or to the park to collect bugs. Take pictures so your child can be the star of Monday morning’s show and tell.