I think if you are reading this, you may well be approaching one of the most significant ‘events’ in your’s and your child’s lives. Firstly, congratulations! You have survived a whole range of your child’s early critical periods and got them to this point, very often not an easy ‘journey’ or ‘point’ for you or your child.
Firstly, it is important for you to be consciously aware of how you feel about your child starting school. You have an often unseen and unheard connection with your child. Through this, they are aware of your thoughts and feelings, perhaps before you are and they will respond/react to them. Whatever feelings you have, positive or negative, they are ok. Share them with empathic listeners. Speak them out and own them as yours. You have reasons for having them that your child never needs to know. I often suggest to parents/carers that they plan to be with someone and do something enjoyable once they leave their child on their first day. Celebrate your achievement. You have separated from them and importantly, they from you.
The best view into your child’s world is through play. Be with them, preferably down on the floor. It is likely that your child will ‘play out’ their feelings about school. Watch, listen and accept. Perhaps suggest playing ‘schools’ wherein they be ‘teacher’ and you ‘child’. How they play out their role will give you insight into how they think school life might be. If they want to, allow them to wear their school uniform and have their book bag. This will immediately ‘transport’ them to ‘school’ child and you might be surprised by that! However, afterwards you may see a regression, even to baby! Your child is telling you they still need you, perhaps even more as they will be separated from you regularly and for long periods. Allow them to show you their younger self and meet that ‘other’ child with joy and love. This will help your child move successfully between ‘school child’ and your child.
Depending on your child’s readiness for ‘formal’ learning, you may want to ‘teach’ them some basics. Remember the sounds of letters (phonemes) are much more helpful than the letter names. Have ‘letter hunts’ while out and about, with a particular focus on the letters in their name. Similarly have ‘number hunts’ (car registrations are good for this). Stick to 0-9 initially. Our numbers are simply a pattern system so create repeating patterns eg. clap/hop/clap/hop….Line up knife/fork/spoon/knife…..Sort washing into tops/bottoms….Sort coins/stones/shells… the list is endless. Most importantly, no pressure and have fun! For any of you who are interested in learning theory, I particularly like Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development which explains when and how to recognise when your child is ready to move forwards with learning in small and manageable steps.
Lastly, try to avoid asking your child direct questions both before and after they begin school. This puts them ‘on the spot’ and also creates the tension of getting the answer ‘right’ for you. If you verbally “wonder”, your child can choose to ignore you, come back to it when they’re ready to answer or simply begin a relaxed dialogue with you. This is particularly relevant to: what did you do at school and what did you have for lunch!!! You will probably discover much more if you tell them something you have done/eaten and then “wonder” how their day has been. Short family circle times can also be a useful way of sharing, without any pressure.
I couldn’t leave without saying this. If your child is struggling in school, leave the school day behind you and your child. Trust that any issues will be dealt with in school and by school. If you are talking with the teacher every day, be aware of how this feels for you. Are you overwhelmed/worried/stressed and importantly is it affecting your home life and relationship with your child. If so, you might want to arrange to meet with the teacher on a more ‘formal’ but less often basis eg. each Monday and Friday. This way you are prepared and not going to pick your child up each day with a feeling of dread!
I hope this has helped a little. Trust your child and school. Ask questions, seek advice and support if you should need it. Perhaps most importantly, celebrate that your little one has taken a giant step towards independence and individuation. Well done you!
Next time I will look at reward systems and sanctions. Now that’s an interesting area!!