Yep, you’re there now. You’ve blinked and your little one has gone from bub to ‘big’ school in a flash. How does time go so fast? One minute they were smearing yoghurt across their highchair and wielding a plastic spoon like Thor at a Happy Mondays’ gig, next you’ve got their school placement announced. Very, very frightening, thunderbolts and lightning.
So, what do you need to know to prepare them for the new environment? School-wise, don’t worry too much. It’d be great if they can go in with a few of the basics, but their teacher will be starting from a baseline for their age anyway. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself (or them) in that area. If you do want some quick and easy ways to help grow your child’s natural ability through play, check out The Five Minute Mum’s new book, Time for School. She’s got some beyond brilliant advice and activities, and regularly shares fantastic content on her Instagram and Facebook pages too. She does have another book for Early Years as well, Give Me Five – seriously sanity-saving tips for busy parents.
The main things you really want to make sure they know are the skills they’ll need to get through the day. Life skills, independence, resilience: that sort of thing. Here are a few key pointers to help you help them. (Calm down, Jerry Maguire).
The Morning Routine
If you haven’t already, start getting them to dress themselves, and practise putting on clothes similar to their uniforms (if they’ll be wearing one). Not only will this build independence and confidence, it should hopefully give you an extra five minutes to down your coffee or wolf your toast when you get to September. You could make it a race or a game to avoid a battle, or make a wall chart with pictures of what they need to put on.
Spend a bit of time getting them to practise putting on their shoes. Velcro, buckles, laces, slip-ons – whatever they’re wearing, get them confident in doing them up themselves. Keep them in a specific place so that they know where to get them from every morning. Choose a calm time in the coming months to show them how to do it, so that there’s no pressure. Model it with your own shoes, sitting down next to them so that they can copy you. Top Tip: if they struggle with knowing their left and right, cut a picture sticker in half and put them on the insoles (lined up with the instep) so that they can see which way round the shoes go.
Every now and then, maybe start practising making a bag up the night before with them, so that they can check they have what they need. If you’re going to the park or beach the next day, ask them to think about what they would take, and get it ready with them. This will help them become more used to remembering their book bag or P.E. kit.
Going Through The Motions
Some kids get into the swing of things really quickly, but others find it hard to adapt to being in a completely new environment, especially if they’ve been out of nursery or childcare this past year. Why not play schools a bit in the house over the next few months? Set up the living room as a classroom and practise the routine of lining up, saying Good Morning to the teacher, doing the register. Teddies make great substitutes for classmates, and your little one can take turns being the teacher with you. Try and include different aspects of the school day (playtime, reading corner, sitting cross-legged on the carpet, and putting hands up) so that when it comes to the real deal it’s less of a shock to the system.
Make sure they’re able to get through the day without you being there to do it for them. If they’re not a hundred per cent confident going to the loo alone, start getting them in that habit now. Go for a picnic with them carrying their lunchbox so that they aren’t fazed by eating differently. Talk to them about how to ask a teacher for help if they need it.
Growing Independence and Resilience
With the events of the last year, our children may well have had a fragmented experience of normal childcare, and perhaps might be less happy about leaving you for the day. If you’re still shielding or you don’t have a support bubble that your little one can be left with, try building small snippets of independence in your home life. Encourage them to have some independent play throughout the day, where you can supervise from afar but only get involved if necessary. Perhaps get them into the habit of having quiet time in their room where they can play or read by themselves for an hour or so. Give them a timeframe, tell them how long they’re to play by themselves so that they can get used to the idea that they will have your attention again after the school day.
With that in mind, now would also be a good time (pardon the pun) to start building in clocks. They don’t need to be able to tell the time completely, but you could shade different sections of a clock face to help them get used to the passing of the day. Maybe you could even get them a cheap digital watch to set their mind at rest.
If you’re able to (and comfortable to), meet with others in a park or for a walk under the new guidelines of the rule of six (or two households), why not use that time to help build independence again? Hang back and let them walk ahead a little way, either by themselves or with a different adult (social distancing permitting). Even better if it’s a friend of yours that they don’t know as well as you do, just to get them out of their comfort zone a little. This will also help boost their social skills before being put in a class with lots of new faces.
Another little tip for building their socialisation, especially after a year of withdrawal from it, is to practise conversations with their toys. Get them to ask and answer questions with them, with the sorts of topics kids are good at talking about at that age: favourite colour, superhero, game. Just the basics. Then encourage them to work up to asking other children their age those questions at the swings. You could also begin setting up play dates in your garden now that Westminster and the weather allows, and invite a friend you know will be in their class.
Finally, if they’re worried about getting things wrong, start modelling behaviour for dealing with mistakes. Saying things like, ‘Oh, I didn’t draw that right, I’d better rub it out carefully and have another go – much better!’, and, ‘I thought that the answer was 3, but it’s actually 4 – oh well! I’ll remember that next time!’ in a positive tone of voice will teach them that it’s ok not to know the answer or to make an error; it’s how you move on from it that counts.
Above all, build their excitement and positivity towards going. If they are anxious about mixing, talk to them about their feelings and counteract it with all of the lovely things they will do there. If you are anxious about it, try not to let them see that, if possible, as you don’t want to project it onto them. Take all of this gradually so as not to overwhelm them, and frame it all in positive language.
Ultimately, it’s about baby steps over the next few months. By September, they’ll be ready for their school shoes. Sob.