These words used to strike a chill into my heart during my school holidays. Almost as soon as we had begun the seemingly never-ending summer vacation, we were brought down to earth with a bump.
Every shop displayed this sign from July through to September. It reminded parents of the cost involved in sending their precious darlings to school in the right uniform with the proper pens and pencils and school bags. It reminded us children that our days of freedom were numbered. I hated that sign. Even now that I have left childhood way behind me, that sign still manages to make my toes curl.
When a child begins the educational journey through compulsory schooling, it signifies a change in the relationship between child and family. If we discount those children who spent their early years in a nursery, the significant adults have been parents and possibly grandparents. Playmates have been selected and vetted and those deemed unsuitable have been kept at arm’s length. Now some of that control goes to someone else. Children have to make decisions about many things in those first few days of ‘big school’.
Choosing or being chosen to be someone’s friend is often the first decision to be made. If a boy or girl has a natural confidence and openness, they will be popular and children will try to become part of their friendship group. These are the best children to be or be with. The child who has always been able to have the undivided attention of adults may suffer at first, from having to understand and accept that there are now other children who have similar rights. There will be fewer adults and certainly not one for each child. Their time is taken up making sure that all children are safe and happy and playing well.
There are lots of new things to learn.
Parents would do well to begin to teach their child a few of these survival techniques.
- How to take off and put on a coat is essential. Make sure you buy a coat that is easy to fasten. Don’t make it complicated for anyone. A jacket with a thick zip; a coat with big buttons; a hood or hat completes the ensemble.
- How to hang a coat on a peg so it doesn’t fall down is another must. If you have the opportunity to visit the school your child will attend check out the coat pegs. If you can, buy a coat peg that is similar and let your child practice hanging up their coat.
- Make sure that you buy easy-fasten shoes, and socks with some ‘give’ to make it easier to pull them off and put them on.
- Name labels with the name your child will be known by or other easy means of identification should be fixed to everything that belongs to your child even pencil cases and school bags.
- If you are going to buy school lunch for your child, make sure they know how to eat with cutlery whilst sitting at a table.
- Mealtimes are social events and children should have fun conversing with their new friends, eating the same food as them and understanding the importance of correct table manners. The child, who eats with his or her mouth open, speaks with food still in their mouth or doesn’t know how to use a hanky, will be someone to avoid once children see what they are like.
- If you know that your child will be upset when you leave, make sure you have arranged with the teacher to have some practice sessions where you can take your child to the classroom and leave for short spells until they get used to the routine of being left and being collected. Never lie or try to sneak out whilst your child’s back is turned. Be honest from the beginning. Say you are going and that you will be back. Some children take longer than others to acclimatise themselves to this. Some children may not be ready for this, but an understanding teacher will help you both.
- Going to a strange toilet is another potential problem for the new starter. As part of your school orientation visits, you should make sure that you go to the toilets several times so that your child begins to learn how to get there, and also what to do once they are there. A child-sized toilet is quite a surprise!
- Encourage a good hand washing routine so that tummy bugs are few.
- There will be times in school when the children are brought together to listen to the teacher, each other or to hear a story. If you don’t regularly read to your child so they learn the skill of listening, start now. Bedtime is usually a good time, just before sleep overtakes a very busy young person.
- Establishing a regular bedtime routine is also a good idea. In this way your child will be properly rested and ready for the exciting days ahead.
And what about you?
What will you do to prepare yourself for this inevitable event? A number of parents will see this as an ending rather than a beginning. They may be right, but there are more endings and beginnings to face all through life. The best thing you can do is to encourage your child to see this as an adventure. They are at school, they come home and tell you about their day, they have tea and watch some television or read with you, they get ready for bed, they go to sleep and then it begins again.
Most children fit into the school routine quite quickly. Parents organise their work and leisure time around their child’s school hours and days. Holidays must be taken during school breaks. Sickness or any other absences must be reported. Other people are now involved in the care and education of your child. It will be all right.
The day your child comes home and talk incessantly about their teacher and what they say, and even challenges your opinion in favour of their new god, is the day you realise you did a good job by putting your feelings aside and focussing on the really important person instead – and I don’t mean the teacher.