If your child is already attending regular childcare then the transition to school is likely to be easier but knowing what to expect always helps.
You should find out in April what primary school your child will be attending. Try not to bombard your child with constant talk about their new school but use the five months as gradual preparation time for your child and, importantly, for you too.
How do you feel?
Consider how you're feeling about your child starting ‘big school’. It can be a very emotional time for parents as you see your child take another step towards independence or, perhaps, it's worrying because you did not enjoy school.
It's natural to feel nervous or worried but remember that children are very intuitive and can pick up on your emotions. Try to talk over any concerns you have with your partner, a friend or your child's key person so that you can be more relaxed and positive with your child. You don't need to go overboard with comments about how wonderful school is but avoid derogatory comments such as, ‘I was rubbish at school’ or ‘school is boring’ which will likely give your child a negative attitude.
Try to support yourself by also planning what you will do when your child begins school. Perhaps there is a playgroup that you could start taking your younger children to, the opportunity to gain some new skills or get some extra hours at work.
What should I tell my child?
Once you know your child's school you can start to give them details of where they will be going, such as its name and what the uniform looks like. You could look at photographs in the school prospectus or on its website or, even better, point out the school as you walk or drive by.
Informally chat to your child about starting school. You could ask them what they think it will be like or what they are looking forward to.
If you pick up on any anxieties, try to empathise with your child and reassure them that it is very normal to feel worried. Be positive about the aspects of school that you know they'll enjoy, such as swinging on the monkey bars, playing with friends or sharing books with their teacher.
You could offer stories from your own school days, but try to keep them happy memories! Can you remember your first teacher's name or what picture you had on your tray? Perhaps you have photographs or mementos from your school days that you could look at?
How can I support my child?
There are also plenty of children's books that you can share with your child to help with their emotions and familiarise them with a typical school day (see box). You could also try role playing schools with their favourite toys.
If they already have a sibling at the school then this can be a big help. Otherwise, do you know of any friends or neighbours whose children attend? It could be helpful to meet up with them or arrange play dates with any families whose children will also be attending. It's always reassuring to have a familiar face on the first day, even if they don't go on to be close friends.
While you should focus on positive aspects of attending school, try not to make it sound like the most wonderful thing ever. You don't want your child to be upset or feel let down if it does not meet their amazing expectations! Tell your child that the adults at school are there to help and support them so they should always speak to them if they need something or are unhappy. Reassure yourself too – the majority of schools are happy places where children settle and thrive.
- Starting School by Janet and Allen Ahlberg (Puffin)
- Little Owl's First Day by Debi Gliori and Alison Brown (Bloomsbury)
- Harry and the Dinosaurs Go To School by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds (Puffin)
- First Day at Skeleton School by Sam Lloyd (Bloomsbury Children's Books)
- Charlie and Lola: I am too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child (Orchard Books)