Adults frequently comment “I wish I had my adult brain with all its knowledge and experience, as a child!”. The wisdom of experience is a gift, and after many years of welcoming Year K students as they start their journey through school, here are my top ten tips for success!
- Be positive
Children mirror the adults in their world. If parents share excitement, curiosity and wonder about starting school, with its opportunity to build friendships and learning partnerships, then children usually mirror this attitude. It’s important for parents to communicate how much they value and endorse the process, practice and teaching of the school they are entrusting with their child’s personal and academic growth. This makes the child feel that they are in the right place. Once that is worthwhile, highly valued, secure and safe.
2. Listen, and don’t fill in the gaps
Children will not always feel happy about starting school or going to school every day. They might initially feel a sense of euphoria and then experience some challenges a few days or weeks into the journey. Parents sometimes respond with “stop your nonsense – everything is fine” or move to the other extreme of criticising the school, teachers, and the other students in the class. I advise parents not to fall into this trap. Rather lean into your child with curiosity, and when they express that they felt lonely at break or felt embarrassed or concerned when something happened, ask them a series of questions along the following lines:
“Tell me more about that?” “Help me understand how you felt or why you felt like that?” “What makes you say /think that?” “What could have happened differently?”
All these questions help parents to listen and allow children to think and make sense of themselves through talking. Parents sometimes impose their feelings and stop their child’s narrative with comments like “when I was at school this happened” or “today I felt the same when.” It is not always necessary to impose parental experiences onto children or to meet the child’s negative comment with negative parent narrative. The gaps don’t need to be filled. Children just need a chance to talk and talk again. Oral language is the foundation of all learning. The more we speak with our children, the better they get at making sense of their world and knowing how to communicate their feelings and needs.
3. Neat and correct doesn’t mean the most costly
Parents often feel stressed when fitting their children out with all the items required for the school year. New uniforms and supplies are expensive, and parents can be centered on needing everything to be brand new. Most schools, including Moriah, offer second hand uniform options in excellent condition. Please explore these options to reduce the pressure and support sustainability efforts to reuse and recycle!
4. Communication and respect are key
Parents as partners are the most valuable resources for schools and educators. Parents know their children better than any educator could ever hope. Children need to be empowered to share their voice, and teachers provide these reflection and communication moments. The added dimension that parent communication offers is highly valued in the school environment. Always email or schedule a discussion with your class teacher or wellbeing contact to share pertinent information about your child, and significant family events. Additionally, a parent who shares their information respectfully and calmly with educators, opens the channels of communication. Parents who enter conversations with disrespect and harsh tones, tend to shut down communication. Teachers are also guided to initiate the same calm, respectful disposition.
5. Practise builds proficiency
The first time we do anything, we often feel uncertain. Role playing and practicing a narrative changes the unfamiliar so that it becomes familiar and builds confidence. Try practicing phrases that could come up in an interaction with a teacher or group of friends such as “What are you doing?” “Can I join you please?” “Please don’t do that it makes me uncomfortable” or “I don’t understand what you said, can you help me a little more?” This can help to develop competence in children to manage situations that are challenging for them. Practicing responses to comments that children might find confronting will assist them to manage conversations as opposed to sitting with concern and fear and being caught off-guard in new situations.
6. Commit to making sure your child arrives at school on time, every day
Households can be difficult to run. Set up good preparation routines for uniforms, bag packing and lunch preparation with all the members of your family so that everything is prepared before the start of the term and before each morning. Hold family meetings to set wake up routines and times and agree to each person’s role in getting ready on time. Stick to the schedule and if there are some unsuccessful moments, be kind to yourself and your team members but keep all family members accountable.
7. Honour your child with healthy, predictable home routines
A good night’s sleep consolidates learning, as well as assisting future learning. Primary School children need between 10-12 hours of sleep each day. Assist your child to get into this ‘sufficient sleep habit’ by adhering to strict bedtimes preceded by an hour of calm, quiet wind-down preferably without technology. Remove screens and mobile phones from bedrooms and commit to routine bedtime practices that include communication, connection and reading.
Similarly, try to keep the household calm and well-regulated in the morning with distractors such as TV and devices under careful control. Ensure your children leave home or exit the car feeling calm and in harmony with you. They also need a clear understanding of arrangements for getting home that day.
Be present and fully engaged when you collect your children from school or greet them as they arrive home, or you arrive home from work. In the afternoon, ensure they have a balance of physical activity with space to download their emotions and tensions alongside sufficient time to complete any home learning that’s required.
8. Implement good tech-usage routines
Decide on the tech-usage you wish to allow for your children during the week. Tech tantrums and obsessions are a significant issue in many families. Install systems to limit screen time on various devices and ensure you and your children have negotiated their ‘during the week’ vs ‘weekend’ screen time. Set timers so that students know how long they have on a device and provide cues in the lead-up to their usage deadline. Balance screen time (if any) and green time so that we build healthy, balanced students.
9. Provide lunch that suits your child and meets their needs
Having a nutritious and healthy lunch is important for a successful day at school and helps to make sure that a child doesn’t feel ‘hangry’, irritable, or anxious. Simple, easy to consume items are the best – and remember that treats are best kept to a minimum, not daily. Waste-free lunches are particularly great! Be comfortable if your child does not eat all the food in their lunchbox, as it is an indicator that they are busy socialising and playing well.
10. Keep a sense humour and be forgiving
Teach your child to laugh, by laughing at yourself and seeing the lighter side of challenges. Have fun with your children and encourage them to engage in fun with others. Most of all, be forgiving, as we all make mistakes. This does not mean you should be inconsistent or laissez fair – it means that once you have administered a consequence or discussed a transgression, let it go and start afresh.
The start of Year K is an exciting and important milestone for parents and children. By supporting your child’s positive learning environment, promoting their independence, and building strong relationships with teachers, you can help ensure a successful and smooth start to school.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lynda Fisher is the Head of Primary School at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.