What is the first year of primary school like for you as the parent? The child care centre your child is leaving and the school your child is going to is very much focused on the child’s point of view, and rightly so. But what support is on offer for parents? Sure, we’ve all experienced the transition ourselves as little ones but how much of it do we really remember? Plus, the world of primary school is quite different when you’re approaching it from a parent’s perspective.
It’s a little like the first week our first new born arrived - you know it will be okay, that you have the instincts to get you through, but wouldn’t it be great if you had an insider’s guide to what this parenting gig is really all about? It would be great for that first year of school too.
Which brings us to the topic of our recent webinar - Demystifying Kindy and Emotional Wellbeing for the First Years of School.
Parents At Work CEO, Emma Walsh, was joined by Rene Ryan Thompson (Deputy Principal of Currans Hill Public School) and Glenda Cameron-Strange (an experienced child educational specialist) to give us the insider’s guide into what to expect in that first year of school as a parent. (Don’t worry if you missed it - the recording is available for free below this post.)
It was a very informative and insightful discussion. Rene is not only a deputy principal and teacher of 20 years but her son started kindy in 2016 so she has very recent experience of both sides of the fence. And likewise Glenda an experienced child educational specialist working with children with a range of behavioural and learning difficulties.
Here’s some great tips Glenda and Rene had to offer for parents of kindy starters:
- Get honest about the transition to school – whilst exciting it can be an anxious time for you child and the family. There are a number of unknown factors – will they have friends, how will their learning progress, will they like their teachers. As parents we need to stay enthusiastic.
- Expect your child to be tired and hungry – all the new things they are taking in can be exhausting.
- Don’t overburden them with extra activities – especially in first term
- Let them play when they get home – things can get emotional when they are tired and learning so much
- Expect the bubble to burst in week 2 – don’t freak out because it is very normal. They have tried for the first few weeks to be perfect and do the right thing so they are going to be tired. You’re not at preschool anymore and wander around – you’ve got to sit on a desk, listen to rules. They’re trying to make sense of the world and get a sense of security in a new environment.
- Give them (and you) the space used to new routines, new relationships. They are not the big fish in the small daycare pond anymore.
- Speak positively about your child’s teacher. It may take them some time to build this relationship.
- Don’t expect the same amount of interaction with the teacher as you had with childcare. It’s not because they don’t want to, its because the teacher often has other things after school – training, meetings etc.
- Approach the teacher if you feel, but be sensitive to the fact that they have an entire class to look after and 9am in the morning when kids are lining up at the bell may not be the time.
- Be mindful that many parents and children can experience anxiety around starting school. Try to make it as positive an experience as possible.
- Don’t be offended if your child doesn’t want to share with you what they did at the end of the day. You can illicit better responses if you ask more specific responses to point their memory – i.e. what’s one good thing that happened today, what did you read, etc.
- Expect a boom of growth in the first year.
“My son had separation anxiety. It went on, not just the first few weeks. It surprised me it went on so long. The amount of activities my son was invited to was another suprise. I started feel like all the activities were too much. The friendships I made with the other parents was another surprise – you have a new cohort.” - Rene
- Deciding how you become part of the community is important. There are different ways you can be involved – PNC, volunteering in the canteen or classroom, athletics carnivals, school concert, assembly items.
- Don't fall for false expectations that say to be a good parent you have to be really actively involved. For so many parents that is not possible – they may have younger children to care for or work commitments. Teacher’s don’t expect this from parents. The minimum they want from you is to read with them and reply to notes/excursion slips.
“We love it when parents volunteer but we certainly don’t expect parents to be at the school volunteering every week.” - Rene
- Extra curricular activities - one afternoon a week may be more than enough especially in the first term.
- Be careful as parents you don’t fall victim to the ‘I better opt in too’. A lot of parents today feel their child needs to be filled with something every afternoon – ballet, swimming, play dates. You feel the pressure if everyone else is doing it. But if your child becomes to tired they can become anxious.
- Share with your child where you feel it might be supportive. It’s common for parents to have memories flood in about your experience.
- Be organised. It can help to make lunches and put the uniform out the night before.
- Be prepared in advance for school holidays – vacation care, grandparents, etc
- After school care in the first few weeks - if anything pick them up early. If you put them in a few weeks later when everyone knows the routine it may be difficult. It’s best to gradually increase the length of stay rather than delay starting.
How do we prepare them for the transition to being the little fish again?
- Kindy children get a specific play area.
- Some of the teachers wear certain colour shirts for kindy’s first few week.
- Most schools have a form of Peer Support or a Buddy system.
- Going to the toilet with a friend/buddy - older kids are encouraged to be buddy the kindy students where possible.
- Put extra underwear in their bag to help them feel more comfortable in case of accidents.
- Teachers really value meeting the parents.
- Phone calls are perfectly okay if you want to check in.
- Some teachers will keep an afternoon free for parent drop ins.
- For the first few weeks it’s okay to ask everyday
- It’s important to let the teacher know of any significant changes in your child’s life such as moving house, pet died, new baby, mum starting work full-time, dads staying at home now.
What’s the normal amount of homework in kindy?
Reading is the most important thing – and reading together. Perhaps 20 minutes a night. Your children will come home with readers. As the year progresses they may come home with sight words or counting activities or tracing letters. It depends on the school, the teachers themselves – there is a policy but it gives you a chance to get into a routine and see where your child is up to.
- Some nights you might miss it and that’s okay; try to establish a routine – before school, at night, afternoon. Make it a ritual. Children learn by good role models so doing it whilst siblings are reading also can help.
- Let them read the sentence so they can figure it out – don’t jump in and correct them.
- You may get tablet / computer – Mathletics
- Kids are expected to be able to login to a computer – i.e. typing in their login – usually their name.
- Before they start you can practice typing their name.
What should you be prioritising in the first few weeks?
- Socialising is important.
- Routine – Creating routine. Especially if you’re a busy working parent.
- Do not compare – to a sibling or any other child in the class as the age ranges from 4.5 – 6 years.
- Time to rest.
- Healthy food.
- Quality time with mum and dad.
- Encouraging time with other kids.
- Speaking positive about school experience.
- Plenty of play.
- Acknowledge the bad feelings/days.
- Keep the dialogues open about how things are going.
“This is the beginning of a very long partnership with your school so make it a positive one.”
Where to go as a parent if you need some additional support?
As the teacher gets to know the child there may be some red flags that come up – social problems, reading problems, writing problems, behavior problems, etc. All schools have a learning support system in place. A group of support teachers may assess teachers. Work in partnership with the teacher to work out a step-by-step process. Early intervention is important. Don’t let it go on for a whole year.
Internal school supports for your child:
- Class teacher - The first thing is to see the class teacher and if you can’t get the right support then you can go to a grade co-ordinator or assistant principle or deputy principle.
- School Counselors
- Learning Support Team – they will take it from there in terms of extra support like Occupational Therapist referrals etc
- Support Learning Officers – teacher’s aids
There is also lot of support available for gifted children and those that need more support.
“You are the expert in your child’s life. Share that with your teacher.” - Rene
Listen to the full recording below.
Also, stay up-to-date with all our upcoming free community webinars visit our Special Events page on the Parents At Work website.