‘You’re not going to stay all day are you…?

First day at school
First day at school

So said our cute little five year old daughter to her dad as she got out of the car on her first day of school.

My husband had taken the morning off work to see her new classroom, meet her teacher and make her feel special. As you can tell she really couldn’t have cared which was made even more obvious by the fact that she took off and ran to her classroom with her parents in hot pursuit.

She was the second of our four children, had been to the school for various errands and functions and couldn’t wait to start.

Our first child, our son, had been completely different. He put on a brave face and marched in ahead of us but confessed afterwards that he had butterflies in his stomach. His nervousness continued for weeks after, to the point that he developed abdominal migraines and would vomit during the day, on his way home or after school.

I was reminded of all this during the week when I had breakfast at a cafe and saw a tiny boy in a brand new school uniform which involved a tie which was arranged with a huge windsor knot under his chin. The knot was so large and the little boy was so small that he could hardly turn his head and could scarcely look down at what he was supposed to be eating. His mother was explaining to him that he would probably have his name called last because of his surname. Every time she said, ‘last’ the small face would look more drawn and anxious. He did not understand what she was saying. His father had a camera that was larger than the boy’s head and he continually pointed it at his little boy to record the momentous occasion of his son’s first day at school.

As parents it can be so hard to know what to do. All our children are different, but there are a few basic rules to follow which can be summed up with … listen to your child and be sensitive to what they are feeling. Make the day as normal as you can … the more fuss that is made the more anxious the child is likely to become. We need to relax. If we are stressed our children will sense it.

The process of starting school should start well before the day actually arrives. The routines of early to bed and waking up at the appropriate time to eat breakfast can start in the holidays. Even practising walking the route or catching the bus if possible can help make it all feel less strange on the actual first day. Practise eating school lunches and work out what works for your child and what doesn’t. I only discovered my son’s dislike of sandwiches when he started kindergarten. He still isn’t a big fan of lots of bread.

Every time my children started kindergarten I was reminded how tiring it was for them. So many new things to learn, so many people to interact with and so many new rules to remember. It was not uncommon for them to fall asleep on the lounge before dinner. I had to remember to plan to have dinner early and try not to drag them around to after school activities. The other thing I found was because they were so tired they were also a bit cranky and not in the mood for talking. The first person to see them in the afternoon to pick them up from the bus or school would get any news and then after that they were done and poor dad was not allowed to ask any questions.

Starting school is a huge change in the lives of small children and their families. They might start off nervous or brimming with confidence like our ‘Miss Independent’ but no matter which child it is, it is all new and tiring and as teachers and parents we need to be sensitive to the adjustments being made by both the children and their families.

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