The start of school might feel like it’s a world away, but I know, after starting three of our children in school over the past five years, that if this is your first start at school, it will likely already be weighing on your mind. And even if it isn’t the first First Day of School, often other challenges remain—changing schools, maybe, or a departing favourite friend. And now, add to that, the uncertainty around Covid.
All these challenges mean that September can loom large with expectation and apprehension. With that in mind, here are 6 ways to prepare:
1. Stay calm.
There are a lot of variables in starting school and it’s easy to start feeling anxious about what lies ahead. From experience I can say that even children who you feel are absolutely not ready for school right now, may in fact have suddenly leapt ahead over the summer in maturity and be more than ready by September.
It is also worth remembering that nothing is set in stone with school. There are a variety of options, negotiations and supports available and you will navigate them as you go. And remember: there is a long weekend or holiday every couple of months when you can all catch your breath.
A trial run over the summer is a good idea. Walk the route to school, play on the school grounds if it’s allowed, meet up with other children who will going to the same school. Anything that makes school a more familiar space will help the transition go as smoothly as possible.
Our three year old has been walking to school for so long that she already feels like she ought to be attending.
Thinking broadly around the expectations for your child next year is also helpful, so that you can practise some of those basics too. Simple things—we’re not talking about covering the whole year’s curriculum in advance—but for kindergarteners, being able to recognize/print their names, use the bathroom independently, wash their hands, and put their own shoes and coats on will go a long way to help their time at school more relaxed.
3. Be proactive and gather information.
There are ways you can make even the most rigid school system more personal and part of your ability to do that rests on you, as a parent, knowing what your options are. For example, I discovered that the principal was happy for my son to do a half day, one day a week for most of his first year, which made the school start a little less exhausting for him.
4. Be low key.
There’s a lot of build-up before a new school year. Every adult your child encounters over the summer will ask, with all good intentions, how they are feeling about the school year ahead and after a while this can really ramp up the pressure. We tried to keep our talk about school pretty casual; we made sure to focus on things that would remain the same, as in, “we’ll still go to the park you like,” that sort of thing.
Having a clear sense that life won’t completely abandon normal routines is comforting. This is particularly relevant at the moment, as children will likely sense a lot of tension around the pandemic and implications for schooling. A lot is changing, but there can be plenty of familiarity worked into our children’s lives.
5. Keep expectations low.
I try not to “oversell” school in order to mitigate the risk that our children end up feeling like school failed to deliver on all the entertainment, learning and friends we’d promised.
Managing expectations is important for you, too. If it is your child’s first term at school, even if they have been doing full days at a preschool or daycare, they’ll likely be totally exhausted at the start.
I try not to over-schedule them with extra play dates or additional music/sport classes. Instead, we have pretty simple after school routines: connecting by sitting on the sofa with a book, or setting out an activity before picking them up at the end of the day so it’s ready for their return.
6. Put on your game face.
This is probably the most important part and one I have to remind myself of—frequently. Whatever your own thoughts, worries, or reservations, you need to seem totally calm, in control, and confident about school, especially as we all navigate the next steps in the Covid era. Your child needs to know, in order to be confident themselves, that you have this covered, that you believe in their teachers and school as a safe and comforting space.
Stay calm, be proactive, keep expectations low, and fake it til you feel it. Oh yeah, and have a lovely what’s-left-of-the-summer!