IT’S been the longest educational break in living memory, and only now, after several months at home, is it time for children to return to school.
For many, it will be a case of picking up where they left off, just in the next year up. But for children starting primary school for the first time, there’s a lot more to prepare for — and it’s not been made any easier because many schools have had to cancel their normal settling-in sessions due to coronavirus safety precautions.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Starting School Book, says: “In these uncertain times, the more parents can prepare their children practically and emotionally for starting school, the more likely children are to embrace the experience and avoid anxiety.”
Primary school teacher Amanda Martin, president of the National Education Union (neu.org.uk), adds: “I think the main thing will be about building relationships when we go back, and getting kids back into the love of learning and the social situation of schooling.
“It’s been a long time for some kids not being in school, and we have to think about what we’re returning to.
“The preparations parents can make, talking and thinking about how things might be different, and being aware of hygiene, are important, and they need to be aware of how exhausted their children will be for the first few weeks at school as well.”
Ockwell-Smith shares her top tips for the best preparation for school...
1. Ask for a video tour and visit the school website
If your child’s school hasn’t managed to run any settling-in sessions, ask them if they can film a video tour of the school, to include important areas your child will visit regularly, plus staff photos (which you may be able to find online).
2. Walk past school frequently
Try to walk past the school as often as you can with your child, pointing out their classroom, playground and entrance if visible, so the building and grounds are already familiar to your child before they start.
3. Have practice runs
Have a couple of practice school runs, where you all get up at the right time, get dressed and pretend you’re going to school for the regular start time. This will familiarise the process and the journey so there are no unfortunate surprises for your child, or you, on their first day.
4. Sort out shoes
Don’t keep school shoes new and shiny for their first day - encourage your child to wear them around the house so they wear in and are comfortable for their first day. Teach your child how to put them on the correct feet too.
5. Practice putting on the uniform
Teach your child to put on and take off their school uniform independently. At school they’ll need to do this for PE lessons, and although teachers and teaching assistants will be around to help, they can’t get 30 children dressed each time.
6. Make sure they know which coat is theirs
Make sure your child recognises their own coat, can take it off, put it on and do it up independently; teach them how to hang it on a peg too.
7. Be toilet-savvy
Teach your child how to lock and unlock a public toilet door, flush the toilet and make sure they know how to wipe independently and also wash their hands afterwards.
8. Buy as uniquely as possible
Try to get easily identifiable water bottles and bags, so your child can easily spot theirs in a sea of 30 others.
9. Get to grips with a packed lunch
If your child is taking a packed lunch to school, do some practice runs at home first to make sure they can open anything inside (e.g. open yoghurt pots, peel oranges), and make sure they can open their water bottle and refill it.
10. School lunch familiarisation
If your child is having school lunches, get them to try carrying a tray of food. If you can get hold of a copy of the first term’s menu, teach them what the different meals are, so they’re familiar when they start.
11. Lesson need-to-knows
Forget teaching your children to write, read, or learn their ABCs - what they really need to know academically is how to hold a pencil, use scissors, spread glue and recognise their own name in written form. That really is all they need.
12. Play — a lot!
Make the most of the time you have left over the summer and play, play, play and play some more. Messy play, nature play, imaginative play, baking together, making music, lots of reading together, and role playing the school day with your child’s soft toys.
Play is the primary vehicle for learning in the early years. If you want to set your child up to excel academically, play is how to do it.
The Starting School Book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith is published by Piatkus