Cork teachers share their tips for your child's first day at school

Education experts share their tips for parents — whether your child is starting out in pre-school, primary or secondary school
Cork teachers share their tips for your child's first day at school
Establish a school routine, advises Miriam Spillane.


Miriam Spillane runs a play-based Montessori school called Ups A Daisy in Crosshaven Rugby Club 

I am working in the childcare sector for over 20 years and I am passionate about my job. It’s very rewarding to see children accomplish tasks by themselves and become confident and competent learners. Early education is paramount for the holistic development of a child. It is the foundation for all life skills. We have a unique opportunity to shape children’s lives both now and into the future. We do this by providing a play-based environment for children to learn while having fun. The positive influence of quality early childhood care and educations lays the foundations for adult life.

When your child is starting preschool, it’s normal for you and your child to have mixed feelings. Communicating with each other and reassurance is essential. Here are some tips:

Establish a school routine 

Don’t rush in the morning —leave plenty of time to have breakfast and arrive to school on time Support your child hanging up his coat and putting his bag away Make sure clothing are play- friendly and there is easy access to the toilet Inform the child of toileting procedures Reassure your child that they are going to have fun Give them a family picture or something personal they can hold on to for security Make sure they can open their lunch box and label everything Children sense if you are anxious so don’t hang around When you see your child is comfortable, it is time to leave Call the school if you are anxious, instead of peeping in the window Always say goodbye — establishing trust is very important for curbing separation anxiety The settling in process may take days or weeks and one day might be good and the next day they won’t want to go. Usually the first week is good and then the break at the weekend can be like the child starting over again.

Be patient and remember that in learning how to manage this transition your child is laying the foundations and developing coping mechanisms for the next step on the education ladder.

Children should have a good level of independence, says Mary Magner.
Children should have a good level of independence, says Mary Magner.


Mary Magner, Principal Scoil Chroí Íosa, Blarney 

The first day in “big” school is one to be cherished and remembered by both the children and their parents. It is a whole new world — new friends, a new place, new sounds, new rules, more people and that is just the first day! Every school day after that will be part of that new world of maturing, learning and growing.

This week, thousands of four to five year olds from around the country, will be making the big step to begin their primary school education. Some will be excited and happy while others may be anxious and tearful (and that includes for parents as well !!!). Irrespective of first day emotions, it is important that children are “school ready”.

“Tosach maith, leath na hoibre” (A good start is half the work) is an old saying that comes to mind when transitioning children from home to school. Talking to your child about school, answering their questions, ensuring they are familiar with the school building, organising play dates with other pupils who will be attending, so that there are familiar friendly faces when they arrive, are all practical ways to help children to be ready for school.

In order to take part in school life, children need to have a good level of independence. Children should be able to put on and take off coats and hang them up, use the toilet and flush it properly, wash their hands and tidy up their crayons and colouring books. Enabling children to fend for themselves is one of the greatest skills that parents can impart.

Establishing a school routine is essential and significantly reduces anxieties that children may experience. Earlier bedtimes mean that waking up for school isn’t taxing and the morning gets off to a good beginning. Ensuring everything is ready the previous evening helps to start the day on the right foot. A healthy breakfast is vital and allowing adequate travelling time ensures that there is no pressure to be on time, enabling a relaxed and stress-free attitude to the beginning of the school day.

On the big day, if any parent is feeling upset/ anxious, it is imperative not to show it. Leave your child with the teacher and tell the child you will be back at the appropriate time to collect him/her. If your child is upset, trust the teacher. The teacher is experienced and knows how to comfort an anxious child. It is important not to “linger” as it increases the separation anxiety. It is equally important that you arrive on time to collect your child from school. Children will become upset if they see other children being collected and feel they are being left behind.

Preparing your children for learning is also crucial to their success in primary school. A positive attitude is key. If children have this, then they will try to become more involved in the learning process.

Encouraging curiosity is also important — the natural inquisitiveness of children is central to learning.

Self-confidence is essential — if children are confident about their abilities then they will be more willing to take on new challenges. Parents can build their children’s self-esteem by becoming aware of and noticing their abilities, talents, interests and skills and then drawing attention to them. Praise children frequently and give them opportunities to demonstrate their abilities.

It is an enormous change for a child to have to share a room with up to 30 other children and one adult and children need to learn key skills on how to interact with others. Emphasise the opportunities for making friends and for getting involved in new activities and teach them to share and take turns. They also need to learn respect for others and to be aware of the feelings of others.

Children should be encouraged to develop good listening skills. Instruction and directions are a big part of school life. Equally, listen to children and encourage them to talk. Give them time to explain or describe events to you. Avoid interrupting, even if you know what they are going to say.

The importance of language in education cannot be over-emphasised. Language is essential for developing reading and writing and is also a vital part of the social and emotional development of children. Read to your child regularly. This encourages a love of books and creates an interest in reading, making it a lifelong learning experience.

If your child is experiencing a problem, it is essential that you communicate this to the teacher. Letting teachers know will allow them to help your child to cope and to make allowance for any distress. Happy children learn best.

It takes time for children to adapt to school life and routine but remember “School days are the happiest days of our lives”.

Find out if you child’s school has a healthy eating policy or is a ‘nut-free’ zone, says Seamus O'Connor.
Find out if you child’s school has a healthy eating policy or is a ‘nut-free’ zone, says Seamus O'Connor.

Seamus O’Connor, Principal of Scoil Bhríde, Crosshaven 

Teachers realise this is an important time of year for families with a number of parents taking time from work to ensure children settle back to their new routine after the summer break.

For parents who have children starting in primary school for the first time, here are some tips:

  • Name-tag all the children’s clothes/uniform and school bag.
  • Remember that, unlike pre-school, where the pupil/teacher ratio is 8:1, there are probably 20-25 pupils in each class so you may not receive as much feedback from the teacher as you may have in pre-school. In this case, no news is good news! But always feel free to ring and ask a teacher to give you a call back if you have any concerns.
  • Don’t worry about having a bag full of books for the first day, stationery and some copies will do until the teacher lets you know what the class arrangements are.
  • Find out if you child’s school has a healthy eating policy or is a ‘nut-free’ zone.
  • Add the school phone number to your contacts and visit the school website to see if there are any updates over the summer.

For all families returning to school:

Remember to update the school if you have changed phone numbers, address or family dynamics. Also, ensure schools have a relevant emergency contact number in case you or your partner are unavailable. While childminders are not added to school text lists, it’s important that a school has their contact details also.

Update schools in relation to any medical conditions which may have been diagnosed over the summer break.

All schools are aware of the financial pressure that some families face at this time of the year. It is appropriate to chat to the school principal with a view to delaying certain fees until a later date, with a view to alleviating pressure.

Try to establish good habits around completing homework from the get-go.

Inform the school if your child has suffered any form of bullying over the summer. Schools cannot get involved in incidents which take place outside of school-hours, however it’s important that schools are ‘kept in the loop’ in case such issues spill into the school environment.

New first year students are facing a lot of change over the coming weeks as they get to grips with not only a new school but also a completely new way of doing things, says Alan White.
New first year students are facing a lot of change over the coming weeks as they get to grips with not only a new school but also a completely new way of doing things, says Alan White.


Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and wellbeing author.

MOVING from primary to secondary school can be an exciting yet challenging time for students and their parents.

New first year students are facing a lot of change over the coming weeks as they get to grips with not only a new school but also a completely new way of doing things: New uniform, managing a timetable, beginning many new subjects as well as making new friends.

As a parent, there is not a lot you should do. This is difficult for many of us as often our first instinct up to this point in their lives is to be as involved as possible in their school life.

However, this is an age where they can begin to do much more for themselves and they need to be allowed a certain amount of freedom to do this. Do not worry, there are a few steps that parents can take to make the transition that little bit smoother.

Parent as model — discussing the move to secondary school in a positive way

 It is natural for our children to be anxious about a big life change such as moving to second level. There are many unknowns for the child, which can create stress for them.

You are your child’s first role model, sometimes when your child is anxious we can also be a little nervous and this can come across to the child. When discussing starting a new school with them, use your own positive experiences of it when talking to them.

Talk about how exciting it is to be starting in a new school, with all the different subjects and teachers as well as the new friends they will make. Tell them about some of the good memories you had in school, such as a favourite teacher or subject, where you used to have lunch, or the clubs you were involved with.

By discussing your positive experiences, you are helping your child create a positive picture of what they can expect.

Help your child prepare

Over the course of the first few weeks, students will be told by their teachers what they need for class. Every teacher will have slightly different ways of doing things and different subjects may require different materials.

To begin with, make sure your child has an A4 refill pad, a supply of hardback A4 copies, a pencil case with basic stationary and a good school bag. Some first year students opt for wheelie bags, as they will be required to carry more books with them than in primary school.

Having these basics will help your child feel more at ease in their new classes.

Sleep, diet and exercise 

As your child adjusts to Second Level there will be increased demands put on them. They are likely to come home in the first few weeks exhausted from getting used to a new timetable, getting used to new rules and ways of doing things. As a parent, you can help them by ensuring that they are getting enough rest. This means a regular bedtime and switching off devices at least an hour before bed, as these affect our ability to get to sleep. Make sure you provide your child with healthy, nutritious lunches, avoiding high sugar foods and drinks, as they will impair concentration and cause energy crashed throughout the day.

It is also essential that your child gets plenty of physical exercise to help them manage their stress levels.

Parental Bias 

Most schools offer first year students the opportunity to sample all optional subjects before choosing what they would like to study to Junior Cert. It is important to allow your child to make their own decision on which subjects to choose, within reason.

Sometimes, as parents, if we had a negative experience with a subject, we put our children off that subject. If they show an interest in a particular subject that you didn’t like, allow them to explore their interest and listen to the reasons why they are interested in it.

Creating a link with the school 

In primary school, you were probably on first name terms with your child’s teacher. Often you were able to have an informal chat in the schoolyard before or after school about your child’s progress. It is more challenging to do this in second level. However, every child will have a school journal and this is the easiest way to communicate with the school. Make sure you ask to see your child’s school journal on a regular basis.

It is also important to attend parent teacher meetings, as these are a great way to gauge your child’s progress.

Most schools also have parents associations, which are a great way to meet other parents as well as get involved in school life.

Typically, my experience of first year students is that the first couple of weeks can be challenging but by the end of September, they have settled in and their confidence has grown. Any change is challenging but we only grow through challenge. Help your child meet this new challenge head on and they will flourish in their new school.


Alan White is a second level teacher at Bishopstown Community School and wellbeing author.

He also facilitates wellbeing workshops for companies and organisations. For more information contact or linkedin Alan White

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