How can I prepare my child for their first day at school?

Your question

In just over two weeks’ time, my child is starting school for the first time. It feels like such a big step – for both of us! How can I make it easier for them and prepare them for the change?

Our answer

Going to school for the first time can be stressful for both parents and children, and the change in pace can be tricky to deal with. In comparison to the lazy days of the summer holidays, many children will be anxious about going to school, and it’s only natural you will feel sad to see them go.

But this is an exciting stage in both your lives, and to help you ensure your little one is fully prepared and looking forward to their big day, I’ve put together some advice on beating the back to school blues.

Listen to any worries they may have

It’s easy to recall our familiar feeling of dread as the end of the lovely long summer holiday approaches and the prospect of school becomes increasingly real. If you child does share any worries with you, listen to them, acknowledge them and give them comfort and reassurance.

Try to get into the habit of chatting to your child at the end of every day – you could do this as a family or one-to-one. Why not try ‘What was the best thing for me today and what was the worst’. This is a great way to ensure that children don’t take any worries to bed. It will also make it easier for you to spot any pre-school nerves that could lead to headaches or stomach aches.

Help them make friends beforehand

If you can, try to plan some play dates with children you know are going to the same school shortly before term starts, so they’ll feel less nervous.

If they’ve already spent time with other children who will be there on their first day, they’ll feel much more confident, especially as all the children will be feeling the same.

Encourage their independence

Help your child to increase their independence in small ways before school starts. Some of the biggest things children struggle with are managing their personal hygiene, being able to put on their coat, take off their jumper, manage socks and shoes etc.

If your child is worried about these things, they can become anxious and their confidence can take a knock. So encourage them to try something new each day – you could even present it to them as a fun challenge. For example, today your challenge is to put your shoes on all by yourself!

Give them chores around the home

Never feel guilty about asking your children to help out around the house – in fact they can be very good for children. Not only do they help to emphasise the importance of good hygiene and cleanliness, but children who regularly carry out household tasks find it easier to work and complete assignments when at school.

Chores are also a good way to help children learn to be independent and self-sufficient while following instructions – all of which will boost their confidence at school.

Practise their reading and writing

Try to spend at least 20 minutes a day reading with your child. Make the experience fun – you could act out the stories by creating mini plays, or if they are already able to read, take it in turns to read alternate pages.

Writing is also important, so encourage your child to practise holding a pencil and draw pictures of things that happened over the summer.

This is just as important with older children who are already at school. Keeping their mind active over the summer period ensures they are able to use their brains and imagination effectively when they return to school, and don’t let their skills slip!

Get them into a routine

Starting school is a big enough change, without adding the stress of a new home routine into the mix! So plan ahead and start getting them into a morning routine before term begins.

A week or two before school starts, get them into the habit of going to bed and waking up early. When the big day finally arrives, try to remember to regularly lay their clothes and shoes out the night before. This will reduce the chance of getting into a crazy rush before you leave home.

Make back to school shopping fun

It’s hard to avoid all the ‘back to school’ offers in the shops. So suggest to your child that you go on a shopping trip for school supplies! Ask them what they think they’ll need when they start. This can also be an opportunity to teach them the value of money, by discussing budgets and how much they will need to buy their favourite things.

Even if you have all your school essentials, letting your child pick out some pens, a rubber or a pencil case to show off to their new friends can help them to forget their nerves and even get excited about starting school.

Throw a first day at school party

Celebrate the end of their first day at school with a mini party. Plan their favourite meal and a fun DVD and to show them how proud of them you are that they are starting school for the first time.

The prospect of the party will give them something to look forward to, and it will help make their first day extra special. Just make sure to end the party early so they can get a good night’s sleep for the next day though!

Think about extra tuition

If you want to give your child a head start on their first year at school, there are great places in the UK where children can develop their core maths and English skills. So once your child has settled into their new routine and the tiredness of a fully stimulating day is lessening, why not look into local educational programmes and support?

At Explore Learning we focus on supporting children in reaching their potential. Through consolidating core skills and practising new ones, children can really boost their confidence and self-esteem (you can read independent research here). Our young learners take courses that focus on phonics, number concepts and handwriting in a really interactive, positive environment with fantastic tutors.

But whatever steps you take to get them ready will help. Children feel better when they’re prepared for all the new exciting learning challenges in the year ahead – whether they’re starting or continuing on in school.

Carey Ann Dodah is the Head of Curriculum at Explore Learning, one of the UK’s leading providers of extra tuition in maths and English. You can find out more and book a free trial session on their website