My daughter starting school was going to be one of the biggest events in my life as a mother. I knew this even before I had her. In my head, I was raising a confident girl who would be able to glide through school with her tiara intact. But she was a real person and not a princess, and I a normal mother, and therefore, as the day came closer, I started getting cold feet.
I was aware of how important it was for her to make a positive start at school. It was going to be a key factor that would motivate her to learn in the coming years. But the transition from home to school now seemed like an insurmountable task. From feeling immensely guilty about leaving her alone to her feeling insecure about new spaces, our emotions associated with the first few crucial days at school weren’t really the stuff of dreams.
As I grappled with reality, I learned that emotional readiness for school and an acceptance of new experiences can be cultivated in children early on. As parents, there are a few things we can do to help them prepare for this new phase so that it’s not all tears. Here are some ideas I tried:
Building a desire for school:
A couple of weeks before the beginning of school, I created an atmosphere of desire and inquiry for school by using the following approaches:
1. All children have an innate desire to grow up and be like their parents or siblings who seem to have more control over their lives. They love to emulate what people older than them can do. Use this desire to help them discover what going to school could mean. Take them to meet slightly older kids in the neighborhood or family. Bring up the subject of school in discussions among them. Talking with the older children about enjoyable activities at school made my daughter more inquisitive about school.
2. Tell them stories about your time at school and sneak in things of interest to them, within these stories. Let them know how you’d spend time playing football, digging in the sandpit or painting with your fingers at school.
3. If possible, visit the prospective school and introduce your child to the physical space itself. This might be their first visit to a school, so do a bit of show and tell. Making a map of the road from home to school is also useful. The child will feel comforted with the thought that home and school are connected.
4. If the school allows, it will be a good idea to meet the class teacher beforehand as well. This connection with an older caregiving authority within the school space will instill confidence in your child that he/she will be cared for in school the same way that they are looked after at home.
Closer to the starting date, you can get your child excited about new gear and their “official” first visit to the school using the following methods:
1. Consult your child when buying the school bag, lunchbox, water bottle etc. so that they feel a sense of ownership towards them. As they start school, these objects from home will help them feel secure in the new environment.
2. After the first visit to the school, have conversations about your child’s feelings about the space. Ask them what they liked, what area was their favorite spot or what activity they liked doing there. Bring in the teacher’s name in the chats about school. Help them make a pictorial list of things they would like to do.
1. This might not work for everyone but it worked like a charm for me. I spent about a week in and around the school while my daughter explored the space and got comfortable with the people there. I believe she was more confident knowing that I was around somewhere. Some kids, however, take longer to settle in and a parent’s presence might actually be detrimental. In any case, an ideal situation would be for one parent to keep their schedule flexible for their child’s first month at school.
2. Don’t expect your child to immediately warm up to a new teacher and classmates. At three years old kids don’t have a complete sense of friends and friendships. If your child wants to explore the space on his/her own, let them be. Don’t push them into relationships they aren’t ready for.
3. Once they develop some sort of confidence in the class teacher, they will be ready to bid you goodbye when you drop them at school. Develop your own unique and fun way to say goodbye, it makes the child feel special and also makes her really look forward to that moment. Turn it from a moment of anxiety to a time of enjoyment.
4. Pack a tiffin of finger food that your child loves. Over the first one week at school, the discovery of the independence in feeding themselves when hungry is key to future autonomy at school.
So get ready, pack in some patience and oodles of creativity for this exciting journey into the world of school with your little one. I am totally enjoying mine, hope you do too!