Your little one is nearly ready for big school! It’s quite a milestone – especially if you’ve had to navigate some tricky preschool years.
There are some standard ways to prepare any child for prep such as visiting the school, meeting their teacher and trying on their new school uniform.
But if your child has speech and language delays, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or another condition, then you (and they) may feel additional anxieties about starting school.
Talk to your child’s therapist(s)
If your child is receiving therapy then ask those professionals for their advice on handling the transition to school. They’ve probably guided many other families through this transition and are well-placed to offer advice on what will most help your child to adjust to school.
Meet with teachers and support staff
Your child’s teacher and classroom aide will play key roles in their adjustment to school.
Liaise with the school and ask to meet with your child’s teacher before school starts. You may already have had a general enrolment interview but now you’re looking to talk to your child’s designated teacher in more depth.
This gives you a chance to tell the teacher about how they can best help your child. You know which situations your child struggles with and which things help them to stay calm and engaged.
Hopefully, this will help your child’s teacher to know them better and so support them better.
Mirror the school routine
As it gets closer to the start of term, start implementing a version of the school routine at home. You can do this by:
- Getting up at the time you would on a school morning
- Having a breakfast routine
- Creating a visual schedule and putting it up in your home
- Introducing some school activities like cutting, colouring, writing practice (ask your child’s teacher for ideas at your meeting)
- Serving morning tea and lunch at the same time as school does
- Sticking to a school-friendly bedtime.
You can help your child become more familiar with school ahead of time by:
- Walking past the building and pointing out their classroom
- Playing on the school oval or playground during the holidays (check local rules on this as some schools permit it and some don’t)
- Wearing their school uniform to get used to the fabric and fit
- Eating from their school lunch box
- Using their school bag.
If you find yourself regularly helping your child to put their shoes on or complete other tasks, then it’s time to encourage a bit more independence.
In a classroom setting, your child will need to do as much as possible for themselves. That includes things like:
- Packing and carrying their own bag
- Getting dressed without help
- Opening and closing their own lunchbox
- Dealing with their own drink bottle
- Putting on their own shoes
- Going to the toilet independently
- Recognising their name label so they know which bag is theirs.
Some of these tasks get easier with practice. Others can be made easier by finding the right equipment – velcro shoes are easier than lace-ups, for example, and some lunch boxes are much less fiddly than others!
Read to your child
Reading to your child is a wonderful way to build a connection with them, to improve their literacy skills and to fire their imagination. As you read to your preschooler, ask them questions about the story. Why is a character happy or sad? What do they think will happen next?
Reading is also a great way to prepare a child for school by immersing themselves in a story. There are many excellent story books about starting school that allow a child to imagine themselves as a fresh-faced preppie.
Practise social settings
Many children, including those with autism may benefit from practising social skills before starting school.
Playing games (with you or with other children) gives your child a chance to practice taking turns and experiencing both winning and losing.
You can also use role plays to prepare your child for school, exploring common classroom and playground situations such as:
- A group of friends deciding which game to play
- Asking someone to stop doing something that’s upsetting
- Answering a question in class
- Asking for help from the teacher.
Your child’s school may organise some social events for new families or there might be an enterprising parent who creates a social media group and organises a few playdates (perhaps you’ll even be that person!).
These events provide a chance for children to socialise together before school starts. If your child has attended a local childcare or kindy, you may already know some of these families. Build on those relationships. Your child may find it easier to have one child over to play rather than socialise in a group, for example.
Get involved with your child’s school if you can
Schools have always relied heavily on parent helpers in the classroom. COVID-19 has disrupted that but, depending on where you live, parent helpers may once again be needed in the classroom.
Being a parent helper helps you engage in your child’s classroom experience, get to know their teacher and observe the relationship between them. If your other commitments allow, then do get involved.
The start of school is a milestone in a parent’s life as well as child’s. How are you feeling about your little one’s new adventure? How are you managing those feelings?
It’s different for every parent. You might be relieved, tearful, excited or anxious. Go easy on yourself as the first day of term 1 approaches. If you’re feeling anxious, talk it over with people you trust and find some ways to refresh yourself.
When the first day of school comes around, remember your child will take many of their cues from you. Try to seem confident and relaxed (even if you don’t feel it on the inside!). Wave goodbye with a big smile and don’t linger.
Then plan a nice day for yourself. Go to the gym, walk on the beach or meet a friend for lunch. School pick-up time comes around very quickly and your preppie will soon be telling you all about their day.
All information is general in nature. You should consider your own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion if required.