Starting school for the first time can be scary for both a child and their parents, however, an academic specialising in early childhood education has come up with a simple recipe to make that transition easier.
Professor Marilyn Fleer, from the School of Educational Psychology & Counselling at Monash University, calls it the ‘ABCs of transitioning to school’ – A is for ‘alert’, B is for ‘before school’ and C is for ‘celebrate’.
“Be alert to what children might be worried about – the sort of things that young children think about might be different to what parents think about,” she told Hope 103.2.
“For instance, they might be worried about friendships… another thing that some children worry about is that the routine will be a bit different than preschool or childcare.”
Visualising the school day
Parents can help ease their child’s worries by talking to them about what the school day could look and feel like, she said.
The second letter in her recipe refers to actions parents can take before school begins.
“There’s lots of things that parents can actually do to help their child and one of them is to coach them to ask questions, so that they don’t sit there being too frightened to ask questions,” she said.
“They might ask them to ask when it’s OK to go to the toilet, when playtime is, what they will be doing next or when home time is.”
“The transition to school is as big as a transition to work or the transition to TAFE or university,” – Professor Marilyn Fleer, Monash University
A time to celebrate
The last letter in the recipe is all about celebrating, and a parent can do this by asking their child about the best part of their day, what they did during playtime, or whether the teacher told a story or sung a song with them.
“That’s all about celebrating the first day of school… the transition to school is as big as a transition to work or the transition to TAFE or university,” Professor Fleer said.
“It’s one of those really big milestones and if you ask (anyone), they probably remember their first day of school; it leaves such a huge impact on a child.”
Professor Fleer suggests that parents can take this celebrating one step further and create an album with their child of their first day of school.
This can include a picture of the child on their first day of school, information about where they sat and who they talked to and the child can draw pictures in the book.
“Some parents feel anxious because they don’t want to let go,” – Professor Marilyn Fleer, Monash University
Sometimes parents are much more anxious than their children about starting school, Professor Fleer said.
“Sometimes it’s about reassuring the parents… and some parents feel anxious because they don’t want to let go,” she said.
“So, there’s two sides to (preparing), one is preparing the parents… and part of the preparation (could be) the child trying on their school uniform.
“That helps the parent settle into the fact that the child’s leaving them more and entering a new period in their lives.”
“Some celebration means that the child will be able to focus on the content of what they’re going to be learning rather than the process of worrying,” – Professor Marilyn Fleer, Monash University
To help prepare the child, it is important to make the transition as positive as possible, according to Professor Fleer.
“Children will, like any person transitioning, they will always feel anxious about something and it’s usually something that you don’t expect… because they don’t always know what’s bothering them,” she said.
“Some celebration means that the child will be able to focus on the content of what they’re going to be learning rather than the process of worrying.”
“For some (children), starting school is like being close to being a grown up,” – Professor Marilyn Fleer, Monash University
The transition to school can also be daunting for children because of what it represents to them.
“For some child’s perspectives, starting school is like being close to being a grown up; they’re now in school and they feel like they’ve got a new place to go,” Professor Fleer said.
One of their most pressing concerns is often around making friends and parents can help make this easier.
“If a child comes home and says ‘I haven’t made a friend’ but they remember the name of someone… then the parent can be proactive,” she said.
“They can say to their child, ‘on the next day, here’s something in your lunchbox to give to your new friends’… and then they can make a gesture of some sort of friendship.”
A reminder of home
For children who are really reluctant to start school, a ‘transition object’ may be helpful, according to Professor Fleer.
This could be a soft toy or a photograph that the child keeps in their backpack.
“It’s something they could touch at lunchtime just to reassure themselves… it’s something that they can go and look at and if they’re feeling a little lost or a little worried,” she said.
“Over time, they won’t need it anymore because they’ve made friends and they feel settled in the group.”