My daughter came home from Nursery, the first day back after the half term and she didn’t quite seem herself. She wanted me to play with her, be with her, cuddle her, for me to tell her that I love her. And whilst yes, I do all of these things normally anyway, the intensity of which she needed me and was asking these things of me was unusual.
Now, I can’t be sure, because I’m not a mind reader, but I am a good detective. I detected that something had happened or she had heard something that made her feel unsettled that day. By actively wanting me more than usual was her way of telling me that she felt unsettled and wanted to feel safe again.And this got me thinking, it’s the last half term of the year, I wonder if ‘Big School’ has been mentioned today? And sure enough, when I checked with the teacher, there had been the mention of ‘Big School’ within the classroom that day. Not in a formal way or anything, just a mention, but that was all it took to start the cogs of uncertainty whirling in my daughter’s mind.
It may feel like June is a bit early to be thinking about this, but, I’m a great believer in preparing for a big milestone like this. So, I wanted to share with you some ideas that may help you and your little one prepare for the move to ‘Big School’.
Check in with yourself. Firstly, be aware of your own experiences and thoughts around when you started school, separation from your parents as a child, and how you feel about making changes in your own life now. Quite often us parents tend to worry far more about these things than our children, based on our own experiences. Also remember, change is part of life. Life is fluid not static, change happens all the way through and should be something to look forward to with excitement and wonder not fear and trepidation. Help to model this outlook to your children as they approach their move to big school.
Connect with compassion. In times of uncertainty, when change is on the horizon, our little ones don’t sit us down and tell us about in great detail how they feel about it, they show us with their behaviour. It may be in the way my daughter did, wanting to play together more, be by your side as soon as you leave the room, more cuddles. Or it might be very different. They may become whiney, angry, defiant, find it difficult to concente or focus like they normally do, their sleep may be disrupted too. Although these behaviours may appear more challenging than those openly seeking comfort, the needs of the children are actually the same. They too are asking for comfort and safety. So regardless of whether your child becomes a cuddly bear cub attached to your side, or a grizzly bear cub testing your patience, be sure to give them what they are seeking – connection, compassion and understanding.
Make the unknown, known. Moving up to big school is a big deal for our little people, it can be a big unknown. In just the same way adults often do when faced with an un-known situation, children may imagine the worst or the not be able to imagine at all what their soon to be new environment will be like. So, during this term take advantage of the time you have before September to make the un-known, known. When you go to any ‘moving up’ meetings at the new school, or ‘stay and play’ sessions, take photos of the school, the teacher and classroom if possible and any activities your child particularly enjoyed and then make a little booklet that you can look at together during the summer holidays. I should probably say check with the teacher before you start taking photos and if you are not allowed, ask that they take them and email them to you.
Read a book about starting school. Stories and books are great way of introducing new situations to our little ones. There are lots of books out there that show children what to expect from their new school. I really like the book ‘Little Raindrop’. It’s not really anything to do with starting school, it’s actually about the water cycle, but the story describes the journey of a little raindrop and all its friends as they leave the comfort of their cloud and are released into the big wide world. They have a great big adventure as they go through their day, exploring their new world, having fun as they meet new faces, do and learn new things and when their day is over, and their work is done, they go back to their cloud for a hug and a rest and wait for their next big adventure. Hopefully you’ll see the lovely connection I’m making between the story in this book and our little ones parting from mummy and/or daddy, going to do their new thing at ‘Big School’ and then coming home afterwards. Be sure to point out this connection to your little ones!
Social story. Social stories can really benefit children when they are about to encounter a new situation such as starting school. The purpose of social stories is to guide the reader through real life situations to help the reader understand that situation better. The story is personal to your child, with them as the main character and children love this! Photos of your child are also included to bring to story to life. Click here for a simple explanation on how to write a social story.
Picture or Photo timetable. For some children, along with starting school, also comes new childcare routines afterschool. This can be a confusing time as us parents juggle work commitments, perhaps other school runs and routines for siblings and we might not always be able to stick to the same routine every day to make it consistent. A simple photo timetable can really help with this. A photo timetable makes the day predictable. They can see what is happening when and with whom which helps to make or children feel safe and secure. It can be really simple and made with photos or pictures. Always make sure it ends with being at home where they sleep get ready for the next day.
Goodbye Ritual. Good byes can be hard (for us as much as them) especially when we are leaving our little people in a new environment. It is a really good idea to talk about, establish and even practice a goodbye ritual so that your little one knows when the goodbye is finished and their school day is about to start. An example might be 1 kiss and a hug and then you leave both smiling. Or, a kiss and a hug and a second hug, then leave, both smiling. When you walk away, don’t look back! Generally speaking, with my teacher hat on, most children settle well as soon as mummies and daddies have gone, it’s the un attaching that is the most upsetting.
Finally, Breathe. Our breath really is our very own super power. We can use our breath to slow our heart rate, focus our mind, calm our nervous system and counteract any bodily sensations we may be feeling when we are nervous or anxious about a new situation such as starting school. It’s great to practise slow, deep breathing on a daily basis so that it becomes an everyday part of life and a go to tool during times of increased worry, stress or overwhelm. Have fun practising during the school holidays. There are so many ways to make it fun and engaging. When the big day finally comes, breathe at breakfast, breathe in the car, or on the walk to school. It will benefit you just as much as it will your little one, that I can guarantee!