The first day of school is exciting but can also be hard for everyone. Parents have to swallow the fact that their kiddies are growing up. Teachers have to teach all the rules again and get to know a new set of kids and, believe it or not, we’re not all extroverts, so meeting new people, big and small, can push us out of our comfort zones. And, although some kiddies are dying to start school, there are always some who are absolutely dreading it!

 

In the midst of a pandemic where parents can’t walk their child into school on the first day and settle them in, we have a responsibility to prepare our kids so that the transition is smoother for everyone.

 

After a few years of first days under my belt, here are some tips from a teacher to a parent.

 

Prepare Them

Start talking about school days even a week or two in advance (although who knows from day to day at the moment, right?!?) Although you need to tell them that you are going to leave them (those who are already in school will know that), don’t repeat all the cons so that they overshadow the good. Tell them that you will fetch them after story time. Tell them the name of their teacher beforehand if you can and if there is a picture of him/her on the school website, show your child. Tell them about the fun activities they will be able to do, especially the ones you know will be of interest to them. If there are photos of the school online and you haven’t been able to visit the school in person, show them the photos. Allow them to help you pack their snack. Let them choose what they want on their sandwiches. Let them help you label their belongings. Involve them in the process.

Regarding Covid_19 protocol, explain that they will need to wear a mask. Practice at home for a few hours if they don’t often wear a mask, otherwise their first day will be overwhelming on another level that could have been avoided! Explain that their hands will be sanitised and their temperature taken. Remind them not to take their mask off unless they are eating or drinking and to try to keep their hands away from their mask. Remind them to wash their hands often.

 

Drop and Go

This goes against our very nature as nurturing parents but, believe me, it really is the best thing for you and your child. I’ve had parents stick around and it’s made the drop off so much harder! I can only imagine how hard it is to go when your child is crying or calling after you – I’m about to experience a drop off as a parent next week!! But the anticipation of you leaving if you linger builds up and then their reaction is worse than it would have been if you had given them a quick kiss and hug. One thing I always said to parents was It’s harder for you than it is for them! They are fine in 10 minutes! The tears have stopped and they are distracted. Take comfort in that. I’ve only had one child in my years of teaching who has cried for longer than ten minutes. We used to encourage the parents to give the school a call if they were really worried after 10-15 minutes to check up on how their child was. You will be crying longer than they will be!

On that note, try to keep your composure. Keep your goodbye short and sweet. Give them a squeeze and a kiss, tell them that you love them and that you will be back to fetch them at story time. You can tell them what you plan to do such as go to the shop or vacuum the house and then you will be back to fetch them. My husband has already had a pep talk. Hug, leave and cry in the car!

Never lie to your child. If you say you’ll be there at a certain time, then be there! If something unforeseen happens, call the school and ask them to let your child know you’re running late. If you’re not fetching them after story time but later in the day when they’ve been to aftercare, tell them that too. There’s nothing worse than having a child peering out the door waiting for a parent who doesn’t arrive when they’re expected.

 

Independence

Encourage independence from day one. Kiddies thrive when given responsibility. Teach them to carry their own bag. Let them help you pack their lunch box. Remind them to put their belongings in their bags so that they don’t get lost. They may not be keen at first but keep encouraging it. Encourage them to be responsible at home – putting away their shoes, clothes and toys. Or putting their dirty clothes in the washing basket and unpacking their bag. This gives them a sense of ownership, stewardship and helps them to become more independent.

 

Spare Clothes and Masks

I can’t stress this enough! I can’t tell you how many times I had to change a child’s clothes after an accident or because they slipped in a muddy patch only to find no spare clothes! I’ve then had to go and find some (clean) lost property clothes to put on them. Make sure they have at least one change of clothes in their bag. With the pandemic, make sure to pack an extra mask just in case the other one gets wet, dirty or lost.

Please don’t send your children in fancy clothes. Old clothes are best because they will, I repeat, will get dirty! Please make sure your child doesn’t wear belts or hard-to-button jeans. When they need to wee, they need to wee. And, speaking from experience, teachers have 23 other children to worry about at toilet time – it’s always crazy anyway! Please keep princess dresses at home. I’ve cringed watching little girls trying to climb ladders and standing on their skirts! (I am about to fight with my little girl on this! 90% of her preschooler life has been lived in flowing skirts!) Think practical. Make sure pants don’t slip down when they bend over – they spend their lives pulling them up! Check that they can take off or put on the clothes you send them in.

 

Bags

I must confess, this was a pet peeve of mine. Make sure you buy your child a bag big enough to fit all their belongings. On the average day, they will have shoes, a change of clothes a lunch box and some art they made that needs to fit inside. In the winter months, add boots, socks, scarfs, gloves and jackets to the mix. One of the things I had to assess was whether the children looked after their belongings and packed them away – a bit hard when their stuff was overflowing out of their locker because all their bag could fit was their left sock!

 

Snack

No one wants their child to go hungry and we often pack more than they eat at home “just in case.” It’s likely they will eat less because they will be anxious to play. Don’t be surprised if the food is untouched the first few days! Children are overwhelmed by choice and you’ll often find food will be wasted because they will take a bite out of each thing and get over it pretty quickly. Give them no more than 3 things. A sandwich, a fruit or veggie and, should you wish, another tasty (healthy!) snack such as peanuts, cheese, biltong or whatever you can afford. You know their appetite! Trust yourself. Adapt if you need to. They’ll be fine! Please don’t send treats. It’s a.) not fair to the other kids b.) some parents can’t afford treats so it makes it hard for the other kids – sandwiches and fruit level the playing field c.) treats are not healthy and teachers have to play bad cop  Some schools don’t allow them. Please abide by the rules of the school.

 

Encourage Your Kids to Get Stuck In

Don’t tell them not to mess up their clothes hence, send old ones. Don’t tell them to keep their shoes on. Their grip is better on climbing equipment with no shoes. They are more likely to slip with shoes on. And it’s good for balance to have bare feet. Please don’t tell them to stay clean or out of the sandpit. I once had a little girl standing all forlorn on the side of the sandpit because her mom had told her to stay clean! It spoils them having fun. Play is dirty! Encourage it!

 

Correct Contact Details

Please make sure your contact details are up to date. It has happened one too many times that we have tried to contact a parent when their child was ill only to find the phone rang and rang and sometimes their number had changed. If something changes, please inform the school.

 

Check Notifications

Please always check the notebook or the school communication whether it be in an email, on the D6 or WhatsApp messages. This was always a problem. Parents would pitch up at my door and say that they hadn’t been informed about an event or became angry that their child was hurt at school and we didn’t say anything. Always check if the teacher has tried to communicate with you first. My heart broke on dress up days when someone would arrive at school and look sadly at their friends in costumes while they wore shorts and a t-shirt. Be involved and be informed.

Attend parent meetings. Go to school functions where possible. Show an interest in your child’s schooling career.

 

Chatting about School

If you are anything like me, I can’t stand not knowing how it went!! I wish I could be a fly on the wall! I’ve heard so many parents say that they got nothing out of their kids after a school day other than, “It was fine!” or “I dunno!”

So ask specific questions like, “Who did you play with today?” “What did you play with?” “Where did you play?”

“What made you happy at school today?” “What made you sad?”

It’s much easier for them to answer specific questions than try to summarise a day in one sentence.

 

We’re in this together! I am about to join the ranks next week as a parent rather than a teacher. I’m about to find out what it’s like to be on the other side. I know it can all feel overwhelming at times but hopefully we’ll all transition really well, especially in the midst of the chaos in the world right now! One thing I know is that kids are resilient! Look at how they’ve taken the pandemic in their stride.

 

OK, I’ve taken off my teacher hat and turned off my teacher voice! Hope this was helpful! Let’s see how I put it into practice as a parent! What helped you prepare your kids?

 

Photo Credit: Sasin Tipchai

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