Preparing your first grader
Breathe in, breathe out.
This is all 34-year-old Daliya Woodside could think as she sits and packs the school bag of her daughter, Heather, in preparation for the first day of school.
The mother of three says although this is her third time preparing one of her children for “big school” the feelings of excitement and terror remain the same.
“There is nothing like sending your baby off to primary school for the first time,” says Woodside. “It’s like introducing them to the real world where mommy can’t be there at every moment.
“On one hand I am excited for Heather because she is a curious child and always needs a new challenge but the thought of not being able to see her or look in on her whenever I want is going to be hard. Unlike my older children, she is not adventurous and as open to new things so I am a bit nervous about what will happen. Will she get along with the other kids? Will they tease her? Will she like the school? Will she understand the work? There are so many questions and I don’t have the answers.”
For many parents the first school bell that marks the new academic year also marks the end of the lazy days of summer vacation. It also means the return of early morning traffic, packing lunch bags, checking homework, attending meetings and skillfully balancing it all with your normal professional life.
But for other parents like Woodside this new school year promises something else—introducing their little one to school for the first time.
Kristan Burrows, 29, a grade one teacher at Claridge Primary School says the new school year is a whole new adventure for parents and students just entering grade one.
“It can go off without a hitch or you can meet many snags along the way as both parties struggle to adjust. It’s a crucial time in a child’s life and as a parent you want to do the best for them and you often don’t even know where to start. To make this transition as fun-filled and easy as possible there are several things parents should be doing to prepare their child, and even themselves.”
Preparing your child
It is important to get your child used to the idea of school in as many ways as possible, says Burrows.
“If you haven’t done it yet you will need to start talking to your child about attending school, especially if he has never attended school before. You don’t want to drop the news on him too suddenly. At this point he will need repetition and for you to answer all his questions,” says Burrows.
“Letting him see his school supplies and packing his own bag will make it more exciting. If the school has an orientation day try to attend it so he can see the grounds and where his classroom will be. If you have missed it at this point at least drive him past the school a few times so he knows where he will be going to school. Introduce him to his teacher before school starts if you can. This way he will not be too alarmed when you leave him all day with her or him.”
Once you have gotten your child accustomed to the idea of going to school, says Burrows, you will also want to review safety tips with them. Remind him about playing well with others, what is safe from what is not and reinforce the values and proper behavorial patterns you expect from him, she says.
Many parents may feel their children will pick up bad habits from other kids or a different environment but instead of worrying about that it is important to remind kids about what is right according to your standards and how to tolerate the views of others, says Burrows.
“Schools are here to bring students of many backgrounds together to collectively learn so it is obvious that the child will encounter different standards and people. As a teacher we can only guide so much, so parents need to always encourage the child to do as you have taught him even if his friends tell him something should be done another way. You don’t stop guiding because he is in school. Your child will be much more prepared to face challenges and different views if he knows what mommy says is acceptable from what isn’t. He won’t be distracted or lost in this regard,” she says.
In terms of your child being ready for the classroom academically Burrows says this aspect of preparation should have started at least a year ago in an education-based pre-school or kindergarten where they would have learned how to spell their name, how to read it, the alphabet, numbers, colors, directions, simple sight words and maybe even a little writing.
However, if you didn’t get to do this with your child Burrows says not to worry too much because most schools are equipped to deal with children who need to learn the basics.
For many parents the first day of school can be just as challenging for them as it is for their child, especially first-time parents of grade schoolers.
“If you as a parent have not yet learnt to detach yourself from your child and not give in to his every need you are in for trouble when it comes to having him in school full-time. I find sometimes it is more so the parent than the child who has the biggest difficulty in getting ready for the new challenge of first grade. Many parents have difficulty having their child away from them or people they are familiar with. This is something we really need them to work on because unlike pre-school you can’t call in repeatedly to check on your child throughout the day for no reason,” says Burrows.
Additionally, to make the first day go a little smoother Burrows advises parents not to stick around once they have dropped their child to school and met the teacher. It makes it harder for the child to adjust if he knows the parent is there and watchiang. If a parent fails to make a clean break and coddles their child during his first-day-of-school jitters he tends to have the hardest time settling into the school environment.
“It is important for kids to understand they have to do certain things alone and school is one of them,” she says. “Many parents let their kids be too dependent on them and at times like this they will not fare as well as they should.”