There they stand. Their back pack is on. Their new uniform is pristine. Their lunch is packed - they look so grown up! There is a tear in your eye. How on earth did this day arrive so soon? It’s the beginning of the academic year and your little one is off into the big wide world and starting school.
It’s a big day for everybody, especially if they are also your first born. Many parents feel a deep anxiety with this developmental milestone and it is often parents who worry more than their children about the impending day. The transition to school will vary depending on a child’s previous experiences.
Naturally having attended a pre-school will help to prepare them for the types of routines and activities that will be expected of them. The transition will be easier again if they are transitioning from a pre-school linked to the school because they will be one step ahead with establishing friendship groups and have familiar adults around them.
That being said, children are incredibly quick learners and are great at adjusting and making friends. I have taught many children who joined the class from a different pre-school experience and within a few weeks have integrated fully into the class.
THE SCHOOL DAY
Learning and activities
When a child begins school, especially when they are as young as 4, such as in the UK, the demands on the children are low. The first few weeks are generally spent settling the children and establishing friendships, routines, rules and boundaries with plenty of free learning. Guided activities, such as phonics and maths are kept short to match their attention span so children will not and should not be expected to stay in a carpet activity for more than 15 minutes. These may lengthen slightly as the year progresses and they approach the end of the school year.
For the most part, children in the first year of school learn through play. These play activities are carefully thought out; they may be left for the children to independently access or be created as a guided activity where another adult will be present to scaffold their learning with a focus in mind. These activities will support their mathematic and English development as well as their creative, physical and social development. Children’s personal interests should also be taken into account when planning and activities often build on these.
For children attending an international school it is unlikely the children will be subjected to any kind of formal assessment at such a young age. If however, your child is attending a national school in the UK or USA (or an international schools using either a British or an American style system) they already are - or soon will be!
Assessments made in the first years of school however are assessments for learning. They are observations made by teachers and supporting staff of learning that is taking place independently, and usually through free learning in the setting. These observations will be used to build a picture of the child’s school journey and whether they are meeting, or exceeding milestones. They can also be used if a child is observed who needs extra support in an area. If, for example, a child is finding social interaction and maintaining friendships difficult, somebody will subtly make themselves available to support situations to model and teach.
Most observations are made by teachers and support staff but are also welcome if they come from parents and carers at home. Children usually behave differently in their most comfortable setting and are likely to do and say things they wouldn’t at school. All of this is valuable to that picture and is used as evidence against the milestones.
Recently many schools have turned to technology to record this information. I have experience of using an online learning journal called Tapestry, which allows easy communication and interaction between parents and teachers. If your child’s setting uses this or something similar, embrace it. If not, don’t be afraid to go in and ask to have a look at your child’s observational learning journey. The door should always be open.
Communication and language is an integral part of early stages of schooling regardless of whether English is their first language or an additional language. Teacher expertise and a variety of resources are used to support all children to broaden their vocabulary and the understanding of language structure. In my experience of teaching, those with EAL at this young age level are at a great advantage. It is through social play experiences and role play experiences shared with their friends that they have the freedom to practice and try out newly learnt vocabulary without pressure they may feel in other classroom situations.
MILESTONES FOR LEARNING
Each school setting, whether it is a national or international school will have milestones for learning. These are a number (each setting tends to have a different amount) of statements that act as a guideline for what a child of that age is likely to be achieving. It is really important to stress here that they are just a guideline.
All children develop at different rates and in a variety of ways. They naturally will excel in some aspects of learning and need support in others. It is a really good idea however to have a look at the milestones of the setting you have chosen. This will help you to understand what the specific areas of focus are to enable you to better support your child at home.
PREPARING YOUR CHILD FOR SCHOOL
If your child is approaching the big day, there are so many ways you can help to make it special for them. Everything matters when it comes to preparation, be it practical preparation or simply reinforcing positive emotions.
Ensuring your child has a high level of independence will set them in excellent stead as they begin their first year in formal education. By encouraging and rewarding children to do things by themselves from a young will make their school experience a lot more pleasant because that is what will be expected of them there. Hanging their own coats, getting themselves changed for PE, choosing and using resources independently are all key parts of a day.
Not only physical independence, but also mental. Giving children opportunities to make decisions and think for themselves is a life lesson that is definitely best learnt young. Allowing them to reap the reward of their actions or deal with the consequences can be hard but is fundamental.
Reading and sharing stories with your child is such an important activity for many reasons. Not only is it a beautiful time to cuddle your child, it also builds vocabulary and understanding which will help them at school. Reading is just as much about comprehending the story, as it is decoding the words. Asking questions about what is happening, how you know it is happening and inferring information about the pictures will begin to develop essential investigative skills needed throughout their school lives.
Count, count and count again! Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, count. If your child can count and understand the cardinal value of numbers- telling you how many are in a set, they are progressing well.
A deep understanding of numbers to 10 and beyond will mean that when the teacher begins to use new vocabulary and introduce new skills, such as addition, they have mastered the basics of number and are ready to be built upon that prior knowledge.
CONGRATULATIONS YOU’RE NOW AN OFFICIAL ‘PARENT’
Remember that your teaching role isn't over - It’s important to remember that although your child is starting school you are still the most integral part in their education. Parents are a child’s primary educator, and even if you don't teach them the specifics of how to read or add, you are their main source of learning about life, which a teacher will help to build upon.
Don't forget to share your child's home learning with school - Having you on board to assist the teacher and share their learning at home is invaluable. As teachers we love to know the wonderful things you do together at home.
Get involved in the life of the school - Being involved with the life of the school makes the experience more enjoyable and rewarding for everybody. This is hard if you may also be working, but making sure you read information letters, supporting resources and booklets that are sent home will ensure you all understand each other.
Keep supporting your child during this important stage - Children who feel supported often make better progress too.
Share any concerns you have with the school - Lastly, make sure that if you have a concern or worry, seeks answers and support. Make sure you let staff know anything that is bothering you and they will be more than willing to work it through with you.
HEY! MY DAD'S A PARENTS TOO
Spare a thought too for the home-schooled child - their first day at home-school will be no less significant!
Whether your child is home-schooled or starting out in kindergarten, this family milestone can feel a little scary. More often than not however, it is the anticipation of starting school that is the worry, and the reality is usually a great feeling. If you embrace and enjoy this important day, your child most likely will as well.
Contributor Hannah Harding