Starting School – Orientation

Children develop at different rates, and most children are more advanced in some areas than in others. There is no one quality or skill that is most important, but a combination of things will contribute to your child’s success. These include good health, physical wellbeing, social and emotional maturity, language skills, an ability to solve problems and make decisions for themselves, their independence and ability to think creatively and their general knowledge about the world.

Some pre-school children will have a concept of time in respect of past, present and future that will be related to yesterday, today and tomorrow. Few, if any, have the concept of next week or next month, more months is outwith their conceptualisation of time.

Introducing the concept of your child starting school too early can lead to them becoming anxious unnecessarily.

Most schools will invite parents to enrol their child in January of the year they start school. This is eight months before your child will actually graduate from their pre-school setting to begin school. In effect, relatively speaking, this is still 1/6th of their lifetime and so something that will happen for them a long, long, long time away. A child will normally count time in terms of ‘how many sleeps’. The idea of a child waiting nearly 240 sleeps is completely outwith their conceptualisation because 10 is a big number for them at this stage!

As parents you may feel a lot of stress, anxiety and excitement about your child starting school- or none at all! It is a huge milestone in your child’s life – we all remember our first day at school and our first teacher. It is the start of a whole new way of life for your child and you. Your child will face an environment that is very different from what they are used to at Mulberry Bush. They will have to share one or in some instances, two teacher’s attentions with many others. The classroom routines will be different. You will be talking about your child starting school to relatives, friends and other parents of children in your child’s pre school setting. This is likely to begin when the enrolment dates are posted.

Your child is listening. Your child is hearing what you are saying. They hear you talking about school. They feel what you feel about it. Your child will have been at Mulberry Bush since they were babies or toddlers, for a considerable period in their lives. They know that Mulberry Bush is not school and that means that all that they know will no longer be and that things in their life will change. They see other children going and coming from school, they may have relatives and friends whom they see as ‘big ones’ at school. They do not understand that the graduation to school is not until August. This undoubtedly brings to the child an anxiety that is manifested in many different ways from throwing temper tantrums, parents suggesting their child is bored and ready for school or your child regressing into wetting or your child finding separation difficult at drop off time – but it is one that your child cannot verbalise to you or anyone. Your child will show you how they feel about it in the way they behave.

At Mulberry Bush we reinforce the important celebration of your child starting school at the appropriate time in June (2 months before they start school) when children invite their P1 teachers to come and have snack with them here. So while in January you are talking about your child starting school and feeling what you are feeling, we at Mulberry Bush are reinforcing that school is still a long, long, long way away and there are still lots of things that will happen and for them to do and be engaged in while they are at Mulberry Bush.

So what can you do to support your child in their orientation to school?

  1. Recognise that your child starting school in August is still a long, long, long way away in terms of your child’s lifetime.
  2. Know that as a parent, your preparation for your child starting school needs for you to begin a long time before it begins for your child such as needing to enrol them in January of the year they start school.
  3. Be reassured that there are still many things for your child to be engaged in while at Mulberry Bush – that they will not be bored!
  4. Be confident that the staff know how to support you and your child and work and communicate with us.
  5. Expect that at the time of school enrolment that your child may ‘change’ from how they normally behave to different degrees. This is perfectly normal.
  6. You understand the concept of school and what that means. Your child does not and cannot until they experience if for themselves.
  7. Try to avoid your child hearing any form of discussion in relation to school between you as parents, with friends or relatives whether positive or negative too early.
  8. When you enrol your child to school, tell your child you are enrolling them for school but that them starting school is a long, long, long way away and allow them to talk with you about it rather than you introducing it to them at this stage. Be sure to let other relatives and friends know what your policy is so that they can reinforce it.
  9. Begin to speak briefly with your child about starting school around the month of June, allowing them to ask questions of you and using books, puppets, dolls, cuddly toys in role playing or relative and friends that they know.

10. Let us know that you are having these discussion to ensure we reinforce what you are saying.

So what can you do to support your child in their transition to school?

11. In the weeks just before school, purchase your child’s school shoes and uniform with them and allow them to show it to us at Mulberry Bush.

12. The week before they start school attempt to establish a regular routing in the mornings to make sure they will get to school on time.

13. Walk with your child to where your child will go to school and begin to count the sleeps no more than 10 nights before they do.

14. Let us know when you are planning to withdraw your child from Mulberry Bush four weeks in advance of them starting school so that we can prepare ourselves to celebrate this celebratory milestone in their lives.

15. Let your child know the week before they are due to finish at Mulberry Bush, counting the sleeps, so that we can celebrate with them, their rites of passage and increased status as a school child.

16. Your child may regress when they start school in ways that you thought they had grown out of such as wetting themselves or throwing a tantrum. This is a common reaction to starting school and will usually only be temporary.

17. Talk to us. Share with us. We will try and help because we know your child.

Starting School – the Transition

The transition from Mulberry Bush to school is important in recognition that going to school is one of the major challenges children have to face in their early childhood years and sets the tone and direction of a child’s school career. It is a big deal!

You will have done the orientation to school, now the transition begins.

What is important is that for your child, the transition to school happens in such a way that children and families have a positive view of the school and that your child has a feeling of perceived competence as learners who bring with them knowledge already attained in a pre school setting.

One key element in transition is what your child sees as important in transition from pre school to school. It is very different from what parents and educators see as important!

For your child the focus is on the ground rules they need to know in order to function at school as well as how they feel about going to school. Implicit is that they will know friends and the expectation that school is a place to be with friends and make many more friends. The converse is also true that so and so will not be their friend.

Parents and early educators on the other hand, emphasise the importance of your child adjusting socially to the school environment but with different interpretations of what this means. Educators see it as your child being able to operate as part of a large group through sharing the teacher’s attention, demonstrating independence as required and being able to follow directions. Parents emphasise the importance of their child adjusting to other adults in an unfamiliar setting, through aspects such as being able to separate easily from you as the parent and join the teacher in the class and being able to interact and respond appropriately with nonfamliar adults. Parents are also concerned about the two way nature of that interaction such as will the teacher like my child? Will they fit in? Would they see the individuality of my child and respond in a positive, caring and loving manner?

What we know is that for your child starting school it is not just an experience for your individual child, it is a community experience and responsibility involving a wide range of people including us. We as educators in the pre school setting at Mulberry Bush have a very important role to play. When children realise and see that they have the support of groups, past, present and future in their respective communities, starting school will be a positive and exciting experience.

We know too that relationships are important in effective transitions. While it is important for your child to possess and demonstrate some specific skills and knowledge, their ability to form meaningful relationships is crucial to their successful transition and influential in their later school careers. The nature of relationships between and among children, families, peers and early education educators has a significant impact on your child’s sense of belonging and acceptance within a school community. In situations where positive relationships have been established between families, and schools, children and teachers, between educators in pre school settings and schools there will be positive feelings about the transition to school for your child.

Where such relationships are not in evidence, hesitations, anxieties and concerns prevail.

Children like yours, who experience similar environments and expectations, are likely to find transition to school easier. The converse is also true. Effective transition that respect the different perspectives and expectations that converge when chidlren start school and aim to develop an effective partnership between all can provide a vital connection for the child.

Because your child brings with them to school a wide array of experiences and understandings, they will experience the transition to school in different ways and have varying expectations of school compared to others.

So what is the best way to ensure a smooth transition for your child?