Preparing your child for starting or returning to school

Whether your child can talk yet or not, it’s important that you spend time talking with them. Research has shown that the number of words children hear in their first days, months and years have a big impact on their development in later life. Using household activities can be a great way to help develop language.

For some children starting a new school, or going back to school, will be an exciting time. For others, this can be a trickier transition that may be a little overwhelming. For many of us our first day at school is one of our earliest memories; a milestone in our young lives. You can help your child negotiate this transition in a positive way.

Talking about feelings
Young children will likely have a whole mix of feelings about starting or returning to school. Acknowledge your child’s feelings, and allow them to express these feelings, both positive and negative. Let them know that it’s ok to not feel ok, and that you can manage these difficult feelings together.

Help them explore what is on their mind. Using play or creativity can be useful to allow young children to communicate their feelings in a safe and supported way. Think with them about the different possibilities they imagine with empathy, curiosity and playfulness. If they have a particular worry help them to think about the different ways they might respond to this.

Check in with your child regularly so that they know you are open to hearing about their feelings as they start or return to school and encounter different situations.

Your child will take their cue from you in how you manage emotions so make sure that you are taking care of your own needs first, so that you can be calm and better able to listen to their worries and support their emotional regulation.

Create a plan
Share as much information in advance as you can about any plans from their school, for example classroom layout, teachers and timetables.

Prepare for the first day – a virtual run through or dress rehearsal journey to school can be helpful. Talk with your child about what they like best at school, and ask questions such as, “What’s your favourite activity? Who are you looking forward to seeing the most? Where do your normally play? What do you remember about last time you were there?”

Establishing routines can help your child adjust to starting or returning to school. Go through these with your child in advance, and get them involved in getting prepared – thinking about packed lunches, getting uniform ready or creating a timetable you can put up on your fridge.

Make an art wall, a drawing, a list, or a collage – be creative and explore what your children did and did not enjoy about the holidays and what they are looking forward to, or not looking forward to, about school. Have this on display at home.

Managing Separation
Every transition stirs up feelings and with young children, overwhelm can quickly kick in. Keep this in mind and make use of strengthening messages of safety, emotional regulation and relationship to restore feelings of calm and bring positive experiences that children can draw on when they are feeling wobbly.

Think about how you can make a relational bridge between you and your child to help them manage the transition to school in a positive way.  This might be taking their favourite toy to school if allowed, of having something small and special in their pocket – like a cut out heart you make out of a scrap of fabric or paper. If you wear a regular perfume or aftershave you could give their clothes a small spray so that they know you both carry this same scent even when you are apart. Or you could decorate their lunchbox or water bottle together so that they have a visual reminder of something nice you have done together to bring you to mind during the day.

You could also make a fun secret handshake or goodbye saying with them to mark your hello and goodbye at the start and end of the school day.

Transitions take time and there may be setbacks, and this is ok. Acknowledge these with your child alongside supporting them to think ahead to things they are looking forward to

Support for younger children in advance of starting school
If your child needs help to become school ready, many Home-Starts offer support through our ‘Big Hopes Big Future’ scheme. This programme, developed with the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge and the University of South Wales helps your child to learn practical skills such as holding a pencil, identifying letters of the alphabet, recognising own name, reading at home and counting to five. It also addresses daily living skills such as toilet training, using knife and fork and looks at behavioural adjustments such as lack of patience and easy distraction.

This programme can be particularly helpful for children who have English as an additional language.

Read more about Big Hopes Big Futures.

If you need support, contact Home-Start in Suffolk on 01473 621104

This content has been made available from the Home-Start UK website