When the first day of school looms on the horizon, it can fill us with a million worries.
How will my child react? Will they like their new school? Will they make friends quickly? Or will they have trouble settling in?
To help out with this momentous occasion, we’ve put together a guide of how to prepare for starting school, how to make that first day special and what to do if your child has trouble adjusting, complete with a FREE Back to school packing checklist.
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Does talking about starting school early on make my child less anxious about it?
When you have the whole summer in front of you before your child starts school, it can be tempting to start talking to them about it from early on. You may hope that this will give them plenty of time to get used to the idea.
However, preparing them too early can mean that the butterflies set in. It can make them even more nervous as there has been such a long build up.
It’s actually often best to leave it until a week or two before their first day of school, to start talking about the big change.
Hopefully your child will already have had a chance to visit their new school and meet their new teacher and classmates. This alone should make them a bit aware of the big change ahead.
When you do start talking about starting school with them, here are some easy ways you could do to prepare them for it.
9 easy ways to prepare for the first day of school
Make a ‘toy school’ to show your child what it will be like
Set up a little toy school with toys and make a register.
Play together, talking about what might happen on a typical school day.
Read books about starting school
Share lots of books with your child about starting school.
As you explore these stories, talk about the exciting things your child will get to do in their new school, the friends they will meet and all the fun they will have.
Practice key skills
Get lots of practice at home with the practical skills they will need to do on their own once they enter a busy classroom.
These can be simple tasks like:
- unzipping their coat and hanging it up on a peg
- opening their lunch box and juice carton or water bottle
- taking off and putting on shoes by themselves (easy shoes like those with a single velcro strap help with this)
- eating by themselves with their fingers or with cutlery
You could also talk to them about how to ask their teacher for help if they are struggling.
Let them join you on school supply shopping trips
Take your child with you on shopping trips to choose a new school bag, pencil case, uniform, lunch box and water bottle.
Choosing these items will help give them ownership of them and could build up their excitement as they embark on this new journey.
Once you have all the essential kit make sure you label EVERYTHING.
If you don’t it will probably get lost at some point and you’ll find yourself rooting through the musty lost property basket in the school reception.
Make sure they can use the toilet independently
Practice how they should ask the teacher to go to the toilet when they need to go.
Once on the toilet, show them how they can wipe themselves well with lots of practice runs at home. If you have a little girl remind her to always wipe from front to back.
Go through the whole routine together including washing hands and point out all the steps they go through when they go to the toilet.
Teach them to take turns and share with other children
Sharing and waiting their turn are vital skills for children to gain.
You could set up playdates or take them to playgrounds or playgroups during the summer where they can meet other children and share toys.
Help them to practice sharing and talk about why it’s important to do so.
Show them how they can take turns playing with a toy.
Get them familiar with their new school
You could walk past their new school with them and stop and notice the front doors and the playground.
Talk about the first day and who your child will go into class with – perhaps it’s with a friend they already know.
Your child will probably have had a chance to visit the school and their classroom before the summer and met their teacher and classmates. You could talk to them positively about that day and ask your child what they liked most about their class.
Also ask if they have any worries. It might be something as simple as not being able to reach their peg to hang up their coat or what they do if they need the toilet.
If they have anything on their mind, talk through what they can do and how to resolve any problems they might face.
Set up playdates with other children in your child’s class
If possible, meet up with other pupils that will be in your child’s class during the summer holidays for a playdate.
Having a familiar face there on the first day can make it a lot less daunting.
Help them get used to being apart from you for short time periods
If your child is not used to spending some time apart from you, for example at nursery or with family members, then it can make settling into school more difficult.
Build in some short amounts of time where they are left with another adult that you trust, be it a family member or close friend. You could start with one or two hours and gradually build up.
Alternatively you could get them to try some summer clubs or classes where they are left in a group with a teacher.
All this can help your child get used to being without you and also to the fact that you will always come back.
Make your child’s first day of school special
It’s a momentous day and the start of a brand new adventure.
Your child might be nervous as well as excited and making too big of a fuss of it can make them all the more anxious. It’s often best to be positive but low key.
Enjoy the moment, take lots of photos of your child in their new uniform with their shiny new shoes and oversized bag, but try to keep the excitement to a minimum.
Starting school is a huge landmark and chances are your child might have struggled to sleep the night before.
A hearty breakfast and a big hug might be all they need. Be guided by your child and how they feel on the morning.
Take a momentous photograph
A lovely tradition is to take a special photo of your child with their uniform and school bag standing next to your front door. Many parents have also added a board that their child holds which says the date, the school and the school year they are entering.
Have everything prepared for a calmer morning
You’ll probably be more prepared for your child’s first day of school than any other.
Some things to have ready are:
- Uniform, laid out or hanging up, their school bag packed and by the door.
- Labels for everything they own.
- School admin forms filled in and ready to go.
- Breakfast laid out on the table including cutlery and bowls.
- Confirmation that the school office has your mobile number and your partner’s/friends’ as well.
You want this first school morning and run to go as smoothly as possible and preparation can help everything go much more calmly.
Leave at least 10 minutes to spare for your first school run, on top of your usual journey time. You don’t know yet how tricky it will be to park or how long it takes to walk.
Leave a lot of wriggle room for unexpected delays.
You can find more School morning routine hacks here.
How can I help my child settle in on that first day?
Schools are very experienced in welcoming and settling in new pupils. Each school will have different routines.
Some may let parents walk into the cloakroom with their children on the first day, help them hang up coats and bags and walk them into the classroom to settle them in.
Others will ask pupils to line up and wave goodbye to Mum or Dad and the teachers and classroom assistants (and sometimes older pupils) will help children get settled into their new class.
Your new teacher will hopefully be gentle and calm and experienced in settling all the children into their very first day.
Whether you part with your child in the cloakroom or wave goodbye in the playground, try to stay calm and positive. Reassure your child that they will have a lovely time and you will see them very soon and can’t wait to hear all about their day.
The very best thing you can do is to exude positivity and leave calmly, swiftly and positively while reassuring them that they will have fun and you’ll be back to pick them up soon.
A hug in your hand
Your child might be a little apprehensive about saying goodbye to Mummy or Daddy and going into school for the very first time.
A really lovely hack from social media is to draw a little heart on your hand and another heart on theirs with a Sharpie or biro.
Press your hearts together and tell your child that whenever they feel a bit wobbly, they can look down at the heart drawn on their hand and press it to feel the love you left behind to power their day.
How do you settle a crying child at school?
Many children will go into school happily and full of excitement about their new adventure.
But it’s also not unusual for children to have a wobble and suddenly burst into tears and cling to your leg as they have to go into class.
It’s harder for some children to let go than others and separation anxiety at this age is normal. But it can be utterly heartbreaking for parents.
When this happens the best thing you can do is to let your child’s teacher or classroom assistant gently peel your child away from you and take them into class.
It feels awful if you have to watch them being led away crying for you. But very often they will calm down quickly once you are gone.
Remember that your child’s teacher will have settled in so many nervous pupils before and will probably do their utmost to calm and soothe them and make sure they are OK.
It can help if you ask at the school office if they can phone or text you a little later to let you know that your child has settled and is doing alright.
Sometimes the morning tears on leaving will carry on for a while. But starting school is a whole new change and it’s normal that some children will find it hard.
A special reminder can help
If your child continues to struggle leaving you to go into school, you might find that giving them a special object, such as a hanky with your perfume sprayed on it or a small toy that they can pop in their school bag, comforts them.
Keep talking to your child’s teacher and you’ll both find the best way to make school drop offs easier.
Hold back the tears
It’s heart wrenching to watch your little one march from that line in the playground into their classroom. That tiny baby that you gave birth to, is walking through the school gates into the big wide world. It’s a massive moment.
But, however wobbly you are feeling, try to hide it as best you can.
Be strong and wave them off with a bright smile. If possible, arrange to immediately go for coffee with your best mum friend where you can weep and wail without your little one knowing. Or failing that, phone your mum.
Either way, save any tears until your little one is out of sight.
Sometimes the first day is fine but then things go downhill
Your child can be so excited to start school. Chances are grandparents, family and friends have been talking about this new adventure for ages.
They were excited about getting all dressed up in their uniform and eating their first snack and packing their new school bag.
The first day or week goes fine and then suddenly your child hits a bump in the road and decides they’ve enough of this new big school malarkey and they want to go back to the sweet days of free play at playgroup or nursery.
‘Do I have to go to school every day?’
They have so many new rules to follow at school. They have to stay still and listen when they want to rush around and play, and school is tiring.
Suddenly they have to sit and focus on lessons and wait ages and ages for lunch. They feel a bit sad without Mummy or Daddy and school seems a bit scary and rubbish and each day feels super super long.
It’s really not unusual for little kids to be excited about school at first and then lose their enthusiasm and suddenly not want to go anymore.
You might have tried to build up school as a positive experience but then it dawns on your child that they don’t just have to go to school for ONE day but EVERY day.
And – you know – that it’s every day of the week until they are 18.
What can you do to help your child settle into school days?
When your child hits a wobble in the road, your best bet is to stay positive and reassuring.
It helps to be armed with hugs and snacks when you pick your child up and aim for gentle after school times where they can just relax.
Don’t panic. It’s a whole new change and it might take time for your child to settle. The calmer you can be as it unfolds, the easier your child will transition.
What to bring, Back to school checklist
Each school will be different and will probably issue you with a list of uniform essentials to equip your child with.
We’ve also put together this back to school checklist to use as a guide, with links to some useful products you may need for starting school
Download the full version as a printable PDF here: Back to school checklist
Download the full version as a printable PDF here: Back to school checklist
Some quick school tips
There are some things you can do to make starting school easier.
We’ve put together a list of the small tips and tricks that can make everything go a bit more smoothly for you and your child.
Sharpies are your best friend for labelling
Your own mum might have dutifully sewn in embroidered name labels into your school uniform.
But – let’s face it – life’s too short for that level of detail.
Grab a Sharpie and write your kids’ name on every label of every item of school uniform or kit they have.
The half sticker shoe hack
Find a nice sticker and cut it in half. Stick the right half into your child’s right shoe and the left half into the left.
Your child can line up their shoes to get a whole sticker shape and that way they can always put the right shoe on the right foot.
Secret lunch box surprise
School lunch times can be hard for little kids. To make them a bit easier, add a little note in their lunch box or a little treat for them to find.
This will make them smile when it comes to lunchtime.
Never dress your daughter in tights on P.E. days
Little kids find tights so hard to put on.
Your class teacher will probably face a long line of little girls asking for help to put on tights after a gym lesson.
Find out what day your child has P.E and make sure they wear socks that day.
If your child is small, ask for a lower peg
Cloakrooms are the first space your child will face every morning in school. And they can be a hustle and bustle.
If your child is small ask their teacher if they can have a peg that’s lower down. It takes away so much stress if your child can easily hang up their own coat or gym bag.
A peg at the end of the row also makes life easier, if your child is feeling a bit stressed in the cloakroom.
Starting school is a whole new chapter for both your child and yourself. It can be an emotional time for you both as you get used to spending more time apart.
Every parent wants their child to settle into school and flourish as they make new friends and enjoy learning. Sometimes this happens straight away, others it takes a little time.
If you can hold back your own worries (and tears) and take steps to prepare and reassure your little one, you could help make that first day of school an exciting step in a brand new adventure.