How to prepare your child for ‘big school’
Going to Grade 1 is an adjustment for both child and parent. Here’s how to prepare and adapt.
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Going to Grade 1 is an adjustment for both child and parent. Here’s how to prepare and adapt.

The first day of Grade 1 can be traumatic: shaking bodies, sweaty palms and plenty of tears – and those are just the parents!

Some children are able to say goodbye at the school gate and walk to class with confidence. For others, it can be an anxious time at a place that is far removed from their family and friends.

Anything new is scary, even for adults and more so for children. Claudia Abelheim, an educational psychologist with Family Life Centre in Joburg, offers advice on how parents can make the transition to “big school” easier for their little ones.

GET YOUR CHILD READY

1. Talk about their fears

Find out what scares your child when they think about the first day at school. “This will be a very big change for them, and with change always comes a bit of anxiety,” Claudia says.

“Help your child to understand what they’re anxious about, and that their nervousness is absolutely normal. You can say something like: ‘Everyone will be nervous on the first day. It’s okay to feel like that’.”

2. Tell them what to expect

Knowing what will happen when they get to school and what to expect can lessen the fear of the unknown, especially for young children. Some primary schools arrange to have parents take their children to their classrooms and help settle them in.

“If this is the case, be sure to tell your child you will be there with them for a little while,” Claudia says. You could also plan fun things to do with your child after school or the first week to celebrate the beginning of “big school”.

“This can help turn something that is scary into something that’s exciting and fun,” she adds.

3. Prepare beforehand

Make sure your child is organised the night before school starts. Help them to put out their uniform and pack their schoolbag and lunch the next morning.

Talk to them about what will happen in the morning and try to keep their old routine in place as much as possible, even as you start a new one. “Children feel safer with stability and consistency. Your child will feel calmer about all the new changes that are taking place,” Claudia explains.

4. Do trial runs

Visiting the school with your child beforehand or teaching them how to use public transport is important. This helps ease any anxieties and allows your child to ask questions about the new environment.

THE FIRST WEEK AND AFTER

Be supportive

Give your child as much support as they need.

If possible, be available to drop off and pick them up every day, especially in the first week. If it’s not possible to do the whole week, try to reduce it slowly.

Try to make time every day to talk to your child about how their day was, or use weekends when you’re relaxed. But, if you sense they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push the issue.

“Rather let your child know that you’re always available to talk or even just listen,” Claudia suggests.

“Let them choose when and how they want to talk to you. Your child will feel more respected.”

Teach them independence

Teach them how to pack their bag at night or to wash their socks and polish their shoes after school. This gives your child independence and gets them excited about the adjustment.

Show them how to do it if they don’t get it right the first few times. That way, they won’t feel discouraged as they learn. Show them that you’ve marked their belongings so they know something is theirs.

Set aside a clearly marked spot at home to keep your child’s schoolbag and important notices from school. Learning how to use these areas will teach your child consistency.

Help with homework

Don’t do it for them, though. Make an effort to read with your child every day (even for 10 minutes) and to help them learn their times tables. Show them you’re willing to help in their progress and you’re always available when needed. If you’re unable to help, ask an older child or another family member.

Teach them important names and numbers

Help your child to memorise their school’s name and number, their teacher’s name, your number and other emergency numbers in case they get lost.

You can also have those contact details sewn inside their school clothes.

Be their biggest fan

It’s very important for Grade 1s to see their parents involved in their schooling.

Attend as many events, sports, open days or parent-teacher meetings as you’re able to. It's one thing to encourage your child to participate in sports or other activities, but it will be more meaningful to them if you’re there to see.

Tips from teachers

Primary school teachers weigh in on what is expected of your child at school:

1. Teach them to respect adults, starting at home, so they have respect for their teachers and other workers at the school.

2. Make sure your child wears the correct uniform. Label all their clothes and stationery clearly, and teach them to look after their possessions. Don’t allow your child to wear expensive jewellery to school.

3. Get them into a routine so they get used to the structure at school.

4. Pack healthy lunches that include fruit and raw vegetables. Teach them how to use a toilet and to wash their hands afterwards as well as before they eat.

5. Monitor your child’s homework, even if they attend aftercare. Check their diaries for homework – don’t just take your child’s word for it. Go through their schoolbag for forgotten lunch or notes from their teacher.

6. Write a signed note to your child’s teacher if they’re going to miss school, because kids do bunk class.

7. Teach them to put dirt in a bin and to take care of their environment instead of throwing things on the ground.

8. Discuss the danger of strangers with them.

9. Encourage your child to be involved in after-school events and sports to teach them how to be a team player and exercise their movement and coordination skills.

10. Establish an open line of communication with their teachers. Get involved with various activities and attend meetings.

11. Educate your child about sex in an age appropriate way so they don’t hear about it from others.

12. Be consistent with discipline at home so they know that there are consequences for their actions

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