COLUMN: Advice for a smooth first day at school

The big day has come.

Tissues at the ready! Thousands of children went through the school gate for their first day at school this week. The tissues are for the parents and grandparents not the children. It’s a big day as parents realise their little ones are growing up and taking their first step on the journey through education. The vast majority of children are excited about their new adventure.

Children all over the country got ready for their ‘first day’. Hopefully they have been to visit the school, met the people who will be so central to their new experience, know the teacher’s name and have read books about going to school. ‘Topsy and Tim start school’ by Jean and Gareth Adamson and ‘Busy school’ by Melanie Joyce both have characters who are starting school.

So how can parents and grandparents help in getting ready for the big day and make it an easy start? In an ideal world children should be able to access a toilet independently - be able to go to the toilet by themselves, wipe their own bottom and wash their hands afterwards. They should be able to dress and undress themselves ready for those exciting PE lessons. Playtime with lots of children not able to put on a coat or jacket by themselves can be very tedious for duty staff. To recognise their own name is also essential to aid confidence.

Hopefully parents and grandparents have shared books and read to their child. From this they will know which way up a book is held, how to open a book, turn pages and know that words in English are read from left to right and top to bottom. Most of us do not remember learning to read but these basic skills will start children on the right road. If they can write their name it will give them a head start but is not essential.

An understanding of numbers to 20 is good so counting all day long whether it be stairs, fingers, shoes, cars on the road, pegs on the washing line, items in the shop there are lots of ways to become number savvy. Lots of counting and number books available too.

Over the summer the whole family will have enjoyed later to bed and a laid back routine in the mornings. All that has to change. Before ‘the big day’ get children into a routine of going to bed relaxed, ready to sleep and waking at the right time to get to school. This way the first morning will be a smoother un hurried affair. Make time for breakfast as hungry children will be grumpy children and less able to enjoy their new experiences. You will be aware that this routine is one to be followed for the next 12 to 14 years but perhaps do not tell children that just yet. When my great niece went to school she was fine for two days but then on the third declared she was tired and wanted a ‘mummy day’. She was told sorry dear it does not work like that but there will be a two day weekend coming up and a week off in about 6 to 7 weeks’ time.

Most schools will have a parent information pack or handbook. These are a bit like a car manual. You read it when you first get the car but store it in the glove compartment until you need it to see why a light on the dash appears or what tyre pressure you need. So it is with parent handbooks you will have read it the day you got it but then forget about it. Keep it handy so that when your child announces something emphatically e.g. I need some dance tights today, you can check it in the book or on the website to check for information.

The shops have been advertising new school uniform for months. Get the uniform bought and ready. Like any new clothes it is exciting trying things on. Let your child have a practice putting it on, maybe to show a friend, grandparent or teddy. Ensure everything is named. You are more likely to get it back if it goes missing with a name in a prominent position.

Have a trial run of travelling to school and then add some time as there are always more people walking and more cars on that first morning. If travelling by car is the only option, allow extra time for traffic, work out where you will park and if relevant have the right money for the meter. Hopefully the school has explained the procedure for the first day - do you take your child into the classroom, leave them in a hall or at the school gate? Reassure your child that they will have a great day and indicate that your day will be quite boring in comparison with cleaning or work. Smile outwardly even though you may feel tearful at this momentous step your little one is taking.

Try not to cry in the playground at least wait until you in the car or back home otherwise you will set the other parents off! Most of all enjoy reliving the school experience through your own children. We want them to be happy days so make sure day one goes well and enjoy the experience!