The first day of school in Primary One is very important to a child. It’s the first impression your child will have of his or her life-long learning journey (6 years of Primary Education + 4 years of Secondary Education + at least 3 more years of Tertiary Education), and that’s why we want the first impression to be a positive one. We want our children to be comfortable with the school environment, happy with their friends and teachers, and most importantly, excited about learning.
However, it’s not an easy task to prepare your child for the first day of school. Primary One is one of the major life changes of a child. Your child is going to enter a very different environment from the “school” he or she used to attend – the Kindergartens or the child care centres. The new school is much bigger, with a lot more older kids, and a completely different set of rules. Therefore, it makes sense to start preparing your child months before the first day of school.
Many parents choose to focus on preparing their children academically for primary school – teaching them grammar, vocabulary and basic mathematics so that they won’t be floundering when the P1 curriculum kicks in. However, the non-academic aspects of primary school are just as important. Teaching children the basic values, rules, and helping them develop an interest in learning will give them confidence and a good start in their academic journey.
Here are some of tips on how to prepare your child for the first day of Primary school, especially in non-academic aspects.
Months Before School Starts
- Visit your child’s school in advance. Many schools allow parents to visit the school before term starts. It allows the child and parents to become familiar with the location, layout and the environment of the school. Visit areas like the classroom, bathroom, canteen and general office. This will help your child to be more comfortable and thus more confident when the school term officially starts.
- Meet the teachers. Knowing the teacher before formal lessons begin will help your child feel more comfortable, and ensure that your child recognizes a familiar face immediately upon the first day of class.
- Know the class schedule/timetable. Getting a copy of class schedule or timetable allows you to go through with your child the day’s activities in advance. It’s like practicing a mental walk-through of what’s going to happen.
- Know the school rules. It is important to know the school rules in advance. Getting your child prepared for what is expected of him or her in school is very important. Go through with your child things such as the code of conduct, dress code, and canteen rules.
- Obtain school supplies. Getting school supplies is a big part of preparing for school. Some parents do it on their own, but it’s advisable to make it a shared experience so your child feels involved. First of all, come up with a supplies list, then shop together as a family. Give your child as much as autonomy as possible when it comes to choosing colours and styles. However, do provide guidance and use it as an opportunity to prepare your child on key areas you want them to remember. For example, you could mention that many children carry similar bags and that he or she can identify their bag more easily with a ribbon or tag.
- Start them on a routine. This is important for both you and your child. Starting from packing the schoolbag together with all the essential items, you should slowly let them learn to pack their own bag. Remind them regularly to be mindful of their belongings (even with sticker labels, their items may never return). It is also good to cultivate a habit of having your child inform you of all messages from school.
- Share your own story to reassure your child. Spend time together with your child to talk about your own school stories, your friends, teachers, and your love of learning. The positive experience from your narration will help boost your child’s enthusiasm for starting school.
Days Before School Starts
In the few days before school, it’s advisable to go through the following important points with your child.
- Money matters. For all payments made to the school, always prepare cheques instead of cash for your child to hand in to teachers, especially for large sums of money. Give them enough money for food and drink, but teach them how to count money and remind them to be responsible for it at all time.
- Buying food. Buying food independently can be quite scary if your child has never done so. Teach them how to queue properly, how to ask for the price, and how to receive change and return their utensils.
- Bad weather plan. If you expect your trip to school will soak your child’s shoes, ask them to wear slippers and take along a pair of dry school shoes for them to change into at school. You don’t want your child’s first school day experience to remembered as “a misery with a pair of soaked shoes”.
- Find a buddy. Advise your child to make a buddy friend in the first day of school. It’ll be easier for him to move around with a friend until he or she is familiar with the school compound, as a primary school is much larger than a kindergarten.
- Safety. Children tend to get excited when they are in a large group. Remind them to walk, not run, in the school compound. Getting injured or losing their teeth in the first day of school is really going to hurt, both physically and psychologically.
- Health and hygiene. Primary school may not be as strict as preschool in term of health and hygiene policy. Remind your child to wash their hands after toilet breaks, PE lessons and before eating and drinking.
- Take notes. Ask your child to bring along a notebook to record all the important things the teacher wants them to note.
- Contact Mum and Dad. Remind them how to use their mobile phone (if allowed) or a public telephone to contact you, and jot down your phone numbers in a notebook for them. This way, they can feel safe knowing how to contact you if anything happens.
- Believe and learn to let go. It’s your child’s first real step into a world that they know and you don’t, so it’s important to prepare them to be independent. Don’t over-protect them. On the first day, give your child plenty of hugs and reassurance but also let go. Believe in your child’s capability to work through problems and overcome adversity.
Keep the Momentum Going
The first day of school is just the beginning. Children may take weeks to adjust, so it’s important to keep communicating with your child and keep the momentum going. Pay attention to any sign that things aren’t going well. It’s not uncommon for a child not to want to go back to school after the first week. Keep the communication specific, and refrain from asking generic questions like “How’s your day at school?” Instead, try questions like “Who did you talk to the most in school today?” or “What did you and your friends talk about?” to help you better understand the activities your child has gone through and hopefully help you uncover any problems that can potentially affect your child.
When your child fits in the new environment and enjoys school it’s a tribute to how well you have raised him or her. If you have done a good job beforehand in all the preparation work, the first day of school should be an exciting and fun day that marks a whole new journey for your child.