What Should Parents Expect When School Commences? - 12/02/07

THE AGE Newspaper article of Monday February 12th 2007.

Question: My child started prep this year. What should we expect and how can we support her?


THE start of school for a prep pupil can be a big event for the whole family, bringing with it a range of emotions ranging from apprehension and fear to excitement and anticipation - for parents and children. Thinking about what to expect is something to ponder not just during the first day and week, but the first and second term. Starting school might be particularly momentous for some on the first day, but, for all children and families, making the transition to school and becoming used to the schools' culture, language, expectations, routines and requirements takes some time. Ensuring your child is on time, arrives relatively stress-free each day and attends regularly is extremely important. The start of each day sets the tone for the day, and it is unsettling for the child and the class and teacher if children are late and disorganised. Ensuring that notices - information and communication between the school and home - are consistently maintained helps to keep the teacher and family up to date with the needs and requirements of the child and helps to support each child with their learning. What will be happening to your prep child and what should you expect during term 1? Extreme tiredness is a common issue for children during their first term. Hot weather and long days, having to concentrate on all the new requirements and expectations, the emotional strain of getting to know teachers, having to respond to bells and timetables - all these factors take their toll on children during the first few months. It is helpful to avoid booking children into after-school activities such as swimming or ballet or gym during the first term. Children ideally need to be resting at home or in the after-school program after such busy days. Sometimes the first few days are quite difficult for some parents and children with separation anxiety, not wanting the parent to leave. Trust the teacher's judgement and be assured that if your child was particularly distressed, you would be contacted immediately. Other children leave their parent happily, almost not noticing the parent has left. However, it is estimated that during term 1 or 2, more than half of all prep children will wake up one day and say, "I liked school but I don't want to go any more. What else can we do?" Don't become too alarmed about this. It is often referred to as a slight hiccup. It's likely your child is feeling tired and the initial excitement has worn off. Mention it quietly to the teacher so they know the child is having this experience. It usually lasts only a week or two at the most. Schools are excellent at communicating with parents. Expect a regular bulletin or newsletter that will give you general information about what is happening within the school. Classrooms also often have noticeboards or notices to families. It is a good idea to check your child's bag or ask them to check each night, as notices are often lost and never read. Try to make contact with the teacher occasionally, even a simple hello and introducing yourself as you drop your child off or pick them up. It helps the teacher gain more knowledge of the whole family, which helps when teaching individual children. If your work commitments prevent you from doing this regularly, make a point of helping in the classroom once or twice a term. Children love their parents to help out and visit the classroom and it helps build a relationship between you and the teacher. Teachers in all sectors are highly qualified and expert in their teaching strategies. Parents and children can expect a highly rigorous teaching and learning curriculum, but a friendly and responsive climate at school with teachers and principals happy to talk, share and support families and children in a variety of ways. If, as a parent, you haven't been to school since your own school days, you are in for a pleasant surprise. Your children are indeed lucky. Teachers and schools are responsive and genuine in their efforts to build meaningful and open communication with families and to respond as much as possible to the needs of individual children.

Copyright © Kathy Walker 2007

Kathy Walker is an education consultant specialising in early childhood and primary years and a former lecturer at RMIT University.