The start of primary school is that first life milestone which marks entry into formal education. For some children, it feels like a leap from the informal and relaxed pace of play school.

The first day of primary school is a sea of new faces: other children also starting their first day, the parents or caregivers, and the school staff. All this unfamiliarity can be exciting and frightful to the new pupils. There are remedies for the discomfort.

First things first

Begin preparing your child for the first day of school by explaining what possibly happens in the course of the day. Take your child to the school to make the sights, sounds and smells of the place familiar.

Explain to your child the routines of flag raising, recess break, and dismissal after school. Make an arrangement with your child if a family member or hired help will be collecting the child from school. Show your child where the after-school pick up point will be and who to approach if no one arrives within ten minutes of the agreed time.

Getting used to formal student life

Help your child understand what it means to become a student in formal learning. The young mind must know what school is for and what to do in the time there.

Take your child to buy the school uniforms, texts, and other school stuff like stationery and, school bag. Your child will enjoy this activity especially when exercising independent taste and choice.

Explain what school rules are and why they are established. Role play can be helpful to teach your child what unacceptable behaviour is and what punishments will follow.

Talk about the virtues of using time wisely, discipline in study, astute handling of money, and effective communicating. Also talk about the different subjects in Primary level education.

Describe the roles of teachers, schoolmates, the school principal, and school staffers. Talk about new friendships with new schoolmates. 

Keep your child constantly engaged with this familiarisation on the lead up to the first day. Your child should not feel like too much of a stranger to student life by the time you are done.

Handling schoolwork

Kindergarten’s focus on play and socialising makes primary education feel like work to a child. Children on the transition into primary level education should be guided to cope with the change that involves homework, tests and exams. To your child at this point, you play a critical supporting role to help the transition.

Start your support by talking about school with your child. Talk about the new experiences, the likes and dislikes, and the worries and concerns. Do not think this talk does nothing for your child and you. Learning early about potential problems for your child is immensely helpful. You may take leave from work just to settle your child into the first week of school.

Parent-child teamwork helps

As your child adapts to school life, show your support in other ways, such as valuing him for who he is, and not what he has achieved. Instead of comparing his performance with others or expressing disappointment when he is not performing up to your standard, appreciate his efforts. Focus on the learning process - not only on the marks!

Also take the chance to find out if your child might be encountering difficulties in his studies. Together, parents and child can set achievable goals and realistic expectations, so that everything doesn’t seem so daunting. Most importantly, reassure him of your love and care, regardless of his results.

Knowing your child - his weaknesses, strengths, and talent - is also a form of support. Take time to discover your child’s strengths and talents, instead of focusing on his weaknesses. As a child begins to develop his potential, his sense of confidence will grow too.

Supporting your child can also be through the guidance you give. Young children benefit from having a healthy routine for school and homework, including having a conducive learning environment and clear rules about TV and play time. It helps them to gradually develop self-discipline. Other caregivers, be they grandparents or a domestic helper, should keep to the routine and rules too. Where necessary, discipline your child but do so with empathy and let him know what he has done wrong.

Settling in

Not just parents, schools share equally (if not more), in helping in the transition to formal education. Orientation programmes and buddy systems have been the basic means. Now, schools have specialist staffers like pastoral care coordinators, learning support coordinators, and teacher counsellors, to strengthen the transition process.

Parent involvement at school is another effective approach to your child’s adaptation. This is available as Parent Support Groups where there are activities to help parent and child through the various education levels.

Primary school, the first time in formal education for any child, will remain a defining life step. One, though, that these children will look back upon, with fondness in heart, in later life, especially when the appropriate infrastructure did its work to produce success.

Contributed by:

Ministry of Education.