Starting school for the first time is a big step. Angela Baura asks local experts for advice on how to prepare your child to go it alone at school.
For parents of preschoolers, the long and leisurely summer months present the perfect opportunity to enjoy precious time with little loved ones and prepare them for perhaps their most daunting milestone to date: going solo at school.
As exciting as it is, this rite of passage can naturally bring about the jitters in parents and children alike. Here, six Hong Kong experts share their tips to help your child settle well at school:
Nursery and Kindergarten
Visual home-to-school transition
To prepare young children for kindergarten, they need to know when school will begin, says Tess Baguio, Principal of Small World Christian Kindergarten in the Mid-levels. A visual calendar can help children count down to their first day of school and a picture schedule can let them know what’s in store for them.
“A simple picture schedule of your child’s day (bus to school, arrival at school, greeting teachers and friends, play time, snack time, toilet time, saying goodbye, travel home, I’m home!) will help them know what will happen next and familiarise their daily routine,” Tess advises.
Take something familiar to school
As your child joins the ranks of independent school-goers, he may want to keep a family picture and his favourite toy with him.
“A family picture and a familiar stuffed toy, blanket or small toy will help children in their transition as it provides comfort and reassurance whenever necessary,” Tess explains.
When the time comes to drop your child to the school bus or to their new classroom, take the time to reassure her and explain when you will return. Rituals such as a big hug and a wave goodbye can help comfort children and build confidence that you will return when you say you will, says Tess.
Demonstrate trust in the teacher
When you hand your little treasure over to the care of the teacher, carefully consider your words and actions.
“If the parent exhibits through body language their lack of confidence and anxiety about leaving their child, there are far more likely to be difficulties in separating. However, if children arrive at school with a secure attachment to the parent and the parent then establishes a trusting relationship with the teacher, then all will go well,” says Julie Lam, a founding member of Highgate House School at the Peak.
Independence is one of the most important skills that children need to develop before starting school, ESF Peak School Year 1 teachers Loraine Fay and Anna Casley advise.
“Being independent will ensure a successful transition from kindergarten and foster a sense of personal success. This will help your child thrive in the new school environment,”
Over the summer break, take the time to teach your child to pack and unpack his own school bag, dress and undress himself, feed himself, open lunch boxes and drinking bottles, use the toilet and wash hands himself. Teach him to recognise his own name, develop his listening skills, and learn to express his own needs.
“Starting school is a big step for a little person. We can all help by encouraging young children to express their needs using words. Set up scenarios at home where your child will need to ask for help and model with your child how to do this and the words to use, for example, asking to use the toilet, explaining if you have a problem or a worry. Equally, your child will be encountering many new instructions and routines. It would be extremely useful if you have helped to nurture your child’s listening skills,” Loraine and Anna comment.
Let them know what to expect
Children will settle far quicker when they know what to expect and they feel reassured, explains Jane Archibald, director of admissions and marketing, Nord Anglia International School in Kowloon. She encourages parents to visit the school with their child and to talk about what going to school means. Parents can talk about the teacher, what happens at lunchtime and playtime, the different things children may get to do and play with, and the friends they will make.
“Talk them through what will happen so they know what to expect and listen to any worries they may have. This will help to take the fear out of the unknown and give them confidence,” Jane advises.
This is why routine is so important. “Routine builds security so get into one as soon as possible. Routine also means regular bed times, waking times, packing schoolbags and leaving the house. There is nothing worse than a rushed, stressed start to the day, as this will affect your child,” she explains.
“To ready your children for reading, writing and mathematics lessons, you should encourage them to undertake simple household chores, such as sorting clothes, pairing socks and cutting up fruits and vegetables. Spend time drawing with your child to help them develop their writing skills,”advises Cannie Pang, founder member of Forest House in Sai Kung. She also encourages parents to use proper language when talking, not baby talk.
If possible, arrange play dates with children who will be in your child’s class before schools starts.“Meeting new classmates in advance, in a familiar environment and with a parent or caregiver present, has a positive impact and helps with familiarisation. If they already know some other faces on their first day they will feel far more relaxed and comfortable about going in together,” Jane says.
Relationships are, after all, the key to all successful, happy school experiences, Julie concludes. Relationships built on trust and authenticity between parents, children, teachers, and peers will ultimately equip young children with the confidence and security they need as they embark on this exciting chapter in their lives.