This week we welcome Frankie White, a Primary School Teacher and new mama, to Mama + Max. Frankie teaches Year One and with our little one starting school this year, we know first hand how daunting sending your child off to their first day at big school can be.
We had a chat with Frankie about what happens once you drop your child off at the school gate and how you can prepare your little people for their newest adventure and we just love the advice she shared, so we had to share it with you, we hope you like it!
My first day of teacher training was the day that 30 bright eyed, full of beans 4 year olds were starting Reception. As they hovered outside the classroom door at ten to 9, I readied myself for an onslaught of tears, meltdowns and full-blown tantrums. What happened next however, taught me my first main lesson about children. As the class teacher opened the doors, thirty little people trotted into their new world; they were confident, they were curious and they were excited! Sure there was the odd tear, these are 4 year olds after all, but what I learnt that day was that at just 4 years old, these children had a resilience I never expected.
In fact, thinking back to that day, where I did see overwhelming emotion was in the faces of the parents. Some were clambering to see where their child’s peg was, some were asking to come in and help them take off their coats (they were kindly but firmly asked to remain outside). Others were in tears at the thought of their little one starting school. And now as a new parent myself, I understand some of the anguish felt by parents on this quite momentous day. For most parents the first day of school marks the transition of their little person from baby to child, it’s the first step in growing up. It’s no wonder then, that it can be a hard road for parents to navigate, especially if their own experiences of education were negative in any way.
I have been asked in this blog, to pass on my advice to parents with little ones starting school this September who may be feeling the butterflies already. My overriding advice would be to have confidence, confidence in your child’s ability to start this new chapter in their lives and excel at it. Children respond to and thrive on positivity and if you approach this somewhat daunting day with positivity and excitement (no matter how terrified or apprehensive you might feel) they will start school taking all those good vibes with them.
So, here is some of my advice to hopefully help this new phase of your little one’s life, start positively.
The Practical Stuff…
Toilet training - it’s a good idea to make sure your child is confident about going to the toilet by themselves, knows how to wipe themselves and can wash their hands without help. This is purely practical as a teacher with 30 children to look after, may not be able to leave the class each time a child needs the loo.
On the flip side however, if you are a parent of a child with a particular nervousness around using the toilet, make it known to the teacher as soon as you can (try and message them before the start of term as we can be bombarded with information on the first day) so that time can be spent showing your little one where the toilets are etc. to relieve them of their worries.
Uniform - please, please, please, a plea from all teachers, label your child’s uniform! All of it! We may seem like we know where all of your children’s belongings are at any one time but trust me, 4 year olds tend to take jumpers off and on like no one’s business and it’s much easier to track down a missing one if it has a name in it!
A good idea is also to practise getting dressed in their uniforms and sports kit in the lead up to the start of school. You can make it fun by timing them or racing with them, as you get dressed too. It’s important that children have the independence to be able to dress themselves, and it’s a skill they will need to have to meet their early learning goals.
Learning - my neighbour asked me the other day if she should be doing anything to encourage her child to write before they go to school. I get asked this a lot and it’s quite a tricky question. On the one hand you don’t want to push your child with too much, too early, but you don’t want them to be ‘behind’ when they start school.
For me, it’s all about the child. If your little one loves to experiment with writing in play, then there is no harm in encouraging that. For example ‘let’s make a shopping list for the supermarket’. At this age they will mostly be mark making and that is completely normal, remember in some countries formalised learning doesn’t start until the age of 7. If you want to practise anything then their name is a good place to start. You can write it in water on the patio, use a chalkboard, use paints, or trace it in shaving foam (nice and messy!). These are nice relaxed ways to introduce writing without pressuring your littlie to put pen to paper. If you are going to start writing with them though take a look at some handwriting patterns and make sure you are teaching them the correct way to form their letters.
The emotional stuff…
What to do in the lead up to the first day - As I have mentioned before the main thing to be is positive. You can talk about all the new friends the children will make and that they will be able to teach mummy and daddy some exciting new things. A lot of learning in Reception is play based, so it’s likely that they are going to have a lot of fun learning too, so that’s a great way to get them excited. Children love to feel important or grown up and so talking about starting Big Boy’s/Girl’s School is a lovely way to get them excited.
If you have an anxious child, showing them where they are going to be going is very helpful. You could do a practise walk to school, look on the school’s website to see photographs or even make something for their new teacher, so that it gives them a security and sense of belonging when they head to school on that first day.
On the day - I heard a really lovely thing that a friend did with her son on the first day of school, that I am sure she won’t mind me sharing. Her son was a bit worried about saying goodbye to mummy and so right before he went into his new class she took his hand and held it. She kissed it and asked him to kiss hers. Then she said if he felt worried during the day, he could rub his hand as it had mummy’s kiss on it and that would stay with him all day. And that way if she felt a bit wobbly during the day, she could do the same.
Not every child will need a little ritual like this for their first day but I thought it was a lovely way to help her son feel loved and safe without his mummy there and also for him to know they were sharing an experience, rather than it just being about him or her.
One thing that I would say about that first day is that if your child is a bit upset the best thing to do is to say goodbye, reassure them that you will see them later and to have a good day and then leave. Trust the teachers to look after them as they know how precious they are to you but are also very good at the art of distraction. This will probably be the hardest thing in the world to do but no matter how upset they seem within a short time of being in class, your little one will soon be engaged in all the fun activities. Have faith in their resilience!
Home time - at the end of the school day it’s likely that your little one will be shattered! It’s a lot to take in on that first day so don’t expect them to necessarily be in a really excited mood.
I often hear parents say ‘What did you do today?’ or ‘What did you learn?’ Whilst it’s lovely to hear parents being engaged with their child’s learning it’s also an incredibly broad question for a small person to answer after a long day at school. Below are three questions that might help your little one to pinpoint key experiences they have had that day and provide something for you to talk about.
What made you happy today?
What made you sad today?
What new thing did you learn today?
I hope this post has given you some helpful advice for starting this new chapter of your little person’s life. Education should be a fun, exciting and a positive experience, so try and keep that in your mind as you wave them goodbye at the start of September. Remember too that the next few years are so formative and if children begin their learning journey with wonder and excitement, it’s likely they will carry that curiosity with them for life. With school comes not just learning but new friendships, school shows, sports days, school trips and a whole host of other amazing experiences. So think of this when you say goodbye to them at the school gates on their first day, and think forward to all the great memories you and your little one will make and treasure forever.
If you have a little one starting school or pre-school in September, send them back in style with our new range of recycled backpacks, eco-friendly bamboo lunch boxes and stainless steel water bottles from Scandinavian brand Liewood. Shop the Back to School edit below.
The coolest backpacks with four styles to choose from, available in big (3-7 years) and small (0-3 years)
Eco-friendly bamboo lunchboxes, a great alternative to plastic containers
Stylish stainless steel water bottles that keep water cool for up to 12 hours
We also love these mama-run brands for back to school bits and pieces...
Konoc (https://konoc.com/) - for gorgeous leather bag tags
Fearless Flamingo (https://fearlessflamingo.com/) - we love the Be Brave enamel pin badge and will be using it on the first day of school!
Cotton Twist (https://cottontwist.co.uk/) - the cutest personalised pencil tins and teachers gifts
Blue Ticking (https://www.blueticking.co.uk/) - gorgeous vintage desks, perfect for doing homework in style