School days are the happiest days of your life.
Or so the saying goes.
It doesn’t always work out that way, though - countless adults say their memories of school are marred by unhappy recollections.
The best way to ensure your children’s education is a positive experience is by getting it right from Day One, which looms for South Yorkshire children next week.
We spoke to two school experts for their advice...
The Education Specialist says:
A huge change in your child’s life is about to unfold - and there isn’t a thing he or she can do to control what happens to them.
“They walk through the school gates into a new environment with new rules and very few familiar faces. “It’s a very different world to the one they knew at nursery. No wonder children can become anxious when they start school,” says senior learning mentor Deirdre McAuley.
She works for Sheffield’s Multi Agency Support Team - a network including school nurses, child development workers and health visitors which supports children and families through school. MAST often have to deal with older children displaying deep anxiety issues and strongly believe that the right support given at an early age can prevent years of unhappiness.
“Trying to do things as right as you can from Day One is really important,” says Deirdre. Anxiety is natural but left unchecked, it could last them the rest of their school life, she explains.
“We deal with 14-year-olds who are still too scared to ask questions in class, or get so stressed if they are late for school that they don’t turn up for a day.
“But you can help them to deal with their anxiety by encouraging them to see going to school as a really positive experience, talking to them about the things they can expect and helping them to create the things that make every child feel safe and secure - routines.”
Take your child on the journey they will make to school each day. It will familiarise them with the route and give you a good idea of how long it is going to take - with extra allowances for busy weekday traffic.
It will take away the worry of being late on the first day - for all of you. Remember, many schools shut their gates after the bell has gone for safety reasons.
Make a step-by-step picture chart of drawings or photographs showing all the tasks they will need to do when they get up on a school morning - wake up, get dressed, brush their hair, have breakfast, brush their teeth, get their school bag and put their coat on - and hang it on their bedroom wall.
They can follow the things on the chart each morning. It will help them to take responsibility for themselves.
Create a positive vision of what school will be like. It is so important that children don’t go into school with a negative attitude.
Encourage your older children to share all the good things they like about school - but not the bad.
Talk about your own experience of school in a positive way, too. If you didn’t have a happy time, make an effort not to pass that feeling onto your child. It’s easy to do that without realising it - and you are their main role model.
Prepare them by talking about the behaviour that will be expected of them at school - to walk instead of run, to raise their hand in the air to ask to go to the toilet, to listen to the teacher and do what they are asked.
This is the time to take pictures of them in their new uniform, not on the first day of school, when it could make the day seem even more momentous an occasion and raise their stress levels.
The Night Before
Lay out uniform with your child’s help. Let them choose the small things, like hair-ribbons, socks and underwear. It give them some control. And help them to pack their school bag.
Get your child to bed early. To make this easier, explain to them that it is important, that they need to get enough sleep so they can do their school work properly.
And get them to wind down as bed-time approaches by switching the TV off and avoid giving them fruit juice or a fizzy drink - all will stimulate their brains rather than relax them. Give them a glass of milk instead and read them a story in bed.
Making this their nightly routine now will help you with bedtimes for years to come.
Try to make the atmosphere calm as they get dressed and have breakfast.
Excitement is fine, but if they feel nervous, remind them that lots of other children they are going to meet will feel that way, too.
Get to school on time and without panicking. On the way, remind them they shouldn’t be scared to ask questions or for permission to go to the toilet.
Ensure your child knows who is picking them up, at what time and where.
End of The Day
When they get home, encourage them to talk about what they did. Ask them what was the best thing that happened during the day, but don’t ask them for the worst one - instead, ask for the event they would like to have done differently. That way, they go back the next day with only positive thoughts.
Start a good after-school routine that includes getting changed out of their uniform, doing their homework, having time to play and eat their tea in an order you feel happy with.
And in the evening, get the bed-time routine underway again.
The Headteacher says:
That first day of school is hard for parents, too - but hide your tears.
“Your child’s rights of passage are always stressful and this one has added tension for a parent because you’re relinquishing your child the control and care of your child,” says Huw Thomas, head at Emmaus Catholic and C of E Primary School in Wybourn. He adds:
“It’s important not to worry, or get too upset, though - because you children will pick up on it and get more anxious.”
The things to remember are that you are not the only parent feeling upset and worried when you leave the school gates, he says. “It’s perfectly normal - and it will get easier.
Emmaus Primary is expecting 44 little newcomers next week. “It will be easier because they came in July to see their classroom, meet their teacher and classmates. These visits are becoming common practice in schools and definitely make that first day much easier for the children,” says Huw.
He urges parents to prepare themselves for their child’s tearful “I want mummy” moment - and take the teacher’s cue when to leave.
“Teachers have dealt with these situations numerous times and know how to handle them. They also know that most of the time, the moment the parent has left the classroom, the child stops crying and settles down,” he says.
“Our advice to parents is always: get yourself away, no matter how hard you find it.
“Remember it’s not how your child is at the start of the day that counts, it’s how they are at the end of it.
“They should be coming home to you beaming, with pictures to proudly show you.”