Keeping cool on the first day of school

Author: Sarah Ebner
Author: Sarah Ebner
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Starting school isn’t always easy for children or their parents, but the author of a new school survival guide gives tips to make it easier, plus an expert urges teenagers to cover up in the summer sun

The new school year is fast approaching, and for the youngsters who are starting school for the very first time, it can be a daunting prospect.

The Starting School Survival Guide by Sarah Ebner

The Starting School Survival Guide by Sarah Ebner

The fears children experience before starting school are often shared by their parents, who will sometimes worry about everything from their ‘baby’ being away from them all day, to whether they’ll make friends, if they’ll behave, and even if they’ll eat their lunch.

Starting school can indeed be a minefield of both parent and child worries - and now there’s a guide to help them navigate their way through.

The Starting School Survival Guide was written by Times education blogger Sarah Ebner after she realised there was a lack of easy-to-access, detailed information about starting school all bound together in one volume.

Mother-of-two Ebner says: “People kept emailing me through the blog asking what book I could recommend about starting school, so I decided that was what I should write.

First day: Starting school can be a minefield for both  parents and children

First day: Starting school can be a minefield for both parents and children

“When you’re a parent there are certain situations where you just want some help or advice, and people often don’t live near their parents or in a community where everyone knows each other, so they have lots of questions about big things like starting school.

“Hopefully the book answers them.”

After tackling how to choose and apply for the right school - which will of course be done and dusted by now - Ebner looks at preparing your child for their first day, and suggests how to make it easier.

Talking to your child about the school, answering their questions, and visiting the school is important, she says, as is practising social skills with them, such as listening to others, sharing, taking turns - particularly if they haven’t attended a nursery previously.

In addition, parents should encourage independence and responsibility, through simple things such as a child going to the toilet on their own, washing their hands, dressing themselves, and so on.

If you know other children, and parents, who will be starting at the same school, arrange play dates beforehand, she suggests.

“Don’t be scared to get in touch,” she advises.

“You’ll also find it easier if you recognise a friendly face at the school gate.”

It’s also a big help to get into a school-type routine before school starts, which might include your child eating a good breakfast - and not at too leisurely a pace.

Cutting down on daytime snacks is a useful bit of preparation, as your child won’t be able to graze all day at school, and eating meals together will help prepare him or her for eating lunch at the same time as the rest of the school.

There’s advice on buying the right school uniform - coats that are easy to fasten, shoes with Velcro, etc - and labelling it, before addressing the issue of what a child will learn, and how to prepare them.

As well as talking, and reading books together, this can include encouraging them to hold a pencil correctly (if they’re ready), familiarising them with numbers by doing things such as measuring objects, or singing nursery rhymes, and encouraging concentration simply through doing puzzles.

As well as Ebner’s advice, there are real-life experiences and tips, from parents and psychologists, to teachers and governors.

For clingy children who get upset when they’re left at school in those first weeks, reception class teacher Tanja Perez-Williams recommends mum or dad reads a book with them in class until the child is more settled.

There’s a tip to reward children if they go into class without any problems.

A psychologist suggests that if a mum’s anxious when she drops a child off at school, her feelings may be passed on to the child, and tensions could be eased if dad or a family friend drops the child off instead.

Aside from the emotional aspect of kids starting school, Ebner explains how kids learn, and what they actually do in class.

“We talk about maths, they talk about numeracy,” she says.

“Everything is explained differently, and that can be difficult for parents.

“You might try to teach your child in the way you learned it, but they’re learning it a different way at school and you risk really confusing them.

“If you understand what they’re doing and why, it makes it much easier to help them.”

There’s advice about navigating the school cliques for both children and parents, and everything from the thorny issue of bullying to the fluffier subject of the seemingly countless parties your child will be invited to.

And then there’s parental woes - Ebner admits to feeling “very melancholy” when her son, now six, was about to start school, and was reassured to find that many parents on her education blog felt the same way.

She says: “You’re sure to have some kind of reaction when they’re grown up enough to go to school. It’s good to know that you are not alone.”

The Starting School Survival Guide is published by White Ladder, priced £10.99. Available now.