The idea behind our Starting School series might, at first glance, seem almost Victorian in its utilitarianism. Learn to count, to form letters, to sit still and concentrate.
Children must be ready for school
I once worked in a wonderful nursery. The setting was beautiful, the staff highly trained. As a visitor you would have been impressed by the children’s calm, purposeful confidence. They were engaged in challenging activities that reflected their interests and they benefited hugely from being there.
But in one crucial way, the nursery was a failure – even though it was not to blame: the children it produced were not ready for school. The structured way that schools operate is at odds with the independent, child-initiated learning that happens in a good nursery. Our children were arriving at school bewildered. Of course, we produced resilient, resourceful children so they soon adapted, but the truth remains that the transition to formal learning was tougher than it could have been.
The 100 Toys Starting School series sits in the space between nursery and school. We don’t believe in worksheets and rote learning for under 5s. But, equally, we want children to arrive at school with the skills they need to thrive.
How you parent is up to you. You could be the most laid back free-ranger or an ambitious tiger mother. The only thing we need to agree on is that it’s better to be prepared than not. Starting school is more enjoyable for all our children when they are familiar with the tasks, when they know what’s expected of them, and they don’t feel they’re being left behind. Whether you want to give your child a slight nudge or a bit more of a push is up to you. We provide the tools. You decide which ones to use and how.
The current school system is less than ideal for our children, with its early start and immediate focus on attainment. There’s a long and noble tradition of parents opting out, choosing another, gentler way for their children. That might mean a different kind of school, or perhaps a different country altogether.
Our Starting School series is for those of you who, after much consideration, have decided on the local primary. This doesn’t have to come with a sense of resignation. I taught in state schools for years and many are wonderful places. Reception teachers are often highly experienced and will handle your child’s start with sensitivity and care.
But the truth is that maths and English start straight away, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. If this is the kind of school your child will be going to, we believe you should make your peace with it and accept the reality.
Better to face it head on.
The first day at school
“A fundamental goal of a school-start transition is to help young children feel suitable in school, that is, to have a feeling of well-being and belonging.”
Stig Brostrom, Educationalist.
No matter how level-headed we fancy ourselves to be, most parents will harbour certain expectations about school and what it will be like for their children. Likely to be based on our own experiences of school, for many of us they will be both positive and negative. From the smell of the classroom and the taste of school gravy, to full marks in spelling but coming last on Sports Day; our feelings about school are complicated.
Here at One Hundred Toys, we think it’s helpful to remember that, as in all areas of parenting, your experience will not automatically be your child’s. Breaking away from your own assumptions around school will help get your child’s educational journey off to the best possible start.
Our top tips for managing your expectations of school:
Avoid thinking in terms of ‘ahead’ or ‘behind’
When your child first starts school it may be tempting to compare them to the others. If you have a five-year-old, she will have enjoyed an extra year at nursery or at home. An extra year to learn to read, to dress herself and to write her name. Many summer-born children are capable of all these things and more when they arrive at school. But it’s important to understand that they achieved this despite their age; other four-year-olds may not be as ready. And that’s OK. And don’t worry, either, if your child is a September baby but isn’t interested in sitting down to ‘learn’. Give her a diet of good books, enriching experiences and high-quality conversation and she’ll soon be ready.
Pre-schooler behaviour can be challenging. It’s tempting to remind your child that they will be expected to sit still and listen once they start school. But however much these warnings may help in the moment, they can be counterproductive in the long run. They create anxiety about school where none existed before.
Accentuate the positive
Try to avoid repeating negative comments about your own capabilities or strengths, such as ‘I wasn’t any good at maths’ or ‘I had two left feet.’ These comments can programme your child to believe something about themselves that may not even be true. We are all unique. Try to say only positive things about your time at school.
Don’t be alarmed if at your first parents evening, the teacher describes a child you are unfamiliar with. No child dazzles the teacher on day one with their confidence and academic prowess. Many barely speak to a teacher for the first half term. It takes time for them to feel comfortable. So what the teacher sees will almost certainly not be a true reflection of their capabilities. Don’t worry if this happens. Let your child be themselves and help them to feel comfortable and at home in their new school. This, more than anything, is what will make the transition a successful one.
Parents’ starting school checklist:
- Speak positively about school; avoid transmitting your own fears to your child
- Don’t compare! The gap between September-born girls and summer-born boys can be huge, but it diminishes over time
- Relax. The most important thing is for your child to enjoy going to school. There is plenty of time to worry about academic success later