Transitions are a part of life, even for the very young: from birth and starting nursery, to changing jobs and moving house.
As adults we have been through enough of these changes to have some idea of what a new situation feels like and how we will cope with it. Children starting school do not have that luxury. Telling a four year-old they are off to school soon and expecting them to understand how this will change their lives is futile – they have nothing to compare it to.
If your child has already spent some time at nursery, it’s tempting to imagine that the transition to school will be easier. It’s true it helps – being among new children and adults, even simply understanding that your parents come back later, can all make school seem less daunting.
Nevertheless the step up to school for every child is huge. Abstract concepts such as assembly, PE, headteacher and dinner-hall mean very little to a four year-old with no prior experience of them. As for literacy, citizenship and mealtime supervisor….
But there are several ways to help ease the transition to school and create a friendly familiarity and happy associations with the school environment even before they start.
The home visit is one way, and is something we’ll come back to later in this series. But perhaps the most powerful (and simple) tool, if your child is starting school in September, is to make a My New School scrapbook.
Many schools run an open day in June or July for children starting in September. When you go to yours, take your camera along and take plenty of photographs, then print the pictures and stick them in a scrapbook with your child.
By keeping the book to hand and looking at it together over the summer, you are helping them become familiar with their new school and providing a point of reference for the many questions your child will have. Often, questions may seem trivial: my son wants to know if his new school will have dinosaur toys. But this question is meaningful to him, and that is what matters.
We haven’t visited our eldest son’s new school yet so the only clothes peg I could photograph was at his nursery. But this is the kind of thing you are looking for: the objects and places that make up the everyday experience of a school child.
Tips for making a great scrapbook
Think about the school day when you take the pictures, and create a chronological framework. You can then begin to talk about new routines when you look at the book: ‘First we come through the gate, then we walk through the playground and go into the school. This is our classroom door. Here is where we sit down for the register and for stories. Here are the toys in my new classroom. This one is my favourite.’
Write captions under each picture so you can also practise reading and writing over the summer. It also means you can read the book as a story. In fact, your child will be so proud of the book that they will want to read it to everyone who comes to visit.
Take pictures of all sorts of things. Almost everything can be a starting point for conversation. Some ideas include:
- school gates
- playground and climbing frame
- school entrance
- reception desk
- classroom door
- teacher and teaching assistants
- teacher’s chair
- rug where the children sit
- book corner
- dinner hall
- your child in their new uniform
One of the most exciting things about starting school is wearing a uniform. To the child it feels so grown up, like an adult dressing for work. Trying on the uniform at home helps to build a sense of anticipation and the feeling that school is something special and to be enjoyed.
Check with the school that it’s OK to take pictures and avoid getting other children in your snaps. Schools quite rightly have very strict codes about this.
Give your child a camera, too – you can be sure that their photos will capture something completely unexpected. We can’t ever know what will be significant for our children, which is why this is such a powerful technique. That tea set in the home corner might be the thing your child talks about all summer and the reason they skip into the classroom on the first day.
Encourage your child to picture themselves at school. What will they do? Which toy would they like to play with?
Support your scrapbook with fiction.Try gentle classics such as Starting School by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, Lucy and Tom At School by Shirley Hughes.
Not just for school
Once you begin to recognise the many transitions and new experiences in your child’s life you may find yourselves creating many more scrapbooks together. Make a book about a summer holiday, moving house, going to the dentist; anything rooted in their own real experiences is fascinating to children. You will find that they pore over these books for hours and will want to create their own – all a great way to get them using scissors, cutting out and sticking and of course, learning to write.
Are you ready for school?
Do you have a preschooler? Would you like them to develop some key skills before starting school? How wonderful to go into school on that first day feeling like you belong.
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