School starts for 2014 here in Australia in just a few weeks and I’ve had a couple of phone calls from nervous mum friends with little ones starting Kindergarten this year. It’s an exciting and scary time (for the teachers too, believe me) and I thought I’d post about the things I tell my friends when they come looking for advice. I’ve spent nearly half of my career teaching Kindy and I’ve picked up a few pointers along the way which I hope can help you start the school journey in a positive way.
Just as an aside…I’ve seen a lot of blogs and websites give advice on what the kids should supposedly be capable of and doing or not doing, however I think these types of articles simply put stress on parents and children who may not be writing their name, cutting in a straight line or reading at a 12 year old level yet. (Cue eye roll.) Schools are places where differentiation is catered for, so don’t panic about skills and the like. All kids are different and begin school at varying points. Kindergarten is as much about socialisation as it is about learning new skills and academia. I believe the pre-school years should be heavily focused on play based learning and kids being kids. It is a special time that they won’t get back, so relax. Instead focus on talking about big school and how it will differ from their current daily arrangements. Get them excited about this new step! And most importantly, put those awful Get Ready for School textbooks down and enjoy these last few weeks of the holidays!
The L Word…
Label EVERYTHING. No, seriously, label everything. Lunch boxes, drink bottles, jumpers, uniforms, socks, shoes, pencils, bags. May as well label your child. (Running out the door at 3pm, they all look the same under their hats.) If it’s labelled and goes missing, chances are it’ll be returned. If it’s not labelled, all I can do is shrug my shoulders and wish you luck. Label everything and teach your child to be responsible for their belongings and you’re on the path to successfully not spending your life savings on hats and Tupperware.
It takes a village….
Get involved. Do reading groups, go on an excursion, volunteer in the canteen once a term. Your child will love having you there and it’s important that you are involved in your child’s education. If you can’t be involved day to day, then do it at home. Sit with your child for their homework and their readers. Talk about their day. Keep the lines of communication with the teacher open. Your child starting school doesn’t mean you hand over the reins to the teacher; they are just taking a piece to hold. It takes a village to raise a child and by fostering positive relations with the teacher, other parents and school, you are keeping that village alive and kicking.
This is my space, this is your space….
However, it’s important to remember that the classroom is still managed by the teacher and owned by the kids. You are a visitor in their domain and a little respect here goes a long way. Expecting long winded discussions at 9am is ridiculous. So is barging in and bailing teachers up during lessons. Teaching time is precious and about the kids. Make an appointment for before or after school. And if you’re involved with groups, listen to what the teacher would like for you to do and accept that you may or may not be working with your child that week. An important note for groups; it is an OH & S law that younger siblings not be present with parent helpers. Apart from the safety implications, you cannot concentrate on kids reading when your toddler is demanding your attention. If it’s too inconvenient for you to find alternative care for them, don’t do classroom groups. I can assure you it’s a lot more inconvenient for the teacher and students having a 2 year old running around screaming.
Know when to hold ’em…
Your child will undoubtedly come home one day and tell you so and so called them a bad name, took the book they wanted to borrow or used their pencil without asking. If the teacher hasn’t addressed the situation with you, chances are it’s been dealt with, or your child simply didn’t tell the teacher it even happened. Children, like adults have conflict with others and there is a world of difference between bullying and these types of occurrences. Bullying and more serious situations in general are of course times when parents need to be alerted, but if I spent my time telling every parent of every child when these type of things occurred, I’d never get into the classroom to actually teach.
Trust your teacher. There’s no need to go running up to the school or writing letters threatening to sue the child who used Mary’s texta without her permission. Your time is better spent teaching your child about resilience, respect and how to handle more serious situations such as bullying or situations that make them uncomfortable.
Talk it over….
Talk to your child about school. Discuss the routines; what will happen in the morning at drop off and who will pick them up. Talk about the new friends they will make, the activities like sports and library and how they will go to assemblies. Do a practice run through with their lunch boxes and recess. Practice unpacking and packing their school bags. Even if you don’t know the exact details, most classrooms will run on the same basic routine:
9am Bags in, folders out. Into room and onto mat.
In the early weeks encourage your child to take their own bag in, hang it up and get what they need out. Start like this and you’re building a good foundation for a child who can be responsible for their own belongings and actions. Kindy teachers will often have high expectations of these little people and it’s only because we know that they’re capable of meeting them.
Check, and then check again….
Check your child’s bag and folder for notes!! Especially in the early days when they are still learning the ropes. Some kids never get better at this, so step up and double check. I once had a mother who came at me, guns blazing because she “…never got the swimming note!!” I calmly took the folder out of her hands, opened it up and passed her the note that had been sitting in there for a week. This happens a lot. I also recommend you check the bottom of school bags for squashed bananas and leaking drink bottles.
And finally…buy your child a raincoat and LEAVE IT IN THEIR BAG. Umbrellas lead to hat room light saber duels and poked eyes. Raincoats are simple. Just remember to put it in their bag, as when it’s pouring rain and your child tells me they have a raincoat but it’s at home; well, I really can’t do anything about that.
Above everything I hope you have a fantastic 2014 school year!