Sunday 23 November 2014

First-day nerves for parents and pupils

Claire McCormack and Sarah Stack

Published 29/08/2014 | 02:30

Louise O'Mara age five from Balitore.
First day at St Laurences National School, Crookstown, Ballitore, Kildare.
Photo:Michael Donnelly.
Louise O'Mara age five from Balitore. First day at St Laurences National School, Crookstown, Ballitore, Kildare. Photo:Michael Donnelly.
First day of school at Kilcolgan educate together National School for Lily Downes from Kinvara in Co. Galway. photo:Andrew Downes
Brenda Corcoran and happy son Jack Robinson age four from Balitore. First day at St Laurences National School, Crookstown, Ballitore, Kildare. Photo:Michael Donnelly.
Louise O'Mara age five from Balitore, Eoghan O'Mara and mother Annette O'Mara. First day at St Laurences National School, Crookstown, Ballitore, Kildare. Photo:Michael Donnelly.
Very happy girls on their first day of school. First day at St Laurences National School, Crookstown, Ballitore, Kildare. Photo:Michael Donnelly.
Emotional parents looking on at their children. First day at St Laurences National School, Crookstown, Ballitore, Kildare. Photo:Michael Donnelly.

IT'S still August but the return to school is well under way - with up to 15,000 extra pupils expected in our nation's classrooms in the academic year ahead.

The Department of Education is predicting a rise of more than 8,500 children in primary schools, over and above last year's figure.

And an increase of around 5,000 is expected at second level, according to the department's projections.

Overall, the number of pupils at primary level is expected to be 544,762, including special schools, with a further 338,046 at second level.

The ongoing growth in enrolments is a consequence of high birth rates since the late 1990s, which have now started to fall.

The "baby boom" will be felt in primary schools until about 2019. The rise in enrolments sees about 70,000 junior infants starting school this year. And many of those parents were arriving at the school gates yesterday, with those carefully packed school lunches and pristine uniforms.

There were more smiles than tears at the Holy Family National School in Rivervalley, Swords, Dublin, as it took in one of the biggest influx of junior infants in the country at 180.

The tiny army of grey uniforms were flanked by sea of emotional parents, as proud mother Alex McEvoy confessed the day was much harder for her than four-year-old son Killian Anelli.

"I've done it," she said, as she walked out of his class.

"It's such a big deal, they are just so independent in there. I'm very proud of him. It's just me and him and he is gone in there on his own like a proper boy."

Four-year-old Emma Faughnan said the best thing about starting "big school" was "making new friends".

"Emma's our first so we're a little bit emotional. She's very independent," said her mother Elaine. "She's grand but it's hard to let go," said her mother Elaine.

A teary Karen Rafferty was sad to see eldest daughter Niamh, five, head through the school gates.

"She's really excited, mammy is okay, so far. When I go home I'll have to get a cup of tea and box of tissues out," said the proud mother.

From a change in routine to a change in dress, psychology experts say it is important to be prepared.

Trish Murphy, of the Family Therapy Association, said: "If it's your first child it's an emotional occasion. Even if they have been to a crèche or a Montessori, it's still a step into the big world."

"You put your child into a uniform and they look older instantly, it can have quite an impact on everyone," said Ms Murphy.

"If a parent is very relaxed, cool and open about it then the child will pick up from that. But if the parent is tense or worried the child will try to hold on to them."

Experts said it is important to reassure junior infant pupils that "it's normal" to feel nervous and unsettled for the first few days. Adding that they need to be prepared so they don't feel failure.

Psychologist and Trinity College Dublin researcher Jolanta Burke, who specialises in well being in schools, said the main thing is to ensure new pupils feel a balance of positive and negative emotions.

"Simple things like allowing the child to bring their favourite colours or pencils to school will ease the transition", said Ms Burke, adding that fun after school activities will help too.

Other specialists said the role of the teacher is key in directing parents during the initial stages.

Deirdre Sullivan, Training and Development Officer at the National Parents Council (NPC), said: "Follow their lead, they've seen it all before. If the child settles quickly then go, don't hang around."

Irish Independent

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