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IMPORTANT L ESSONS WE NEED TO LEARN FOR NEXT GEN ERATION OF SCHOOL-GOERS

From the moment they are born, we watch our children reach and conquer various milestones - usually with pride, sometimes with trepidation. And in their young lives, starting 'big school' is up there as being one of the most momentous occasions for both parents and children.

Most will adapt with ease to their new routine, but for some parents, waving off their tiny tots encased in pristine new uniforms, with over-sized bags on their backs, can be the most difficult challenge to bear as the natural instinct to cosset your child battles against the joy of watching them develop and grow.

So, as they fill their pencil cases and wear in their new shoes before the big day, we discover how best to prepare the next generation of school-goers for the beginning of the rest of their lives.

Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell says while starting school can be a daunting experience, these feelings of unease are perfectly normal.

"Starting school is as nerve-wrecking for some as it is exciting for others," he says.

"For most children and their parents the experience of heading off to 'big school' is a mixed bag of emotions that include the thrill of a new chapter in both your and your child's life along with questions about how he or she will do and the dread of how quickly this time has come.

STARTER

"All of these are normal thoughts and feelings. They are the things that make us stop to think and check that we are doing the right things for our child, such as asking if she is ready, do I need to practice basicskills with him or am I holding on too tightly to my first or last school starter."

The Wexford-based psychologist says to make the transition easier, there are a number of simple tasks which can help to prepare children for the big event.

"There are some great activities that parents can do before the term starts," he says.

"Most children respond well to role-playing or what I like to call role-saying. That simply means practicing various scenarios 
which might challenge a particular child in school by doing or talking about the task.

"For one child it might be when his shoelaces need to be re-tied, for another it could be that lunchtime is over and she 
still has not eaten her lunch or that she can't see you outside her class at the end of the day.

"Practice these possibilities and reassure your child that he will cope when they happen. That might mean role-playing tying his laces or choosing shoes with Velcro instead. For another child it might mean practicing self-care using the toilet or just gently talking through a possibility that applies to him, such as getting to his bus or hooking up with a sibling.

"You might decide to take a drive or a walk to the school in advance of your child's first day to just have a look or remind your child of the route. Also, if you know another child who will be in the same class, set up an informal playdate. This child may not turn out to be the new best friend but having a familiar face in the first few days can be reassuring."

Starting school is a huge task for your child's body and brain, and the psychologist advises rest, nutrition and routine to cope with the demands of a busy day.

"Learning, socialising and navigating the schoolyard are all demanding tasks for your four or five year-old," he says.

"They will be exhausted in the first weeks so before school starts, introduce more regular bedtimes, getting up and dressed earlier and regular mealtimes. It can be quite an adjustment getting used to bedtimes and waking up times. So, rather than trying to adjust to it all on the last two nights of the summer holidays, slowly introduce the routine your child will very much need when he starts school. For young children adequate sleep is a necessity and not a luxury. Aim for as close to twelve hours sleep as possible for a child in the first four years of primary school.

EXPERIENCES

"And lastly, make a conscious effort to engender a positive attitude to school, schoolwork and teachers. Be involved and interested in your child's learning. They'll see that it means a lot to you and are more likely to value their learning experiences."

Jennifer Cassidy (left) works as a part-time child-minder and lives in Cabinteely with her two sons Matthew (12) and Alex (4). Her youngest will be starting Oatlands Primary School, Stillorgan in September - but because he has an older brother there and she has prepared him for the 'big day', neither she nor Alex has any worries.

"Alex doesn't have any anxieties about starting school as he met his teacher on his induction day and got to spend time in his classroom with the other children. They were able to explore their environment and surroundings, express their feelings and ask questions.

He is very excited about the whole experience - getting his new bag, shoes, pencil case and most importantly, his lunchbox. He is also delighted that he will be able to show off his big brother to everyone in the school yard.

Because Matthew is there already, I don't really have any anxieties for Alex and feel very confident with the school, principal and teachers. The only thing that will get me is that my baby has grown up and is taking this big step in his little life. But I have to make sure he doesn't see me being upset because he will begin to think that he should be worried too.

All-in-all, I think Alex is well-prepared and ready for school, thanks to the effort from the girls in his Montessori school and the continued work I did with him at home.

Also, on the induction day we were given a booklet to fill in. On the front page it has the word ME on top where we have to place a picture of the child, the rest of the booklet contains lists of different tasks the child can do and what preferences they have for certain things.

POSITIVE

So when the children start school their teacher will have a great understanding of their individual needs and be able to relate to them from day one, which means they will have a positive experience.

As for us parents, I'm sure many of us will shed a tear and feel very alone as we wave goodbye to our grown-up babies.

I have arranged to go for a coffee with a few other parents so we can express how we feel and shed our tears together without worrying the children, who I'm sure will be having a great time together in school."

Margaret Murphy lives with her husband Gavan and children Abigail (4) and Louie (2) in Shankhill, Co Dublin. Abigail will start in St Anne's N.S., in Shankhill in September and while she is very excited about the transition, is concerned that her brother will miss her while she is gone.

"Abigail seems very happy and excited to start school - however she's a little concerned about leaving her baby brother behind in Montessori school as she is worried he will miss her.

Also, I think deep down she is going to miss some of the close friendships she has formed in pre-school as a lot of her friends are going to different schools. We will have to make sure to keep in close contact and organise playdates so she can keep in touch with her buddies.

friends

Apart from that, Gavan and I don't have any particular anxieties other than hoping that she settles in well into her new school. She won't know any of the other children in her class, but she's a very social little girl, so we are sure she'll make new friends very quickly.

She herself is most excited about eating her lunch from her new Frozen lunchbox and learning to read. She's very independent so is really looking forward to being able to read her own stories in the future to herself and of course her little brother, Louie.

I think in some cases, starting school can be easier for children of this generation, as a lot of them will have attended a Montessori school or crèche in the lead up to Junior Infants. This is good preparation from a social point of view."

TRANSITION TIPS

• Routine is essential - establish set bedtimes and mealtimes before the school term begins.

• Teach independence skills - help your 
child to put on and take off coats and shoes, 
use the bathroom, open and close their 
lunchbox.

• Connect with your child's new school - familiarise yourself with your child's teachers and the school layout and timetable.

• Be dependable and predictable - make sure your child is picked up/dropped off on time and if any changes to routine are being made, let your child know well in advance.

• Don't make your anxiety become your child's anxiety - keep any feelings of insecurity to yourself.

• Empathise before you reassure - rather than just reassuring your child that everything will be okay, share examples of how you experienced the same feelings when you were a child.

• Stay positive - your attitude to your child's school life is very important as they are looking to you for guidance.


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