Paul Fallon’s daughter, Florence, started school in 2013 in Melbourne’s inner north. His advice for other families? Focus on helping your child to settle in and get used to the school day routine – and look to other families and your child’s teacher for support.
What did your family do to prepare Florence for starting school?
We were fortunate that the school ran a transition program where the kids were able to attend class a couple of times before their preschool finished. Over the holidays we (Paul and partner Suzie) prepared her in a number of ways. We bought her uniform and she used to try it on a lot. We’d explain the routine to her of how the day is structured in the school and when she has her breaks. We also did other practical things like buying her lunchbox and letting her choose the lunchbox she wanted. We certainly knew from having an older child (Annabelle, 9) start school that we didn’t want to overwhelm her in the holidays by talking about it too much.
What happened on the first day of school?
It’s a pretty emotional time because only a short time ago these kids were in preschool a couple of hours a week and now they’re moving to spending 30 hours a week in formal education. Florence was certainly excited to be going. She woke up early that morning and we made sure she was prepared with her school uniform and lunch box. When we got to the school we walked with her to the classroom and had a look around the classroom and just generally reassured her by being there for the first hour or so. The school helped by encouraging the parents to hang around if there were any issues. Overall she was quite relaxed and really excited about the start of her education.
How did Florence settle in during the first few weeks of school?
By the end of the first few weeks they are quite tired emotionally and physically because it’s all exciting, it’s all new. We made a point of making sure Florence wasn’t overloaded at the end of the day by too many activities. The only thing she really does is swimming and we made sure she only did one activity at the end of the day in the first term.
What role do parents have in supporting children during the transition to school?
It’s really important that the first year is just a chance for the kids to settle in and make friends and get used to a routine. It’s not about being ambitious about your expectations for their development – it’s about them feeling comfortable in the school. In the first year it really was about getting Florence used to it, hoping she’d make some friends and encouraging her to invite friends over for a play at the end of the day.
I really think it’s important that parents meet other parents of the kids in their class if only for a social occasion but also for those times when they can’t pick them up, to get feedback about how their kids are going and for help with any issues their kids might be having.
If parents have any problems they should discuss them with the teachers to gain an understanding or to alleviate any fears they may have about their child rather than keeping it to themselves.
Paul and Florence feature in our Starting School videos. Watch the videos to learn about their experiences thinking about transition to school, understanding behaviour, practising problem solving skills and coping skills for children.