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Starting BIG school

Helping children to cope with starting school.

Starting anything new or different can be exciting, but it can often be terrifying at the same time. We all cope with change very differently – some better than others – but at least, as adults, we’ll have had the chance to develop some resilience and self-confidence that will enable us to cope with new situations. Since children have not had the same opportunity, we should be particularly aware of the effects of change on them. As with adults, of course, children deal with change in varying ways.

Moving from playschool or toddler group to primary school can be an overwhelming experience for a child. Until now they have had the security of being with mum or dad or carer for the majority of the week, with maybe one or two days at playschool. Now all that is about to change and it will soon be time to leave the security of their familiar routine behind and move into a new environment … ‘big school’! As playgroup leaders we can play an important part in helping children get through this process as easily as possible. And we shouldn’t forget the support we gave give to the adults too – it can be an emotional rollercoaster for them as well and we can provide much-needed encouragement and reassurance.

Pre-school programmes are a great way to prepare children for starting ‘big school’. Our activities will help them develop communication and social skills, and also encourage learning skills such as making choices and problem-solving. The environment we provide can also have a huge impact on children’s developing independence and confidence and gives them the chance to dip their little toes into the structure and routine of the classroom situation.

Many of us will know from experience that whilst some children take to pre-school groups very easily, other can find it much more of a struggle. My son Ben, for instance, always left home happily to go to playschool, always having to be dressed as a superhero, and yes, more often than not, wanting to actually become that superhero! Yet when we entered the front door of playschool, the happy child who had left the house that morning suddenly changed into a screaming, clinging, very difficult to deal with little boy. There were many times when he had to be prised away from me, and tearfully I’d leave him in the care of the assistant with the echoes of ‘Mummy, Mummy’ following me down the corridor. Yet I knew that within ten minutes of my leaving him, he would be absolutely fine and loving it!

Those times were painful and I didn’t want the experience repeated when he went to ‘big school’, but thankfully, I was given some good advice which I’ll pass on to you. I think you’ll find it really useful as you help parents and carers prepare their children for the big day.

  • Encourage the parent or carer to talk to their child about the ‘new adventure’ that he or she will be taking.
  • Take interest in the adult as well as the child. They may be upset or concerned about the transition and your reassurance and concern will be invaluable.
  • At Story Time read the children stories about school and the exciting activities that go on there. Libraries have a variety of books on this subject. A favourite book of mine that has helped little children is Going to School, Usborne First Experiences (see below (include link)).
  • Encourage parents to let their child be involved in the process of buying things for school – their uniform, lunch-box, book-bag etc.
  • Keep talking about school, so that it becomes a familiar concept to them.
  • Suggest to parents and carers that they find out whether the children are allowed to take a familiar toy into school with them on the first day so that they have a little bit of ‘home’ with them.
  • Encourage your team members to actively pray for each adult and child involved in the transition. Families will feel supported and strengthened if they know they are being prayed for.
  • When it was time for Ben to attend his first day at ‘big school’, I felt that he had grown in confidence. In fact, he was able to go through those front doors without the screaming and shouting that had happened at playschool and he enjoyed lining up with the other children. I know that a big part of this was due to the help of my toddler group.

    As playgroup leaders, let’s not underestimate the important role we play in helping children and families through this significant life stage. We can make all the difference – preparing children well and helping them to feel very special and brave, and being the source of encouragement and support to parents and carers who often have no-one else to turn to.