STARTING SCHOOL: 6 steps to starting school successfully

21 January 2019

Whether your child is starting school for the first time, moving to a new school or transitioning from primary school to high school, it’s a big change.

The challenges that will be faced aren’t limited to your child, though.

This is a change for the whole family.

Heading to school will bring with it lots of new challenges, but it’s sure to be an exciting time for you all.

So what can you do to get into the school groove and make it your child's best year yet?

1. Adjust to a new routine

The school year will be filled with routines; it’s the only way to get your child to school on time, keep up with notices and events, and get everything else done as well.

The routines you decide to set will depend on many things – and it’s worth trialling a few different ways that work for you, your child and your family – but there are a few tips the experts can offer to get you started on the right track.

The first is this: don’t wait until the last minute to try getting a routine going.

“Start the routine well before the first day,” advises Fiona Lunn from Brisbane-based Education Emporium, who provides guidance to students and parents. “This includes getting a set bedtime and a morning routine established.”

Of course, this can be tricky to enforce during the summer holidays, but even a week of a new routine before school starts will set the pace for the year.

Your new routine needs a few harsh realities, too.

“Ensure your rule includes no television of a morning or at least until they are up, dressed, breakfast eaten, teeth brushed and bag packed, ready to walk out the door,” advises counselling psychotherapist and parenting expert Dr Karen Phillip. “If they are ready early, some television or computer games is permitted – but only after they are ready.”

Your greatest challenge may be to have your child at school on time each day. How do you make this happen?

“Add 20 minutes to what you think you need,” suggests Kathy Walker, education expert and director of Early Life Foundations. That way you can get your child out the door without yelling and rushing.

2. Embrace the lunch box challenge

School lunch boxes can pose an enormous challenge when you’re a new school parent.

You need to navigate the world of allergies and food intolerances (those of your child or their classmates), school rules, your child’s food preferences (and perhaps fussiness) and trying to set up your child for healthy eating habits – and all with limited time!

The number one potential pitfall to be wary of is giving in to the call of too many packaged foods.

Louise Edney, nutritionist from Nourishing Nosh, advises, “Processed food is so easy and attractive to kids and time-stressed parents, but hidden in these processed foods are unacceptable amounts of salt and sugar. Eating real whole food and ensuring that children receive a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats means that the young students won’t experience fluctuating blood sugar levels (highs and lows) and will actually be able to concentrate better in class and may avoid afternoon energy slumps.”

The Healthy Kids initiative suggests these guidelines:

  • A starchy, preferably wholegrain, food (bread, rice, potatoes or pasta)
  • Some protein (egg, tuna or beans)
  • A bit of dairy (cheese or yoghurt)
  • Healthy snacks (fruit, rice cakes or popcorn)
  • Water, not sugary juices

3. Become an organisational ninja

There are other ways in which you’ll need to be super organised, too.

For starters, says Phillip, “Label everything – all clothing, bags, lunch box, drink bottle: everything.” Things are bound to get lost, but hopefully they’ll be returned to you if they’re labelled clearly.

Lunn suggests getting uniforms ahead of time, too.

“Don’t leave the purchase of shoes until just before school starts,” she says. “It is a good idea if your child has time to walk around at home in their shoes so there aren’t tears and sore feet on the first day.”

Any way you can be organised can be helpful to your sanity and your child’s coping mechanisms.

4. Prepare for separation anxiety

If you think your child is the only one who might experience separation anxiety, you might be surprised.

Many parents feel really emotional about their child starting school or heading into a new stage like high school, particularly on the first day when it can hit you that your child is gaining new independence … sniff, sniff.

This is okay – and perfectly normal – but it is important to manage any outpourings of emotion to avoid negatively impacting on your child.

“Mum standing at the gate crying will only tell the child that this school is scary and bad,” says Phillip. Instead, take your child to school with positivity.

“Staying calm and happy yourself will help your children do the same,” advises Lunn.

And Walker adds another big no-no: “Don’t say, ‘I’ll miss you’!” The last thing you want to do is make your child think there’s something to be worried about so say goodbye (don’t sneak away) and leave them to it.

Once you’re safely out of sight, any tears that want to fall are welcome to do so. Take it easy on yourself and perhaps arrange some activities that you enjoy for that first day or when you’re feeling a bit down about it all.

5. Get involved

You’re now part of a new school community, and this is a great opportunity to help out and meet other parents.

“Research shows that having involvement in the school is really important for families,” says Marie Hirst, psychologist and national coordinator for KidsMatter Starting School.

Try to find a way to get involved, whether that’s with reading groups or the tuckshop or even at school council level. Meeting other parents socially can also be a good way to feel part of the school community. After all, being part of a community builds a sense of belonging.

6. Be your child’s biggest supporter

If you’re a working parent, it can be a good idea to try and arrange a little extra time to be there for your child as they adjust to their new environment.

“Take a couple of days leave during that first week,” suggests Walker, so you can be there for the first day, get to know the teacher, take your little one to school and pick them up.

KidsMatter research has shown that family life has a huge effect on how well your child transitions to school. Your role is to provide a positive, secure and supportive environment that your new school child can rely on.

The good news is that it’s likely you’re already doing that – but it’s worth taking this time to reflect on and discuss what this means to you.

“It’s a good milestone to think long term and reflect on what’s really important in life,” says Walker.

For more ideas on getting organised for school, check out our top 4 tips to avoiding nits this year, 5 of our easy lunch box favs and 4 ways to banish separation anxiety.

Plus, you can download our back to school checklist.

How do you feel about your baby starting school?

Written by

Megan Blandford

Megan Blandford is a freelance writer specialising in travel, parenting and business features across a variety of online and print publications. Megan lives in country Victoria with her husband, two daughters and a growing collection of animals. You can find more of her writing at www.theplacesyoullgo.com.au

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