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EDUCATION: How children (and parents) can enjoy the prep year

08 January 2019

The start of the Prep year can not 
only be daunting for children, but for their parents too. For parents, there are healthy lunchboxes to plan, car park drop-offs to coordinate, uniforms to organise and stationery orders to process. Many parents may worry: will their child make friends? Will they grasp the knack of reading? And even, will they stay awake for the entire school day? Teachers at Matthew Flinders Anglican College are encouraging parents to enjoy the start of the Prep year so their children can too.

Prep teachers at Matthew Flinders find that it is natural for some parents to be 
more nervous than their child as the first day of school approaches.

“Many parents are unaware that they carry unvoiced fears about their child’s Prep year,” Prep teacher Alison Wilson explains. “And what’s more, parents may unwittingly project those fears onto their children. For example, if a parent is worried their child won’t feel confident to make new friends in Prep, then that parent may not realise they are communicating their unsettled feelings to their child whenever Prep is mentioned. To combat this worry, we encourage parents to commit to feeling confident, calm and happy about the start of school. By doing so, they exude positive vibes when their children look to them for guidance.”

Alison says at Flinders – where there are three Prep classes, each with a teacher and teacher-aide – parents are reminded that the Prep teachers ‘have got this’.

“We want parents to feel completely confident in our ability to handle their child’s big feelings,” Alison says. “It’s our job as teachers to make our new Preppies feel comfortable and to show them how to make new friends. We have a whole bag of tricks 
to help create a sense of family and unity from day one. Prep is so much fun! Parents can trust that we will support their child 
to manage all of their emotions, from exhilaration to excitement, and even a little nervousness. By morning tea on the first day, it is smiles galore and we love to see each of our students embracing the adventure of learning.
The primary focus of Term One in Prep 
at Flinders is building relationships, establishing values of kindness and respect, and developing core early literacy and numeracy skills. This conscientious approach ensures that each child is known and appreciated as a whole person who is very important to the Flinders family.

“We love Term One because it’s a happy and warm time that we spend getting to know one another,” Alison says. “We spend 
a large part of each day talking, singing, making, drawing and laughing about the things we love – our families, our pets, our bikes and scooters, our grandparents and cousins, our favourite books and songs, 
our trips to the beach and our holidays camping. We teach children about valuing difference and accepting people as they are. It’s beautiful to see the strong class bonds that form as they get to know each other better each day.”

Flinders Prep teacher Maree Ram observes that some parents’ concerns stem from preconceived notions of what skills their child may need before commencing Prep. 
For example, many parents believe their child should be able to read before the first day of Prep.

“Parents can rest assured that their child does not need to be able to read before they start Prep; that’s what school is for,” Maree says. “However, the important skills children do require are practical things like managing their own shoes on and off. Also, can your child confidently use the toilet themselves? Can they open their own lunch box and eat enough food to feel full? These are the things parents can help their children master before they start school.”  

Another concern for parents is their child’s exhaustion levels. Five days of schooling in 
a row each week is a big step-up for many children. Flinders has a transition phase where Prep students finish school early for the first three weeks of school so they may depart school calmly without the usual hustle and bustle of the end-of-school day.  

Maree says, “We encourage parents to forget about after-school activities during the Prep year. The children are stimulated enough from their long days and simply need play time at home to recharge for the next day. We have so many activities here 
at school, from sport to music, art class and tending to veggie gardens, so our Preppies’ co-curricular activities are well and truly explored as a natural part of the school day.”

Flinders Prep teacher Andrew Garrett works alongside Alison and Maree, and says parents should enjoy the pick-ups and drop-offs of each school day.
“We want parents to remember that the act of dropping their child to their Prep door each morning and picking them up at the same spot each afternoon is a simple but important ritual that helps their child feel loved and safe,” Andrew said. “However, 
it’s also important to give children their independence. Parents should let their child carry their own bags, pack their own lunch boxes, and unpack their bags at the end 
of the day. All these activities that enable children to feel capable and organised are 
big confidence boosters.”

Most of all, Flinders Prep teachers encourage new families to enjoy the Prep year. Head of Junior Primary Chris Curtain reminds parents, “Prep is a wonderful year! It is full of fun, friends, warmth and connections, as well as an incredible amount of learning. Children are encouraged to thrive and embrace every opportunity to be independent and to grow. You just wait – 
you will be amazed at the leaps and bounds they take in their learning and social skills over the year. We encourage families to enjoy this exciting time. It flies!”

Advice from Flinders Head 
of Primary, 
Trudi Edwards

  • Believe that your children will make the transition well and build their excitement about starting Prep, rather than focusing on their concerns.
  • Read, read, read and then read some more. A rich vocabulary is the best advantage in starting school.
  • Ask lots of ‘why’ questions as this helps prepare them to think, to justify and to consider alternatives; use play as the basis for these questions.
  • Assist with building your child’s organisation and independence. They are so very capable and simply require the encouragement, support and belief in them that they can carry their own bag, unpack their lunch and change 
their shoes.

Practical tips for your Prep child

  • Build excitement by taking your child on a special trip to buy school supplies.
  • Teach your child how to open lunch boxes, manage water bottles, zip and unzip bags, and organise belongings.
  • Encourage your child to visit the 
toilet independently.
  • Get your child used to the uniform.
  • Encourage your child to practise dressing at home and teach your 
child how to manage their clothing during toilet visits.
  • Develop home routines with regular times for your child to eat, play and sleep each day. This will help your child know what to expect.
  • Involve your child in getting things ready for their first day. Help them 
to pack their own food and bag. 
It encourages independence and also ensures children are familiar with their own belongings.

Written by

Kids on the Coast/Kids in the City

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