BY Kerry McCrink (Mum to Joshua, 3 and Thomas, 8 months)
September is almost over and it’s been a big month in our household. My first born child, Joshua, has been embarking upon his first few weeks of pre-school. I must admit the early morning rush of getting out of the door on time has been a big shock for all of us and being parted from my son for five mornings a week was something I’ve been dreading for a long time, but I could not be happier with how well it is going.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been all plain sailing. This time last year, my fiancé and I had attempted to start him at pre-school, but he just wasn’t ready. It was just before his third birthday and there were many tears and tantrums at the school gates. We wish we had stuck with it, but like any parents, desperate to keep your child happy, we gave in and did what we felt was best in the short term. We decided to keep him in his private nursery two days a week, but vowed to have a plan to get him settled into a pre-school just before his fourth birthday.
Fortunately, a change in career after having Joshua, taught me a few lessons in helping children adjust to change. I retrained from a journalist to a teaching assistant in 2012 and had learnt the importance of supporting children during transitions and how it can have an impact on their behaviour if you don’t. They may become withdrawn, anxious or even display attention seeking behaviour. This is exactly what had happened to Joshua and we hadn’t planned for it. I just assumed my child would be okay, he had been at nursery since he was 10 months old!, but I couldn’t be more wrong. With transitions it is important to plan ahead and support children through changes, especially if you have advanced notice of the change coming up. It hit me like a bolt of lightning where I had gone wrong.
Forward planning is essential
Determined to make a good second go of starting pre-school this year, I followed what I had learnt on my course and set about planning for the changes that were about to happen. Six to eight months in advance, I researched pre-schools in my catchment area and asked friends for recommendations. Once I was confident in my choice, I made the application and, hey presto, his place was confirmed. I started to talk about what was happening in advance and how it meant he was now growing up and could be with the big boys and girls at school. He began to show lots of interest and we attended settling in sessions at his new pre-school setting and even did practice walks to where his pre-school was. The pre-school also worked closely with Joshua’s old nursery by arranging visits of pre-school staff so he had a familiar face when he started his big day. Reading books about cartoon characters such as Peppa Pig starting school was also a big help, as well as using a countdown calendar to the start of his big day so it wasn’t a shock when it arrived. I also continued to attend playgroups during the Summer holidays and arranged meet ups with my friends so he was still used to being around other children.
It’s still early days but I’m really pleased with how easy it’s been this time round. There have been no tears or tantrums. Much is his excitement, he has even run into pre-school some days without his bag and is showing lots of interest in making new friends. I really do believe the difference this time round has been the planning. Preparing him in advance for the start of pre-school and the changes that are about to happen has really paid off. Just one year to go until full time school now, but I know that when the time does come, I don’t have to be fearful now. As long as you help your children prepare for change, it really can be as easy as A, B, C.
A summary of my top tips
Preparation is key – even if your child doesn’t attend nursery already, make sure they have the opportunity to mix with other children at playgroups so they get used to playing in groups and develop their social skills.
Ask around before you choose your child’s pre-school. Ask friends, neighbours or other parents at playgroups for their recommendations and reviews of local pre-school settings.
Once you have chosen and received a place, work closely with the pre-school setting to help your child prepare for the transition. If your child already attends a childcare setting, liaise with the new pre-school to see if they can arrange staff visits to your child’s existing setting or show your child photographs of the staff. Your child will then have a familiar face when they start.
Make sure you attend any settling in sessions arranged by the pre-school so your child can meet other children who will be starting the same time as them and to help them get used to their new environment.
Involve your child – if there’s a pre-school uniform, take them with you to pick it up and let them help you stick their own name tags on to their t-shirt, jumper, bag etc. This will make starting school fun.
Prepare them by talking to them – use terminology to help them adjust and make them feel grown up such as: “You’re growing up going to big school, you’re not a baby anymore.”
Practice the walk to their new pre-school and make it fun so it’s something they look forward to every morning. Autumn is a perfect time for collecting pine cones, conkers and leaves for afternoon crafts.
Don’t carry your child into pre-school, allow them to walk in, it encourages them to be independent. Smile, and when you are ready, say goodbye and leave straight away. Reassure your child that you will return.
Complete your child’s ‘All about me’ booklet together. This is a booklet provided by the pre-school to help them to get to know your child better. This is information about his family, likes and dislikes etc.
Once they have started at their new pre-school, talk to them about their day. Be positive and show them how important it is to you that they are happy and settled in their new school and discuss any anxieties they may be feeling.
Make sure you read the pre-school setting’s handbook and rules. They will not only ensure your child settles well, but may contain their own tips for helping your child adjust into the setting.
Ask for feedback from your child’s key worker. Getting a three-year old to give you a full picture of their day can be a battle sometimes so it’s best to always double check that your child really is settling in as well as they seem.