**I’ll be honest, this is a blog that I should have written a few summers ago when my eldest was starting Reception but back then, when I was focusing on enjoying those last few precious weeks with my baby before she started big school, writing a blog wasn’t top of my to do list.**
With my youngest daughter having just finished infant school, I often think back to the frustration I sometimes felt the summer before my eldest daughter started school, when people would ask her over and over again if she was looking forward to it. I could see the pressure she felt as people expected the answer: ‘Yes!’
Why did I want people to stop asking my daughter if she was looking forward to starting school?
Because she really wasn’t sure if she was.
At four years old, and a young four at that, she didn’t truly understand what school was. Yes, she had heard lots (and lots!) of people talk about it, she even had a Mum who was a Reception teacher, but still she didn’t really have a concept of what was involved. How could she? Her two hour visit to school back in June didn’t really begin to address the mountain of questions that a child has about this big looming life event that everyone makes a really big deal about.
She didn’t know what her day was going to look like, who the other children in her class were going to be, whether she was going to enjoy it, when she got to eat lunch, whether the adults were going to insist she eat every single thing, and whether she could manage doing up her coat on her own. All those little important thoughts that seem small to us but are in fact HUGE to a four year old.
In those weeks leading up to starting school I would see adults ask her that question, with raised eyebrows and a lit-up face, almost pre-empting the answer. And she would nod and kind of half smile and give the adult the answer they wanted – ‘yes I am!’ But I knew that deep down she was, in fact, a big bag of mixed emotions.
She was excited because it’s finally her turn to go to big school.
She felt overwhelmed because she didn’t know what her day was going to look like.
She felt out of control because she didn’t understand exactly when school was happening.
She was scared about little details like ‘what if they don’t let me go to the toilet?’
She was excited about the uniform.
She was worried because she didn’t like the feel of the line on the end of her tights in her shoes.
She was looking forward to going to school with friends that she knew well from preschool.
She was scared about being in a class with the child that hurt her once at preschool.
She was worried she would miss her Mummy & Daddy so much she would cry.
She was anxious about going to the hall at lunchtime which seemed pretty big to her little four year old self.
I was working hard to give her a calm, relaxed summer, ready to answer her questions about school or talk through her worries if she had them, using a transition book when needed. I was trying to teach her that school was a safe, positive environment where she was going to be nurtured, but also that it was ok and perfectly normal to feel apprehensive. We talked about the fact that everyone feels that way and you don’t have to be super excited about it all the time. I was also trying to minimise the school talk so that it didn’t seem like a huge, daunting event on the horizon.
Concerns about starting school can be particularly heightened for a first born. It’s different for younger siblings – many of them visit their upcoming school every day, twice a day, as they get dragged on the school run to take and collect their elder sibling. They’ve seen the school. They’ve seen the teachers, school plays and summer fairs. They know roughly how long a school day is. They know what the children wear and have a vague idea of what they take with them. They know where the children are dropped and where they are collected. They know about weekends, half term and school holidays.
But the eldest sibling has none of these experiences to build on. It’s all new. It’s all change.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I know that everyone means well and we, as a family, are lucky to be surrounded by family and friends that care about us and take time to interact with our children. I wouldn’t change that for the world. I’m also guilty of having asked the school question myself before I was parenting a school starter.
I just wonder if we could rephrase that question. It can be too much for a little person, especially the eldest sibling or an only child. Maybe we could ask ‘How are you feeling about school?’. ‘Do you have any questions about starting school?’ Maybe we could just talk about something else and not make such a big deal out of it. Maybe we could teach our children that its ok to have lots of different feelings about something and that this is very normal. You are not abnormal if, in fact, the answer is no – I’m really quite nervous about starting school.
If you’ve got a child that is completely non-plussed about school then that is amazing and I’m so happy for both you, and them, that they are able to approach this time without any major concerns. But, if your little one has a few different feelings about it, then it’s ok to ask those around you not to keep going on about school. It will be ok when September comes. We can put things in place to show which are school days and which are not; we can look through a transition book and look at photos on the school website; we can try on the school uniform. Let’s talk about it then. For now, let’s just enjoy the summer.
Want to find more ways to support your child starting school? Check out our back to school range of visual supports here.