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Transition from nursery to primary school (‘Big School’)

Moving to BIG school is both an exciting time and a daunting process for both parents and children. For parents, it is a new phase in the life of your child, which should be celebrated. The children are now becoming more independent and ready ‘to take on the world’. However, it is hard for parents, in particular those whose children did not attend preschool and have been home with the parent. There is anxiety on allowing another person to make decisions on the well being of your child. ‘Will they know when he/she is hungry, cold, sad, scared, etc and give them the appropriate attention?’, ‘will he make friends? Will the other children like her?’ Many parents would like to be a fly on the wall of the classroom to observe how their little one is settling in. On the child’s part, it is a different set of issues they may have to deal with. Many children are excited about the prospect of going to BIG school. However, as the day draws near, some anxiety may begin to surface. It is a whole new process afterall that has never been experienced. Some children may become quiet and not want to talk about BIG school, while others will keep asking questions on how the day/class/children will be. Some children may become more sensitive and teary and some may have increasing nightmares. All need reassurance.

The big key to successful transition into BIG school is preparation. This takes different forms and include (but is not limited) to the following:

  • Social stories: read books with the child that the main focus is a child their age going to big school. These stories will touch on some aspects of what some children may be worried about when they first go to big school, for example, where the toilet is, what the teacher will be like, missing your mummy and daddy. Some of the issues discussed may not necessarily apply to your child, but use this as an opportunity to discuss with your child what else they think other children may be worried about and discuss ways of dealing with issues they bring up. If you cannot find books, make up stories. Talk about when an older sibling, aunt, uncle, yourself, a neighbor dealt with issues when they first started school
  • Try and go to open day before school starts to meet other children and organize play date so your child will know someone on that first day
  • Visit the school before hand and meet the teacher and visit the classroom. If this is not possible, drive with your child around the school and point out different areas.
  • Help your child to be as independent as possible and practice at home: using the toilet independently, dressing and undressing (practice with school uniform and sports uniform), opening and packing their lunch bag etc
  • Discuss with your child acceptable behavior
  • Discuss child protection issues (appropriate touching, who they can or cannot go with)
  • Try and build the experience as positively as you can. Do not pass your own anxieties to your child.

Transition from primary to middle/secondary school

Moving to middle/secondary school for some children may be the same as starting a new school year, especially if the child is in a school that encompasses primary, middle and secondary school. This transition has it’s own peculiar set of anxieties attached to it. The children are at the cusps of adolescent and are more image conscious and body aware. They are more focused on how they will be perceived and accepted by their peers based on their body image, dressing, accessories etc. Parents play a role in containing this anxieties and not feeding into it. Support your child by going shopping with them but encourage them to maintain the boundaries set by your family. Over the long summer months, friendships and allegiance may have changed and this may be a source of anxiety for some children. Parents should be tuned to their children and find opportunities to discuss friends with their children. Hopefully, the children would have maintained contact with their friends over the summer months. Irrespective, it is a good idea for parents to encourage or help their children organize meeting up with their peers in a social setting before the first day of school. On the academic side, expectations for middle/secondary school children are very different from primary. This may also be a source of anxiety for some children. Parents can help relieve this anxiety by helping their children organize their school materials.

For children moving to middle/secondary school in a different campus or new school, other concerns may include going to a new environment where they do not understand the culture and where things are. Hopefully, these children would have had the opportunity to visit the school before hand. If there is an open day before the first day of school, parents should make it a priority to attend. It is also a good idea to drive round the school to familiarize your child with the school.

In all children, starting school or returning, some issues do not develop until the child actually starts school. It is important to deal with issues as they develop and not allow it to fester to become a bigger issue. Be sensitive to your child’s moods and take the opportunity to discuss their day in school in a non-confrontational way. Some signs you may notice in your child suggesting they are struggling include: irritability, crying easily, poor sleep, nightmares, school refusal, not wanting to talk about school. Make an effort to know your child’s teacher and her friends.

Returning to school is an eventful episode in each child’s life. However, if handled right, every child has a successful school year

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