How to support children as they start school

A father reads to his daughter to support her as she starts school

Thousands of 5-year-olds across New Zealand attend school for the first time every year. For these children, the experience will be fraught with worry because starting school is a significant event in a child’s life. Children and their families can have a lot of fun, but because it’s a big adjustment, it can also be a time of uncertainty. Understanding how to support children as they start school can go a long way to having a successful first day.

According to research, children are more likely to do well in school if they have a good start. Starting school earlier is not better, and a bad start could hurt a child for the rest of their life. It’s essential that when kids do start school, teachers, parents and whānau help them through this challenging time. 

It’s vital to check in on a child’s fears, anxieties and concerns, whether they’re entering kindergarten or a new grade. Some kids will love the change, while others may need extra support. Parents can do a few things to support their children when they’re starting school. 

Preparing your child to start school

It’s helpful for children to have several skills and knowledge bases when they start school. School starters are usually expected to at least: 

  • Be able to read their own name (both first and last name) when it’s written down and be able to tell you and write down the first letter of their first name. 
  • Be able to start the alphabet and maybe even finish it, even if there are “fuzzy” parts in the middle. They should be able to recognise at least half of the letters in the alphabet when they’re written down. 
  • Know the names of colours and shapes. 
  • Know the names of everyday things at home and school. Putting labels on items at home before they go to school will help. Also, they need to know that there are many names for things you can use to write, like “pencil,” “pen,” “crayon,” “felt tip,” “marker,” and so on. 
  • Know basic manners and follow simple rules. Before your child starts school, they should know how to say things like “Thank you”, “Please”, “Sorry”, “Excuse me”, “May I…”, “No thank you” and so on. They need to learn that it’s not okay to yell at or hit other people when they don’t like something or don’t get what they want. 
  • Do things for themselves, like carrying their backpack, putting on their own shoes and zipping and buttoning their jackets and coats. 
  • Be toilet trained. Your child needs to be able to go to the bathroom without a diaper and wipe their own bottom. It doesn’t matter if your child still has accidents at night once they’ve started school. 

Supporting your child as they start school 

The change from home or childcare to school doesn’t happen in one day or on the first day. There is a time of adjustment before the child starts school and an even longer one for them to get used to their new environment, make friends and feel like they belong.

A teacher sitting surrounded by five  happy school-aged children whose parent knew how to support them as they start school

You can do a lot at home to help your child have the best possible start to life in “big school.” Here are some ideas to help your family move into the school year and show your child the joys of learning.

  • Talk to your child about school and explain where they’ll be going and what they’ll be doing. Tell them about your favourite classes and lessons and what it’s like to be a student. Reading school-starting literature to your child can also help. Stories with characters your child can relate to will help ease first-day nerves and build confidence.
  • Tour the school or classroom before the first day and bring your child along. Get all the information you need. Find out where things like classrooms, restrooms, the cafeteria, the office and so on are located, and show your child the way. You can also check out what kinds of uniforms, bags and lunchboxes most kids have to help your child fit in. 
  • Contact your child’s teacher before school starts. Asking questions or raising concerns prepares everyone for a successful year since parents know their child best.
  • Schedule school shopping. Designating items as “back to school,” such as an outfit or backpack, creates a ritual and boosts excitement.
  • Teach your child about school rules that they will be expected to observe so they won’t be a shock to them on the first day. 
A boy between his mother and father holding a cardboard roof over their heads 

First few months after children start school 

  • Ask your child about school, friends, teachers, and new activities. Discuss back-to-school events by asking your child about the classroom. Ask them about their expectations, interests and worries. Some might have anxieties about being bullied, for example.
  • Set school-year goals with your child. You can encourage them to join clubs or activities after school. 
  • Send your child to school with a healthy breakfast and lunch, as this will help them to focus and do their best. 
  • Add a special message in your child’s lunch box to show them you care. Parents sometimes draw short sketches or include jokes to guarantee a smile. 
  • Get into a regular after-school routine. Take them home as soon as you possibly can because they’ll be exhausted. You can help them wind down by having them change into some comfortable clothes, eat healthy food and relax with some simple and well-known games and activities. 
  • Monitor sleep carefully. Set bedtimes so your child can wake up early enough to prepare for school. Your child will also likely be more tired while they adjust to the long school day, so early nights may help children during their first term. 
  • Tell your child how proud you are of them. You can also show them how great they are by telling others. 

Even a small amount of help with your child’s school shows that you care about their school life. Most of the time, a child will learn better at school if they feel supported at home. No matter how you live or what your family is like, it’s never too early (or too late) to help a child develop a good attitude towards learning.

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Zeus Martinez

Marketing Content Specialist

Wordsmith and storyteller at heart. Writing professionally since 2005. Living and breathing in the childcare education sector as a marketing copywriter for Discover by Xplor.

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