With the onset of autumn comes the scuffing of new shoes as children skip and traipse to school.
Among them are the new starters- often easy to spot by their too-big, spotless uniforms and tiny hands clutching their grown-ups.
Both daunting and exciting, starting school is a milestone for the hordes of four and five-year-olds entering formal education - as well as for their parents and carers.
Emma Alam, a senior marketing manager, recalls her sons, Elijah, seven, and Ethan, six, making the move.
“My overwhelming feeling when Elijah went to school was ‘finally,’” said Emma, 43. “As a September baby he was always going to be one of the eldest in the year and was completely ready to take the next step. Obviously I still had a wobble on the day when I saw him stood proudly in his new uniform and I admit to tears in the car after I dropped him off at school but I knew he was ready to start his primary school journey.
“I felt completely differently when a year later my youngest child, a July baby, walked into his new classroom. He just seemed too little to be starting school. Looking back I also think that this was a pivotal moment for me as a mum. I worked part-time and had always filled my days away from my office job with activities that involved the children. When Ethan started school it felt like a void and a turning point in them becoming children rather than babies.
“I quickly realised however that a school day is a short day. Both children settled into school life quickly. I always imagined that Elijah would settle but I quickly discovered that my initial concern for Ethan was unnecessary. Teachers recognise the differences between the youngest and oldest students in the year and flex their approach accordingly.”
Giving children plenty of opportunities to talk about starting school, allowing them to share their excitement and any worries, is important according to James Bowen, a director of the National Association of Head Teachers.
“Parents can also talk to their child about what to expect from school,” he said. “It’s important to remember not to make any assumptions, we’ve been to school so we have a frame of reference in our minds, but to the child it’s an entirely new experience.
“Try to avoid brushing over anxieties or telling them ‘not to worry’. Far better to engage and talk about their concerns with them as it’s quite likely you’ll be able to alleviate them by talking about them.”
Helping children to develop their independence by ensuring they can put on their shoes and take them off, get changed for PE and use the toilet by themselves is also beneficial.
“For teachers, it’s those sorts of social and self-care skills that are much more important than ‘academic preparation’,” said James. “However, if parents are interested in this side of things, there really is nothing better than sharing books with your child. Similarly playing about with numbers and words can help. The key is to make it enjoyable at this stage and not make learning feel like a chore.”
Parents are advised
to introduce themselves
to their child’s teacher
as early as possible.
“On the first day, often the parents are more anxious than the child,” said James. “Again, this is perfectly normal – after all it’s a momentous day for your family, but it’s important to try and guard against passing on your anxieties to your child. “Remember that your child is likely to be very tired after the first few weeks at school.”
For parents of multiples there may be other considerations too.
Tamba (Twins and Multiple Births Association) head of family and professional support, Helen Turier, said: “The key is giving twins and triplets the confidence to correct people if they get their names wrong or if they refer to them as ‘the twins’ or ‘the triplets’. Practise this at home and make it fun for the children. The key is their individuality.
“A common problem is that the confident one or capable one is told to look after the less confident one. It’s important to keep a close eye on this as they should not feel like they are their same-age sibling’s caretaker long-term. Parents and teachers can help the ‘cared for’ twin develop more independence and self-confidence. So individual play dates can be encouraged.”
For those returning to school after the summer holidays, one of the biggest challenges can be trying to re-establish a healthy sleep pattern. “Routine is key to children feeling ready for bed at a suitable time and waking up feeling refreshed,” said Silentnight’s sleep expert, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan. “After six weeks of irregularity, the sooner you begin to reintroduce a regular bedtime routine, the sooner all the family can fall back into a healthy sleep pattern.”
As Emma’s boys return to school she has these words for those starting out on the journey her family began several years ago: “I’m
not sure that you can prepare yourself for how grown up they look in their uniform and that little wave goodbye as they go into the classroom. I’d just say take a pack of tissues with you just in case and maybe arrange to meet a friend for a coffee so that you don’t go back to an empty house.
“Overall my advice is to embrace it; it’s going to happen, they’re going to grow up whether we as parents like it or not. They’ll make new friends, you’ll probably make new friends too so enjoy it. After all, it won’t be long until they start high school.”
Amy Westby’s four-year-old son, Henry, is among the new starters this term.
Speaking ahead of her son’s first day, Amy, 38, said: “I’m feeling quite overwhelmed to be honest. He’s only ever done mornings at nursery until now and as I work part-time, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with him. It feels like a big step – almost like cutting the umbilical cord for the second time. It’s going to be a big adjustment for us all.
“We’ve been helping to pick our friend’s children up from school so he gets used to the school run and we’ve been talking a lot about the kind of things he will be doing at school. We’ve had a uniform ‘parade’ so he gets used to trying on his new kit and we’ve been playing with children who we know will be in his year/class.
“If any other mums out there are feeling anxious about their firstborn starting ‘big school’, you are not alone.
“ So many of my friends and colleagues have told me about how they cried at the school gates or nipped back at lunchtime to peak through the fence to check on their little one.”
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan’s tips to help your child ease back into their term time sleep routine:
1 Start to introduce tech-free time in the evenings
Research has shown that by having a constant stream of light enter our eyes before we go to sleep, we are actually telling our brains that we want to be awake. An hour or so before children go to bed, rule out any blue light. This means no TV, tablets or mobile phones. Give your child the chance to fully wind down before bed away from any screens.
2 Gradually reintroduce
An ideal bedtime for pre-teens would be no later than 8.30pm. Gradually shift bedtime earlier over the course of a few days to allow children to adjust to their term time routine once they’re back in school. The start of term can be exhausting for children, particularly if they’ve moved up to secondary school and are adjusting to a new learning environment. Don’t underestimate the power of an early night.
3 A calming pre-sleep routine
The few hours before bed can be just as important as actual bedtime. Relaxing baths with lavender, a milky drink or reading are great ways to help children wind down and feel ready for bed.