Starting school this year might feel familiar, but with some differences (no thanks to the pandemic). Read on for some tips to help your child on their first day back in school!
Starting the first day back at school can be pretty unsettling for a young child. For the older kids, it’s always great to catch up with friends, especially after a long break. But your kiddos might be feeling a little extra nervous this year, as the pandemic has slowly ground our usual routines to a halt. Well, we’re here with more tips from several top international schools to help your child settle back in on their first day back – no matter if they’re in kindergarten or high school. Read on to find out!
Tips for the first day back at school
1. Speak positively
Sir Manasseh Meyer International School (SMMIS)’s Vice Principal and Head of Primary, Shanthi Vaidyanath, recommend parents prepare their children by making sure they understand the restrictions and necessary precautions in place. “Parents need to remind their children that school is a safe place,” says Shanthi.
At Singapore American School, the preschool department recommends reading books to ease any anxiety about the first day of school. Here are their recommendations:
- Sorry, Grown-Ups, You Can’t Go to School! By Christina Geist
- The Pigeon Has to Go to School! by Mo Willems
- The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
- Our Class is a Family by Shannon Olsen
- You’re Finally Here by Melanie Watt
2. Visit the school beforehand
If your child is transitioning to a new school, it’s important to visit the school campus before the first day. “Before the start of the new semester, all new students are invited to meet their teachers and familiarise themselves in the school environment as part of their orientation at SMMIS,” Shanthi explains. “All new students are also assigned a buddy from their class, who helps them during the first few weeks of school. New students are given an orange ribbon to wear so that they are easily identified in case they need assistance, too.”
3. Lead by example
Children tend to emulate and take cues from their parents, and Shanthi believes this will work well to your advantage. She suggests setting a positive example for children who are new to the school to reduce any stress or anxiety. And that’s not all…
“During the first day of school, all students enjoy an activity where they share their hopes and aspirations for the coming year. At the end of the day each class teacher at SMMIS sends an email to the parents with a list of the student’s aspirations and expectations they have shared,” she says. “This is a perfect opportunity for parents to ask any questions about the school day to help alleviate their child’s concerns.”
Clair Harrington-Wilcox, Head of Junior School at Tanglin Trust School (TTS), shares the same sentiment. “Parental input and modelling can have a huge impact on easing a child’s anxiety,” she explains. “Simply modelling excitement and positivity for the year ahead, the opportunities for new subjects, new teachers and classmates can do wonders for setting children up for a positive start.” We couldn’t agree more!
Here’s a fun idea from the folks at Singapore American School: using pretend play to introduce the idea of preschool. Act out daily routines that could take place at the preschool—saying goodbye, having circle time, playing outside, having lunch independently, singing songs, and more. While you are acting out those daily routines, take turns being the parent, child, and teacher. Remember to reassure your child that preschool is a place where your child will learn and have fun while learning.
4. Build relationships
The relationships a child builds with their teachers and their friends is an important part of your child’s experience in school. Philippa Hatton, Deputy Head of Junior School (Pastoral) at Tanglin Trust School (TTS), agrees. “Tanglin always focuses on pastoral care and establishing connections with their students,” she explains. “Our teachers put all their energy into ensuring every student has a positive and exciting start to the year. This approach is especially important in the current climate and classrooms are set up to optimise engagement and interaction, while maintaining social distancing.”
5. Involve your child in preparation
It’s hard to find a member of the HoneyKids team who doesn’t love stationery… even our kids! And Claire Harrington-Wilcox agrees it’s a great way to help the little ones get excited and geared up for their first day back in school. Psst, if you need ideas on where to get ergonomic backpacks, stationery and other school supplies… we’ve got you covered.
6. Offer a safe space
Sometimes, talking about our problems with our parents can help alleviate our worries and reassure us – even as parents, we need it, too! Not only is it a great way to bond with your child, but it’s a prime opportunity for our children to share their concerns about their first day back in school.
“Allow your child to express their feelings—listen closely and acknowledge those feelings. You might also need to acknowledge that your child may regress in some areas as they make developmental growth in another. Provide your child with nurturing support and know that the regressions are only temporary,” say the teachers at Singapore American School.
Check out Tanglin’s resource centre, says Philippa. “Our counsellors have created a resource centre on our portal that parents can turn to for advice and support on a variety of issues. And, alongside our teaching staff, Tanglin’s Pastoral Team (made up of school counsellors, heads of learning support, an educational psychologist, pastoral assistants and deputy heads across the school) is fully involved in supporting students through the challenges and uncertainties of the pandemic.” A great resource to check out!
7. Participation is key
Another great way to ease your little one into their first day back in school is to participate in orientation – virtually or in person. Shinhe Cho, Digital Marketing Manager at International Community School (ICS), agrees. “We encourage students and parents to sit through our virtual orientation together… make it a family event! Parents can hear from the school’s staff and the kids can listen to their teacher’s welcome message on our parent portal.” And, she adds, “We also encourage parents and students to communicate with their teachers using Schoology – it’s a great way to stay connected even when they’re not on campus and throughout the school year, too.”
Dr Margaret Alvarez, Head of School at ISS International School, concurs. She advises parents to bring their child to the school ahead of the opening day so that they’ve met the teacher, and may even get to meet new classmates. Plus, a playdate ahead of school opening is helpful as well. Margaret also advises new students to attend the orientation session, like the ones run by students themselves at ISS. “It helps students understand how the school works, learn essentials for the first week in school, and make connections with existing students so that they know some people before the first day in school.” A great idea for kids!
8. Speak to the school’s counsellors
Nowadays, schools have dedicated counsellors to support their students’ mental health and emotional wellbeing and development… including the jitters for the first day back in school! For example, students at SMMIS can speak to the school’s counsellors if they feel anxious, and the school has a number of wellbeing activities that all students can participate in to share their feelings.
ICS also has counsellors to assist its students wherever they may be. One way ICS does this is by having its counsellor head into the classrooms during the first week of school to engage with the students in conversation, including sharing the reasons for the many restrictions on campus.
Likewise, ISS’s counselling team checks in with all its students in the first weeks of school to make sure they are in the best ‘space’ for learning. Margaret explains: “At ISS, we keep class sizes small, and have built a pastoral system that can quickly pick up on potential adjustment issues if any.”
9. Listen intently
One of the many things we’ve learned as a parent is to listen to our kids’ problems and worries before the first day back at school. One way to do so? Margaret suggests listening intently to your kids’ concerns and acknowledging how they feel. We couldn’t agree more!
10. Find a buddy
Remember having a buddy in elementary school? It’s a great way for the little ones to make a new friend on the first day back in school. For example, ICS helps its students by finding a “first friend” for each of its newly admitted students to assist in acclimating to life at ICS.
Need more back-to-school advice? Try these tips on helping your kid settle in to a new school!