the school series : 5 ways to prepare your child

I’ve always followed my instinct when it comes to parenting; meandering through those baby and toddler years with a little apprehension and a whole lot of hope (and not many parenting books). But now, as I step into the role of “school mum” I’m hungry for advice and reassurance and I’ll read anything that crosses my path.

Thankfully Justin Coulson (dad to five girls with a PhD in Family Psychology – and yes, he’s Tim’s brother) offered to share his knowledge with me. I told him that I want to be completely prepared. More specifically, I want to know how to prepare Che. Here’s what he had to say:

1. Prep the Practical – In the weeks leading up to a school’s commencement it’s a great idea to get some routine arranged around mornings and how they should run. Help your child acclimatise to the appropriate wake-up time, let him know what he needs to wear and how he needs to dress and practice being all set to go on time. Do a full-on dress rehearsal one or two days prior to school including packing lunch and bags, putting on the uniform – the whole lot. It reduces anxiety and it assures that everything is purchased, prepped and in position for the first day.

2. Take a Tour – Hopefully by now most children will have had an opportunity to visit their new school. If you have missed out visit the school the week before term starts. It’s likely that the teachers will be showing up and most would be glad to give you and your little one a tour. Familiarity with the school environment can make a big difference on day one.

3. Create Courage – As parents we can talk to our children about what courage is and give them role models to follow. We can teach the value of doing hard things and being persistent. And we can equip them with the courage to ‘try on’ new ideas, new challenges and new circumstances.

4. Develop Discernment – Ok, I know that’s a big word – probably one that your child has never heard before. But the capacity to discern what is good and makes us feel ‘right’ from what is less good, and makes us feel ‘bad’ or ‘icky’ is essential. Let’s face it though, school is a place where a range of experiences will occur, some of which will be less positive than others. To some extend discernment comes from experience. But not entirely. With your guidance, preparation, and ongoing communication your children can will learn what to take in from their school environment and what to leave out.

5. Maintain a Love of Learning – Our children are generally curious, inquisitive and excited to learn. However, we find ourselves at the end of the day exhausted, focused on routine and taking the shortest route to the pillow! It’s often at this time that our children come to us with questions about ants, how cows are made or why the scissors won’t cut through the coffee table. Our responses at this time might be directed towards giving the quickest and most convenient answers. But research shows that our children love to find out the answers for themselves, using us as guides and for support rather than an encyclopedia of knowledge. The best way to maintain their love of learning is to respond to their questions with enthusiasm and curiosity – even when you don’t feel like it.

Justin recently wrote a fabulous piece about cyber-safety for children…it’s definitely worth a read.

I think what I find most challenging about school is the influence that will, in one way or another, challenge Daniel and my parenting values. I’m guessing it will start with lunchbox contents and I’m expecting it to progress to television shows, toys, video games etc. I hope Che is curious, I trust that he knows what’s right and wrong and I look forward to the discussions that stem from the playground.
Mums, what did you find most challenging about the first year of school?
In the next few days I’ll be posting some beautiful stories from school mums – emotional, heartfelt, you’ll-need-a-tissue stories…
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Showing 39 comments
  • Kelly Rae

    These are great pointers. I worry about all these things with our little girl even though she will not start school for quite sometime. Goodluck!

  • Marsaille

    Lovely post and blog. I have toddler and a pre-schooler, so I too am looking for advice and pats on the hand. Looking forward to more. Literally. It is only 2 in the afternoon on the 21st for me 🙂

  • Kate

    I worried a lot, about pointless things, when my oldest girl started school. She moved towards it slowly, starting with half days, then building up to a full six hour day (last month). My little love is a sensitive soul and takes things very personally. I think one of the things that helped her most was learning that its ok to move elsewhere within her classroom if someone was being unkind to her (the way kids sometimes are) or if she wasn't enjoying what they were doing. I don't think she realised that she had that freedom of choice! Good luck!

    Just Pirouette and Carry On…

  • Dilan Dilir

    love the photos! 🙂

  • goddessdea

    I think it's important when faced with all the information our little one's are bringing home is not to belittle the choices others make for their family. We have always couched things in terms of: "in our family we do it this way, but not everyone does it that way. It's ok that they do it differently from us!"
    Example: My oldest started school last year and came home with all sorts of new "ninja" and "spy" violent play. His little friends get to watch all different kinds of violent shows that we don't necessarily watch and they are all marvelous kids and just acting out what they are exposed too! But it distressed me that they choose to engage in violent play…
    I started to get indignant and wanted to talk to their parents about the kinds of things they expose their kids to but my husband handled it beautifully. He said to our son "bubs, in our family our hands are precious gifts that we use to create and explore not demolish and destroy. I want you to have a great time with your friends but I want you to remember to always be a force of creativity and love and not just a force."
    And what do you know? Bubs came home from school at the end of the week with a huge picture collage that they worked on at free play time and plans to start a soccer team with his buddies!
    Good luck! It's such a special time!

    • Jodi

      Sounds like your husband resisted getting emotional about it and found sense in the practical (and respectful!). Che watches tv and he most definitely engages in rigorous karate-style play sometimes (even though the shows he watches don't portray this). I suppose I'll just have to see what unfolds…x

    • Justin Coulson

      I am so impressed with this response! Your husband must be a thoughtful man.

      Our most-used line is "our family is different to that. All families have different rules." We encourage tolerance, but also teach the principles that we feel are most important.

      Thanks for sharing.

      One more quick thing – remember that boys DO tend to prefer rough and tumble play, they are more energetic (usually), and they enjoy getting dirty much more than girls. The differences are real, so make sure he still gets to enjoy his masculinity – just in that respectful way. 🙂

  • Lou Archell

    My main hope was they would LOVE it. To make friends, enjoy it, and thrive. For me, my job is a pure supporting role. Make sure they are fed, watered and clothed. And to have minimal stress on the school run. (you can see it in the faces of the kids who have been shouted at all morning). And believe me – telling your child to stop playing Lego and put your shoes on a hundred times is very testing!

    Rufus who started school last September and has now done nearly 5 months of his first year at school. He has grown in his perspective and has loved every minute of learning and making new friendships. He has blossomed.

    I am sure Che will also. It's all going to be okay.. we will be here to hold your hand.

    • Jodi

      Oh lou, so sweet. Thank you x

  • Reply

    We are not there yet, so lovely to read all these thoughts before hand! From everything I can gather from the bits you post on Che, he will just love school Jodi. A school mum ….sounds so grown up!


  • Sarah

    I think the most challenging thing for us was how tired our little boy was after school. Sometimes he didnt want to talk about his day straight away but I wanted to know everything in the car ride home! I just had to be patient and as the afternoon went on he would share little snippets of his day with me. We have been lucky, he has loved school so much and it has been nothing but a joy to watch. I hope it will be just as lovely with our daughter who starts next Friday! Eeeek!

    • Justin Coulson

      Great point Sarah! Perhaps an idea for a blog next week once all the kids are finally back at school – and exhausted by Wednesday!

  • Deborah

    Great advice from Dr Coulson and an incredibly worthwhile post, Jodi. As a Preparatory Year teacher I observe so many little ones flounder for a considerable amount of their first school year. I attribute this to a number of reasons (Justin has addressed a number of them), some of which may have been avoided with a little thoughtful planning. Setting them on that path toward schooling success can be fraught with so many obstacles, but there are so many simple things that parents can do to ensure their child's first steps are nothing but a positive experience. If you're interested in hearing the perspective of a Preparatory Year teacher I'm more than happy to help out. Although, being the thoughtful and broad thinking soul you are, you probably already have that covered.

    • Justin Coulson

      Deborah, thanks for your kind comment. I'd love to hear the additional points you would make. It's certainly not possible to cover them all in five points.

  • hakea

    Does Che know any of the kids in the kindy class? Kids that he has had contact with through preschool or met at the local park?

    The social and emotional side of school supports the academic. There is lots of esearch on this. Those friendships that children make in the early years are very significant. Just one "good" friend is more important than a lot of acquaintances.

    If Che doesn't know anyone in his kindy class, organise play dates with other kids, the kids he has taken a liking to. When your little ones start school you want to wrap them up in family life after school and on weekends.

    But it is so important for them to develop their friendships in kindy as soon as possible. A good friend is like insulation for the bumps and knocks ahead.

    Best Wishes

    • Jodi

      He knows one little boy, they went to Montessori together and we have requested that they are in the same class.

      I watched Che at the beach today as he wandered up to a group of children, asked to play, and stayed their happily for half an hour. He's a social little thing so I'm not worried about his confidence; I just hope the other children are welcoming (I'm sure they will be) x

    • Justin Coulson

      Hakea, great point! I regularly talk to parents whose kids are struggling socially and recommend exactly that. I think you're right though… Che is probably going to be just fine.

  • Iliska Dreams

    The hardest thing I found when Tamika started school was the separation. I was a single Mum with her, so it was always the two of us. However, Tamika had an amazing teacher who encouraged parents to come and participate in the class room. Simple tasks, reading books and helping with the art. So the children (and the parents) got to share a part of the day. So the little faces where all familiar to me and I to them. Plus it helped the parents to know each other. It created a great sense of community within that class room.

  • Kelly

    Hi Jodi, I've just recently stumbled upon your blog and I love your photography style, such beautiful images of your children!
    My second child starts school this year so I'm feeling good about it, but when my daughter started kindergarten 2 years ago it was so overwhelming! The routine, notes, lunches etc was a lot to get used to, as well as the fact she was no longer a baby and I didn't get to share each day with her. I think the tips you have there are great.
    I've also just discovered your 52 project, is it too late to join in? (This year my goal is to get all my photos organised and to learn to use my camera on manual mode.)
    Love your blog!:)

  • Catherine

    These are really helps bits of advice for parents who will be sending their little one off to school this year. For me I think what I found most difficult was giving others control over my children, that there were going to be moments in the day that they may need to be disciplined (positively I hope) but nonetheless still spoken to. I found it hard to step back and allow them the chance to guide my children but I know that by doing so I allow more richness to come into their lives. Wishing you all well in this new big step that you will be embarking on soon. xx

  • Flickerty

    The hardest thing for me was not being as involved in my son's everyday schooling life. At our lovely holistic Kindy we would be welcomed into the class each morning for drop off, could have a quick play and really engage in what our children chose to do and then leave a few minutes later when it felt appropriate. At the end of the day we would get a full diary entry emailed to us showing us with pictures and words the important events that happened that day. I was so involved and connected to what he was doing. At school I just drop him off and pick him up. Nothing in between. It was hard for me to get used to being so disconnected but I was determined to allow him that space as I knew he was more than ready for it.

    To overcome my feelings I found a group of liked minded parents from his class and connected more with them. This helped me give him the space he needed while still feeding my need for involvement. Then at the end of everyday I would just gently ask him what he did and let him talk. Sometimes it would take hours before he was ready to sit and tell me something about his day just purely because he was so tired. Also by connecting with the parents I sometimes found out things that they had done in class that my son had not told me and then I could go home and spark up a conversation about that and see if he had anything to talk about. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't I left it up to him.

    I also made a point of getting to know the teacher but with 25 odd other children's parents to deal with in a limited time frame I was mindful to only approach and talk to the teacher here and there.

    I am really enjoying reading this schooling series Jodi and I wish Che and your family all the very best for next week. What an exciting time !

    • Jodi

      Wonderful words – thank you x

  • Jess B

    This is such great timing Jodi! We are preparing for our oldest to start school in May. I particulalry like the points about prepping the practical (something my boy will totally appreciate and 'get') and creating courage (and confidence in new situations, an area he struggles with). A thought popped into my head about making him a little 'courage badge' that we could fix to the inside of his school shirt, so that when he feels nervous or shy, he can remember to be brave, gather up his courage and give it a go, knowing we are behind him all the way. Maybe this is just silly Mama thinking…

    • Jodi

      I think a courage badge is an absolutely beautiful idea, genius Mama thinking if you ask me x

    • Justin Coulson

      Jess B, super idea. These little 'environmental primes' can be powerful behavioural prompts for our kids. Beautifully creative. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply

    Thanks for these great tips from Justin, Jodi. My big girls is starting 5th Feb and I'm also starting to gather info to feel prepared. 6 months ago I was teary about this big step, but now I'm feeling pretty comfortable about it. She's really ready, and I think I'm ready to let go too. I can't wait to see what new things she comes home with each day. I've been fielding difficult questions for a long time, so it will be interesting to see if I'm still her font of knowledge, or it the teacher/other kids are more 'right' than Mum. It's the conflict between what everyone else is doing/behaving/consuming and our parenting values that I think will be the toughest too. But like every step so far, swim or sink, huh!

    • Justin Coulson

      Steph, happy to help. Please either let me know (or Jodi and she'll pass on your message) if you have questions that need answering. I'd be delighted to keep the conversation going.

  • annalisa

    dear Jodi, thanks for your advice! In my opinion and through my experience as mother, the school is the normal life. We did not test, the truth is that every day is different, what works today, maybe not tomorrow, we live in the here and now, sometimes let us down too many expectations due to the unpredictable. For us it is important to be able to adapt to the evolution of life, this gives us the courage to face the school, life, love … good luck to your boy, greetings from italy, ciao!

  • Sioned Hill

    This is a really brilliant post, I've bookmarked it ready for Molly's turn. Che seems like such a confident boy, and the amount he has grown in just a year of reading this blog I am sure he'll really enjoy it and enjoy coming home to share it with you 🙂 xx

  • Mama of 2 boys

    Brilliant! Thank you, thank you Jodi and & Justin. I am quite anxious about school starting in a couple of weeks. My big boy is super excited at this stage though, which I'm very happy about. I will be remembering and implementing many of these wonderful tips.

  • Yellow Finch Designs

    Now that I have a 1st grader and one about to enter kindergarten, I have seen how school can influence the children. both positive and negative. of course, the negative being what you mentioned above. the lunch (my son didn't even know what chips were until school), the shows, the choice of words. however, i have always felt it begins in the home. we have a strong solid core in our home and while my children are curious i hope that they will always question who is influencing them in school. we talk very openly, we talk how families do things differently, and what we talk about why we do things the way we do in our home.

    you have a solid family core! che will do wonderfully in school because he comes from such a loving home.

    A cousin of ours has a PhD in Family Psychology and it's so interesting hearing their input on parenting!
    enjoy your week.

  • The Five McKays

    When we started school, I put a little photo of all of us in the front pocket of his backpack just in case he was missing us, and a favourite bracelet of mine. He never pulled them out, but really liked knowing they were there. We also read 'The Kissing Hand', which is a sweet story about placing a kiss on the palm for them to hang onto for the day.

    Another thing that I've found has helped a lot is volunteering with the class. My son is so proud to have me there when I make it in, feels supported by me AND I get a much better chance to get a feel for the vibe of the class, see how the teachers interact, what the other kids are like and how my son does in the class. Our teachers are open to regular volunteering, or I've also done a special project (ie working on lanters, and bringing in caterpillars to observe butterflies) It's alleviated many of my fears, and given me great insight into how incredible the teachers are, day in and day out!

    Lunches have become my biggest nemesis, and the kids are definitely eating less healthy than they would at home. HOwever, I've come to peace with the fact that it's just one meal a day AND I greet them at the end of the day with a super packed smoothie to compensate:-)

    Good luck – I'm sure he'll do well and pick up on your confidence of his abilities to move onto this next exciting stage in his life!

  • 6512 and growing

    My kids do a part time homeschool, part time public school program. Last year was my older child's first time in public school (2 days/week).
    The most challenging part for me was sensing how hard the transition was for my son (long days, large class, very little recess time, etc…) while he wouldn't talk about it much. He was grumpy and mean to his sister after school. He protested going to school at all. But he wouldn't share with me exactly what was hard about it. I felt at a loss and it was killing me.
    One day I realized, this is his journey. I would do my best to prepare him for those 2 days, to help him wind down afterwards, but I had to trust him to work through his discomfort, even if it was excruciating to watch.
    It took him about 3 months to integrate but he did it without me hovering and interfering and it's all good now.
    Best of luck.

  • GourmetGirlfriend

    Che will be JUST fine.
    All children and ALL parents have hiccups and that is totally normal.
    It is true that having some routine is really helpful- equally helpful is letting go of it sometimes.
    I am a big believer in sleep & rest being an integral part of childhood's necessities.
    And if your new schooler is really tired, a day at home to catch up is much better for their schooling in the long run than going to school so tired that they can't open their eyes.
    The first year is EXHAUSTING for everyone. We were so lucky last year with our child no.4 that his teacher supported that theory completely. I think most teachers of first year kids do feel the same.
    Another super tip is drawing a picture chart of the steps that you child needs to complete to be school ready each day. i.e having breakfast, getting dressed, packing school bag, brushing teeth.
    It really helps children see a visual reminder of what they need to do each day.
    I wrote a post a little while back about seeing a sign on a classroom that really resonated with me:
    "It is not what you do FOR your children but what you have taught your children to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings".
    Best reminder ever of how important it is to teach them independence & responsibility from an early age.

    • Jodi

      Ruth, Daniel and I have already talked about the importance of having a day at home every now and then…a little extra at-home nurturing to help the energy levels (for us all). I love all your advice x

  • Margaret

    The thing I found most surprising about first school days, was the tiredness, they come home soooo worn out, so a quick, easy dinner, is a good idea, because they will be ready for bed quite early. Even when they are not tired, they come home very hungry, this lasts for all their school years 🙂 , so snacks should be something you will be happy for them to eat instead of dinner, or as an early part of dinner, as after school eating can be lots of food, with not much interest in dinner.
    Often if you ask "what did you do today ?" you won't get much of a response, but if you ask "what did you like best today ?" that seems to prompt memories that they are happy to share, having an afternoon snack together is a good time to catch up with their day.
    "Our family has different rules" is a VERY important thing for the child to remember,
    also, "our house, our rules" visiting kids ,will accept this quite readily, if it stated up front, before any problems arise,children do NOT resent consistent , fair guidelines.No hitting, no bad words, no jumping on beds, inside toys stay inside,computers, phones and cameras are off limits etc.
    And one final piece of advice….DO NOT allow any morning TV in school term.

  • Ally

    Thanks Jodi and Justin. I too have similar concerns with our little lad starting school in a couple of weeks. I like what Yellow Finch Designs wrote about trusting in your strong family core. As well as all the other great advice on here from those who have gone beforel I'm sure Che will do beautifully. Best wishes for you and Che x

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