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Your child’s first day at a new school – whether it’s primary school or high school – is a big deal, both for them and you. 

To help, we’ve turned to the experts. Here are a few words of wisdom from occupational therapist Steph Holgate and educational expert Eliescha Bazley that will help to ease the transition.

Starting primary school

Helping your child prepare for their first day of school involves more than buying their uniform and choosing a new lunch box. According to Gateway Therapy’s Steph Holgate, there are a few, ra talked about, key skills you should focus on you can help them get set for their first day. 

Fine and gross motor skills

​​It’s important to incorporate fine motor exercises into your child’s life. This includes controlling pencil grip, using scissors, colouring in and drawing. To build these skills, it’s important that children have good fine motor strength and hand dexterity, which is the ability to manipulate objects within your hand. Doing things like playing with play dough, hand warm-ups, opening containers or anything else that requires using fine motor muscle control is going to really help set up your child to be able to do table top tasks within school.

Now considering gross motor, a big part of school is being able to hold your core in an upright posture. Posture is key to ensure your child is writing neatly and it also increases focus and concentration. Extracurricular activities like gymnastics, swimming, soccer or anything else that is engaging those core muscles, even just fun core muscle tasks at home like wheelbarrow walks, sit ups and playing. Encouraging your child to sit up nice and straight at the dinner table or when doing their own table top tasks are easy and great ways to build core strength.

Communication and language skills

For literacy learning at school (learning to read and spell) kids need a good foundation of language and vocabulary. The best way to foster good language is to talk to your child, whether you’re out and about or at home playing, and repeat and emphasise new words they are unfamiliar with. Using verbs and adjectives are a great way to build vocabulary. Repetition is key!

I would also recommend reading with your child as often as you can. It’s great to make this a routine by reading with them every night. I like to encourage parents to get their child’s finger to trace along the words as they read. Even if your child can’t read yet, it gives them what we call ‘print awareness’ – the understanding that shapes and letters stand for certain words. It’s an incredible foundation for them just to be exposed to print.

Interaction is key and I encourage parents to use picture books for book sharing time. Interaction involves making the book come alive and having fun with your child with the use of the book. Sometimes kids are reluctant to read, but if it becomes a fun activity, then this will help with their motivation. It’s normal to feel like you have to finish a book from start to finish, but remember it’s okay to stop when your child has had enough!

Food independence

Heading off to school might be your child’s most independent eating experience, so it’s important to encourage them to practice this skill at home, too. Look at the mealtime routines within your own home and ensure they support the good eating habits your child should use at school.

It’s very important to minimise distractions within the environment – this means no iPad, no TV time during their meal – and model good behaviours yourself by using proper manners, being positive about new foods and eating a balanced diet. Getting your family to sit down and have a meal together is always the best option. Also, positive encouragement is vital – give your child time to develop and grow, and remember that it’s okay for some kids to need extra bribery! External rewards like stickers, iPad or TV time can help to motivate them. 

Starting high school

Did you know that the transition from primary to high school is described as one of the most stressful events in a young person’s life? If you have deep-rooted memories of your move to ‘big school’, you’re probably not surprised.

“Aside from the new academic subjects, timetables and learning the names of a dozen new teachers, the switch to high school also requires emotional resilience, self-awareness, self-management, and new social skills,” explains Eliescha, from online educational provider ClickView. “To make the path even more challenging, this transition happens when many students are entering puberty.” 

This time can impact your child’s psychological wellbeing and academic performance in ways you won’t necessarily notice. No parental pressure, right?!

“Thankfully, there are ways that we, as parents, can support our children during this challenging time,” says Eliescha.

Here are her top tips…

Speak openly and honestly

Always try to speak positively about the transition. Focus on the opportunities the new school will bring, including new sports teams, artistic or music activities, making new friends, and learning new subjects. Encourage your child to be open to trying new things, even if it might feel scary at first.

It is also beneficial for them to hear about the transition first-hand, so share your own experiences as well as opening up their lines of communication with older siblings. Hearing stories from those who have already gone through the experience can be powerful. If they’re the oldest or are your only child, try to find some older relatives or friends to talk them through it.

Normalise any negativity

If your child seems less than enthused about their first days at big school, reassure them that these feelings are valid – it is perfectly natural to feel that way. Students will experience a range of emotions during their transition to high school, so make sure to reassure them that whatever they feel – nervous, happy, excited, sad – is completely normal. It’s also helpful to remind them that it’s okay to feel a different way to their friends and peers.

Remember also that your child may have spent a significant amount of time learning online, or out of the classroom. In addition to the many emotional and physical firsts that starting big school will bring, they will have the added excitement, or anxiety, of reconnecting with their friends – many of whom may have changed from the last time they saw them (#thankspuberty).

Tackle tricky topics head on

Although it can seem uncomfortable at first, help your child connect puberty to the emotions they’ll face starting high school. Asking them what they are studying or learning can be a great segue into this conversation, and discussing it openly can help your child understand how mood swings and hormones play a part in how they cope with stress, relationships and new experiences. 

High school is a mixture of practical and emotional firsts, so make sure to blend practical and emotional preparation. Consider setting up usual day to day tasks in the style of a timetable – time for doing homework, time for doing chores and time spent outdoors can all be clearly marked. This will help them get to grips with learning time-keeping and better react to any stress they might feel running to and from lessons. 

Make self care a priority

The pandemic has shown us adults that appropriate levels of self care are more important than ever before, and this is something that you can exercise at home. Afterall, it isn’t just mum and dad who need an occasional time out! 

Self care is incredibly important for new high school students, especially since they will be left to their own devices far more often than in primary school. Encourage your child to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep, and alert them when you feel they’re lacking in any of these areas. These are key factors for thriving in stressful situations and doing well with their work – which will result in a positive experience at secondary school. 

Finally, digital resources can open your child’s eyes to the invisible tools that sit alongside their textbooks and pencils. Should there be topics that you feel uncomfortable addressing at home, ClickView has free video resources available to help students manage their wellbeing, build confidence, and understand anxiety – all key tools that they will require for the transition to high school.

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haven is all about family, life and style in Brisbane's inner city suburbs, the Gold Coast, south to Byron Bay. We have been keeping parents in the know for over eight years, with fun, fresh and helpful stories that they can take tips from or treasure in their own library.