4-7 years

Starting school is a big step for your child – and for you too. It’s a good idea to start preparing your child in the months, weeks and days before this new phase in his life.

Getting familiar with your child’s new school

In the months and weeks before starting school, it’s good for your child to get familiar with the school environment. This includes routines and rules as well as the classroom, playground, toilets, drinking fountains and so on.

Here are some ideas:

  • If your child is at a preschool or early childhood centre with a school transition program, try to make sure your child is at preschool on the days the children visit ‘big school’.
  • If your child isn’t at preschool, visit the school yourselves, or see whether the school runs its own transition program.
  • Visit the school and if possible meet your child’s teacher. Let your child know that teachers are there to help, and she can ask for help any time.
  • Show your child where the after-school care facilities are, if you’re using them.
  • Make sure your child knows where you’ll be picking him up.
  • Explain the basic school rules and why rules are important. For example, ‘If you want to go to the toilet you need to ask. Otherwise the teacher won’t know where you are’. 

Practical preparations for starting school

It’s a good idea to have uniforms, lunch boxes, bags and stationery ready:

  • Get your child to try on the uniform and shoes before the first day, just to make sure everything fits. It’s a good idea to have your child wear new school shoes for a few days before school starts and practise doing up laces or buckles.
  • Choose a school bag that’s comfortable for your child to carry. A backpack with adjustable straps is best.
  • Choose a lunch box that has an easy-to-open lid. Your child can practise using the lunch box at preschool, or during a picnic lunch at home or in the park.
  • Find out if your child needs any other items for school – for example, hat, art smock, library bag, pencils, markers, crayons and so on.
  • Make sure your child’s name is clearly marked on all clothing, as well as her lunch box and school bag. 

Managing feelings about starting school

Starting school can be a big change for your child, and he might feel a bit anxious as well as excited. Letting your child know that you think he’ll go well at school can help him feel positive. Here are more ideas for managing mixed feelings:

  • Try to organise playdates with other children before the first day of school. It can help if your child knows another child going to the same school before school starts. 
  • Give your child lots of love and support. Be excited and enthusiastic about your child starting school. This sends your child the positive message that school is exciting and that she’ll cope and have fun.
  • Read a children’s book about starting school with your child. Reading books about school together can help you talk with your child about his feelings. You could try Starting school by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, or Starting school by Jane Godwin and Anna Walker.
  • Think about how you’ll manage your feelings on the first day. Even if you’re feeling sad or worried, it can help to keep these feelings from your child. Instead, try to see your child off with a happy, confident goodbye – and plan something nice for yourself too, like coffee with a friend. 
When your child starts school, it’s a big change in your family life. It’s normal if you feel a little worried or sad too! Sometimes it helps to talk with other parents about how you’re feeling. Other parents might also have helpful tips for preparing and starting school. 

Starting school: the early weeks

Your child might need some support when school starts. There are some simple things you can do to help these first few weeks go smoothly:

  • Try to drop off your child at school before the bell goes in the morning. Also pick your child up on time. If you’re late it could make your child feel very anxious. 
  • Try to make after-school time a bit special, with a snack and time for the two of you to chat.
  • Be patient if your child wants to blurt out every little detail about school, or clams up completely. You could try saying something like, ‘Tell me one good thing about your day’, rather than asking lots of questions.
  • Try to be flexible with snacks and meals. Your child will probably be very hungry after school. If you give her a small, healthy snack straight after school, it’ll help to keep her going until dinner.
  • Don’t expect too much academic progress too soon. If your child is happy and seems to be enjoying school, that’s a real achievement. The rest will come later.
  • Remember that it’s normal for children to play with lots of different children, and even to play on their own sometimes. It takes a while before they settle into a group of friends.
  • If your child doesn’t seem to be settling well, or tells you about teasing or bullying, speak to your child’s classroom teacher. 
Some children might be tired after school for the first few weeks. Other children might still have the energy for after-school activities. Depending on your child’s energy levels after school, you might want to let your child rest and play at home for a few weeks until you think he’s ready for playdates and after-school activities. 

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Last updated or reviewed
18-07-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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