Most Ontario children about to start Grade 1 this year have had at least one year of full-day kindergarten already, but that doesn’t mean the transition will be easy.
Grade 1 can be a point of pride for kids. They are done with kindergarten and are big kids now, but they are entering the hallways and lunchrooms and schoolyards of a lot of even bigger kids.
So the first few weeks may be ones full of jittery excitement, tears or even severe anxiety. We have put together the folowing tips to help your family through this transition:
Before schools starts:
- Validate nervous feelings. “It’s really important to first validate children’s feelings by acknowledging that it’s okay that they have certain uncomfortable feelings,” says Christie Hayos, a clinical social worker at the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre in Toronto. Let them know that these feelings are normal and probably the same feelings other kids are having.
- Get familiar with the school. Before the first day of school, visit the school with your child so that the route, the building, and school surroundings become familiar.
- Start the routine early. About a week or so before the start of school, begin putting your child to bed at a normal time for a school night. For a week before school starts, be sure your child then gets up, dressed, and fed like a regular school morning.
- Practice being organized. “Some children have difficulty keeping track of their belongings,” says first grade teacher Giovanna Smith. “They do not know what is theirs. They need practice to get dressed and to get organized.”
- Review safety rules. If your child is taking the school bus, review the school bus safety rules with them. Also, make sure everyone knows how to walk to school safely.
- Let your child be a part of the planning. “Children need to see what mom and dad have purchased for them so they can recognize it at school with 20 others that look the same,” says Smith.
What to expect in the Grade 1 classroom:
How to support your child's learning at home:
Smith suggests the following:
- Encourage independence. Your child will need to learn to work and problem-solve independently at school so make sure that independence is also encouraged at home. In other words, let kids dress themselves, put on their own shoes and do things for themselves.
- Maintain a consistent schedule. Have a bedtime that you stick to so that your child will be well-rested for school. Get up at the same time and eat breakfast.
- Provide a healthy lunch. Pack a lunch kids are capable of opening and closing themselves. Remember most schools encourage packing reusable containers instead of using disposable bags or wrappers to keep the level of garbage down.
- Label everything. Yes, even pencils and crayons, says Smith.
- Encourage “why” questions. “Let them be curious,” says Smith. You don’t have to know the answer. Helping your child figure it out is part of the fun.
Play games with your children. Choose games where children have to make choices and solve problems.
What to do if your child seems to be struggling with the transition:
After the first few weeks, your child should feel fairly comfortable in Grade 1. If your child is still having problems into October, there could be a deeper issue. Hayos has these tips to help:
- Think of what is typical for your child. “If you have a child that is typically not anxious about going back to school or has low levels of anxiety about going back to school, and all of a sudden this looks much different and the levels of anxiety are much higher than before, you may want to investigate more and ask the child more questions,” says Hayos.
- Empathize with your child. Let your child know you understand something is wrong and you want to help.
Name the problem. Identify the specific problem your child is having. If your child doesn’t want to go to school, why?
- Work with your child to put a plan in place. “Often kids have really great ideas about how they could get support,” says Hayos. Children like to feel that they are actively a part of, and have some kind of control over, the future. “When they know the plan, when they are part of it, they are likely to feel more successful and to buy into the plan,” says Hayos.
- Work with the teacher. The teacher works with your child on a daily basis and probably has experienced similar issues with other children. The teacher will often have very helpful ideas to rectify the situation.
- Get help elsewhere. If none of the above works, contact your family doctor.