For most families, the first day at school is a special memory, a perfect photo opportunity (we’re looking at YOU, Facebook and Instagram – with your constant stream of super cute first day pictures!) and an important childhood milestone.
Under new KHDA guidelines, children in Dubai can start formal school age 2 years and 8 months . The new rule allows children who will turn 3 before 31st December (for schools starting in September) or 31st July (for schools starting in April) to enroll in school.
How does the first day feel for these young children? How do their new friendships and relationships with teachers progress, and is their academic progress impacted or enhanced by joining school a little earlier than the norm? Lastly, is it even possible to buy a uniform that small?!
In this series of articles, we will follow three of Dubai’s youngest school pupils (all aged 2 upon joining school) through their first term in ‘big’ school.
We are delighted to introduce the very brave (and, might we add, very smart in their uniforms) Abigail, Ellie and Iris.
Two year old Ellie has just started FS1 in Horizon International School, Umm Suqeim. Big brother Lochlain has attended the same school for some years, something that Mum and Dad (Liz and Karl) felt helped familiarise Ellie with the concept of school.
Liz told us:
“Before Ellie started school, we talked a lot about the fact she was going to ‘Big Girl’ school - the same as Lochlain, and she was mainly excited about it all. When it wasn’t excitement it was disinterest – I don’t think it made any real sense to her until she was there.
On the first day, Ellie was very excited to get her new big girl uniform and was ready to go early with no drama at all. It came as a surprise to have to remind her to say bye to us! She gave us a big kiss and said ‘Bye mummy, have a good day’ and was then back to playing play-doh with no second looks – I think I was more anxious than she was.
The teacher seemed very lovely and gentle and interested in Ellie from the start. The first 2 days were a staggered start, with half the class from 8:30-10 and the rest from 10:30-12, so they only had a few kiddies to contend with – this helped with the chaos of dropping off and saying goodbye.
As the week progressed, teachers seemed way too busy to sit and chat, but didn’t get any negative feedback from them. Ellie was excited to go back, but she did seem slightly surprised “I’m going again mummy?” but when I said yes, she was very happy to put on her uniform again and headed off for school.
I think the test will be the coming weeks, when it sets in that this is now the routine, and it’s going to continue. Ellie did go to nursery which I think has prepared her well for school. She is happy to separate from us and is pretty independent.
For me, I really felt most anxious about transport issues. I am a working mum, and we had to get a driver to manage the school pick-ups. On the first day the driver came and met the teacher and took us home – the second day I collected her, but the third day she was with the driver on her own. Ellie was fine but asked the driver to call me just to say hi – it was a bit heart wrenching for me, but she was okay and seemed to be more settled the next day. Overall, we are really happy with how things have gone. Ellie has done us proud!”
Abigail’s Mum, Mary was happy with how the term started for 2 year old Abigail;
“We'd been talking to Abbie over the summer about impending "big school" and going to school in the bus with her older sister. And we'd been working on her toilet training as well, with the urgency of term-beginning, so she knew school was going to happen soon. She was absolutely calm and unaffected, in a way only children can be.
On the first day, waking up early was not appreciated, but other than that, mornings have been unremarkable so far.
FS1 at Horizon School [note - not the same school as Ellie] was for 2 hours the whole of the first week. I took Abigail to her class the first morning and said hello to her teacher, while she looked around the classroom and took in everything. She got busy with some colouring activities while we were still talking and said "bye mamma" with a big smile as I turned to go. It was easy. Too easy…I thought, and that made me uneasy!
I feel our school has been most considerate of the little learners' transition to the classroom by having them at school from 8 to 10 am for the first week and from 8 to 11:30 am for the second week, before going to having normal school hours of 8 am to 12:50 pm from week 3. Apart from that, nothing in particular- the school in general does a good job with recruiting great staff.
Abigail is a cool customer and it's been a great first week, thank God! She has identified friends in her class and likes her teacher very much, knows there's a swimming pool and messy play at school - so yes, she's happy to go to school every day!”
Iris has been helped in her transition by big sister, Olive. Mum Sarah tells us that she had a great first week, but a more challenging second week;
"I took Iris to Safa British School with me to collect her older sister, Olive on many occasions so she could get a little familiar with where she would eventually be going to ‘big’ school. We talked to her a lot about going to school with her big sister and meeting her new teachers and friends. We also involved her in choosing her lunch box, new school shoes and uniform to get her a bit excited for her new school and friends.
We have decided to take advantage of the flexi-time arrangement that Safa offers to FS1 pupils. Iris is enrolled for three days per week (Sun - Wed).
There were no complications on the first morning, she was happy and excited to be in her new uniform! She didn’t even cry and went into the class quite willingly.
They only spent an hour and a half at the school on the first day (and for the rest of the week). Iris waved as we said goodbye and went off to play. I think as she was quite confident when she went in, the teachers didn’t really feel the need to keep a ‘special watch’ on her, even though she was one of the youngest.
Iris was happy and quite confident but feedback from her teachers was that she kept asking where her mummy was.
Week 2 has been a different matter, however! She cried and clung onto my leg on the Sunday. I had to then collect her at 12.30 as she was so upset. Then everyday after that she’s cried a lot on drop off and the teacher has had to take her from me as she won’t leave me.
The teachers has said that she cries on and off through the day but I’ve left it a little later each time I collect her and she’s been ok. We’re trying a sticker chart at home to hopefully help with this though...if she doesn’t cry she gets a sticker and then she gets to choose a treat like ice cream or a book if she gets over 3 stars that week.
Communication with her teacher has been very good and it was her who suggested gradually leaving her a little later every day. I'm beginning to reconsider the flexi-time enrollment however, and may change Iris to 5 days per week - I don't think that the very long break between school days is helping her settle. It's like she forgets when she isn't there!
I hope she gets a bit better next week, it’s so sad as she comes out with red patches under her eyes when I collect her! It's really hard for us both, in fact. Eventually we plan for Iris to attend from 7.30am to 2.30pm (attending sibling club after FS1 class, whilst she waits for her sister to finish), but we are slowly building up to that...
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com will revisit Ellie, Abigail and Iris later in the term, to see how their adjustment to life in formal education continues. Good luck, girls!