Covid 19: Preparing for the First Day at School

The first day at ‘big school’ is an important milestone in any young child’s life, and one that induces considerable anxiety in parents at the best of times, and even more so mid pandemic! (That’s a new one on absolutely all of us – schools and parents alike). In this guide, we call on industry experts to ask about the ‘new’ BIG FIRST DAY, and specifically how you and your family can achieve a smooth transition to school life.
Covid 19: Preparing for the First Day at School
By Jenny Mollon
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Dressing your three or four-year-old in their school uniform for the first time is one of those bittersweet moments in parenting. Where has the time gone? How do they look so grown up and yet simultaneously so very tiny and cute? Will they cry? Will I cry? (The answer is yes, we assure you!).

This coming September, parents will be running the age old questions through their minds - along with some very new, Covid-19 specific concerns.  To help us put together the most comprehensive first day back guide for this new age, spoke to a selection of UAE Early Years industry experts to address these, and other issues.

Covid-19 is creating many ‘first in our lifetime’ issues across society. For the cohort of children who will start school in September 2020, perhaps the most significant challenges will have come about due to their life experiences in the six months prior to starting school. With lockdowns and minimal social contact now the norm across the globe, life in most households has been disrupted (and is, quite often, pretty stressful). The result is a host of (additional) challenges for our little people to overcome.

In the course of putting this article together, we spoke to the Lysiane Ruf, Academic Director at Future International Nursery; Tara Lambert, Deputy Head of Primary at Nord Anglia International School Dubai and Hannah Hepworth, Head of Early Years at Victory Heights Primary School to get their advice and find out their best tips for parents in this current context.

Perhaps first and most pressing issue for young children at the present time is lack of social contact with children and adults alike, especially in the months prior to starting school. These are formative years for developing social skills and while no-one has a crystal ball, it still seems very likely that social distancing in some form or another will continue for the foreseeable period. So what steps can parents take to mitigate the impact of limited socialisation?

Lysiane Ruf, of Future International Nursery (FIN) felt that parents should prioritise their child’s emotional well-being at present.

“It’s so important just to make children feel safe during this time. In the future, children will remember how they felt much more than what they learnt!

We know that parents are having to balance working and time with their children, so I would say to parents that it is the quality of time and interactions that you have with your child that matters, more so than simply the quantity of time. If we are thinking of helping to prepare children for school, I would also say that parents should look closely at how secure and happy their child is feeling”.

At Victory Heights Primary School (VHPS), the team are looking at well-being not only for children but for their parents too. Even in this socially distanced moment, the school is working hard to create a solid and welcoming community around new children and families. Hannah told us that:

“…we are creating ways in which our new parents can connect with existing VHPS parents.

It’s all very well for the team and I to give our advice, but it’s so meaningful to hear from parents who have walked a mile in their shoes!

Of course, things may well look and feel quite different this September, but we still feel that if our new parents can see faces they recognise and have that expertise and friendships to tap in to, it will really help”.

Hannah and her team are planning a number of online meet ups and webinars for new parents which will bring them in to the schools’ already close knit community. Hannah feels strongly that if parents can feel as at ease as possible on day one, then children will too. For the new VHPS children, the teaching team are already recording story telling sessions so that young children can begin to get to know the teachers a little.

Tara Lambert of Nord Anglia International School Dubai (NASD) is not only advising parents on this topic but living it at home with her own three year old son!

“Something I am trying to do at home, and I would advise any parent to do, is to help your child understand their own uniqueness” said Tara.

“Your child may be really excited to meet all their new friends but for some it can be quite an anxious time. Purchase some books that explore and celebrate ‘being different’, ‘standing tall’ and ‘how to ask for help’. Give your child some phrases that they can use in school will help them to feel confident too. I would suggest they learn to speak up with simple phrases like; ‘I need some help’, ‘would you like to play with me?’ ‘Good Morning’ and ‘I’m feeling sad/hungry/tired!’.

Being able to communicate in this way will eliminate small stressful moments that can cause a bump in your child’s day”.

All of our experts were busy preparing for the day that children can return to their schools and nurseries. Clearly the issue of making a successful start is on all their minds as they were brimming with advice for parents. Their top tips include:

• “Involve children with household chores! This is a great way to help them develop executive functions such as working memory, concentration, emotional control and problem solving. There’s a sensitive window in time for developing these skills and developing them is really a far better predictor of eventual academic success than knowing their letters and numbers” Lysiane Ruf, FIN
“Read with your child! Children should develop a love of books and reading for pleasure. This is a simple and super effective way to get your child’s education off to a great start” Hannah Hepworth, VHPS
"Develop independence.  In terms of being happy and confident in those all-important first few days, it’s vital that that anything your child goes to school wearing, they can manage themselves. I’m thinking of things like zips, laces, button and swimming attire - dressing and undressing is such an important skill! With my own three year old, we are playing a clothing obstacle course game where he practices putting on different items of clothing. We time him and try to beat the time each day!” Tara Lambert, NASD
“Create a gentle routine and stick to it. Children feel comfortable in a day that has a gentle rhythm to it and they will need a routine once they are in school. Make sure that each day includes things that your children can accomplish for themselves. This helps to create a sense of self-worth and boosts self-esteem”. Lysiane Ruf, FIN
“Develop your child’s listening skills! It’s so helpful in terms of a successful transition if your child can listen, follow simple instructions and know when to wait their turn. There are lots of fun, simple games that help with this like ‘I Spy’, ‘Simon Says’ or ‘Name that Noise’ ”. Tara Lambert, NASD

Lastly, Hannah of VHPS tells us that parents should rest assured that schools will already be preparing in house to welcome this new, very special cohort of young children.

“We still don’t know exactly what a school day will look like come September” Hannah told us, “but we are constantly thinking about how we can adapt to support our children. It may be that we start the year with shorter days or smaller class groupings, or that we ask Mummy and Daddy to stay in class and play with their children a little while longer than we usually would. We will do whatever we need to do to help children adapt and make a happy start to life in school”.

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