One of natural stages of change is moving from preschool to primary school. This is a change in physical environment and in the learning environment of a child. Often children will be nervous about this change; but this nervous reaction is often a result of their parents being nervous about the change and how the change will affect their child.
What if my child is nervous about attending school?
It is important to build familiarity with the school. Every school will reach out to the preschools in their area. A teacher may visit and they will organise time for the children to visit the school before the end of the preschool year. It is vital that children and parents are active in this experience. Familiarity with the physical environment of the school is one way to decrease anxiety and stress on a child.
Driving past the school or walking past the school is a great way to build confidence in a child. Point out the classrooms, oval, playground, canteen and the children enjoying themselves.
In partnership with families, early childhood educators ensure that children have an active role in preparing for transitions. They assist children to understand the traditions, routines and practices of the settings to which they are moving and to feel comfortable with the process of change.
BELONGING, BEING & BECOMING The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Page 16.
Another way is to mirror routines of the school at home and at preschool. Having meal times at the same time as the school is one simple way to help children adapt to the different structures of the school setting.
Having a clear routine, and explaining to your child that we are preparing for ‘big school’, will help a child transition. By preparing early, such as having the school uniform (and dressing for a school day), having lunch from a lunch box, plus before and after school routines can help build a child’s confidence. This gradual build up to change can improve the experience for children and parents.
Should I contact the school if my pre-schooler is showing nerves and anxiety about moving from preschool to primary school?
It would be good to contact the educators at the child’s preschool if a parent notices an increase in nerves or anxiety. Another sign will be a change in behaviour. A reluctance to attend preschool may be triggered by all the discussion about moving onto ‘big school’. As most schools seek out all the local preschools, a teacher from the school can attend the preschool and speak with the educators about the child. This will be when the educators share any concerns and showcase a child’s portfolio.
We have to remember nerves are a normal human reaction. Nerves can increase focus and awareness for a child. Of course, if their emotional and physical development is being hindered it is important to seek support through your GP.
How can I start conversations about school with my preschooler?
This time of change is also about having the important conversations about what to expect. Parents and educators can frame the conversation about school in positive terms. Here are some examples:
We are so looking forward to school. What are you looking forward to at school?
Did you know you will have new friends at school?
Did you know they have a library, hall, an oval, a playground and their own canteen at school? Isn’t that exciting!
At school you will have a buddy who will help you settle in. You will be able to see them if you are worried about anything!
In many cases adults or family members can place their own experiences of school onto the children. Sometimes these experiences are negative; we have to remember that much has changed about school. If we have a positive attitude towards school we can help build an interest and love in all that schools do offer.
Moving from preschool to primary school doesn’t have to be ‘great and sudden change’. We know children will take this development step, we generally know when and where it will occur. These are major positives to helping children thrive in the face of change. This time doesn’t have to be a painful experience for children and parents!
What are some signs that children are not coping with the challenges of change:
Many parents are able to identify when something isn’t right with their child; the wonderful organisation Headspace has made a list of things to consider if parents do notice a change in behaviour:
• Not enjoying, or not wanting to be involved in things that they would normally enjoy;
• Changes in appetite or sleeping patterns;
• Being easily irritated or angry for no reason;
• Their learning at preschool or at home is not as good as it should be or as it once was;
• Experiencing difficulties with their concentration;
• Seeming unusually stressed, worried, down or crying for no reason;
• Expressing negative, distressing, bizarre or unusual thoughts.