Back to school 101

Are you ready for back to school? We give you some pointers.
By Child magazine

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When we think of the first day of school, we worry about whether our children have all the right gear, that their hair is neat and that they have a healthy lunchbox packed. But it’s just as important to prepare our children mentally for the first day. Sure, it’s easier if they’ve done it before, or if they’re staying in the same phase. But whether they know what to expect, or if they’re starting school or a new phase for the first time, it can be an anxious time for children.
Preparing children for that first day means they’ll be more confident, you’ll be more relaxed, and everyone will be more excited.
Start a routine
Get children into a routine a few days before they start school. Get them to bed at a reasonable hour, wake them up on time and try and get them used to eating at regular times. Talk about the routine they will have at school; what will happen when they get to school in the morning, when they will have playtime and snack time, and what to expect at the end of the school day, especially if they’ll be attending aftercare. Also explain to your children when you’ll pick them up, and where you’ll meet them.
Talk to them
Speak with your children about what to expect, and how to behave. The school will have certain rules, as well as expectations of behaviour, and knowing these upfront can help children adjust more easily. You can also discuss how to handle new situations, like if their friend wants to play with someone else one day, or if they feel like they’re being bullied. Let them know they can always talk to their teacher or yourself about any problems or worries they may have.
Packed up
For older children, show them what they need to pack and ensure everything is in their school bag before they go to school. If you pack for younger children, show them where everything is in their bag so that they can find whatever they need. You might want to pack a few extras, like tissues or wet wipes, just in case. Knowing that they have everything they need can help reassure children, and you.
Get excited
Getting children excited about the first day can lessen some of the nervousness. Talk about what they have to look forward to: making new friends, seeing old friends, learning about wonderful things, and play time. Tell them what you loved about school. And if you’re nervous or anxious, don’t let children see this; rather reassure them and tell them how excited you are for them.
Tick the box
  • Teeth Visit the dentist when your child is four or five years old, with regular checkups every six months.
  • Eyes Get eyes checked when children are between three and five years old, and when they start school. If children have vision problems, eyes should be checked every year or as prescribed. Otherwise, get a checkup every two years.
  • Worms Deworm children every six months, starting just before they go back to school.
  • Vaccines Immunisations should be up to date. Check which vaccinations are needed, most being required before children are 18 months old, with boosters needed at six and 12 years old. If any are required, or have been missed, visit a family clinic as soon as possible.
  • Medication If your child needs to take any medicine to school, check what the school’s policy is on dispensing medicine.
Look the part
  • Hair Book a haircut for your child just before school starts. Make sure you have hair bands and clips in regulation colours if required by the school.
  • Uniforms Shirts, skirts, trousers and shorts can be purchased in a slightly bigger size, so they last longer. Get at least three of everything. Don’t forget about swimming gear, PE kit, blazers, jerseys, rain jackets, hats, and socks or tights. Don’t buy for the whole year, just the term as kids grow so quickly and their requirements may change as they try out new extra murals.
  • Shoes are best bought a few weeks before school starts so your children are able to wear them in.
Lift club
Teach your children the dos and don’ts of using alternative transport. Explain that they need to respect the driver and adhere to her or his rules, which should include wearing a seatbelt at all times, not standing when the vehicle is moving, not placing any part of their body outside the windows, not eating or drinking in the vehicle unless they have the driver’s permission, and not fighting with other children. Meet the driver beforehand. This will help your children feel more at ease and ensure they don’t accept lifts from strangers. Show your children what the vehicle looks like and check that it’s safe. Does it have seatbelts and toddler/baby car seats or will you need to supply one?
Bag it and tag it
Look for a light but sturdy bag that won’t strain your child’s back. You’ll also need a sports or PE bag, and possibly a library bag. Use your stationery list to shop around for the best prices on pens, books and other equipment, or order online. Also get supplies for covering books. You can even pack a few extras, like tissues and sunscreen. Look for lunchboxes that seal properly and are easy to carry. Get a few juice bottles as well. If you are using plastic make sure it is BPA free.
Making music
If your child is taking music lessons, purchase or hire the necessary instruments or arrange to have access to instruments either at home or outside of school. Check that instruments are tuned and ready for action. If you use an electronic tuner make sure you have batteries and necessary spare parts. Do you need to buy sheet music? They might need to take sheet music to lessons. If necessary, buy a case to transport the instrument.
Whether you use a marker, sew-on, iron-on or stick-on labels, put your child’s name on everything that goes to school, including shoes. And make sure labels are waterproof and non-fading. With so many other children using the same clothes, bags and stationery, items are sure to go missing.
Cell phones
Making the call. If you’re considering getting your child a cell phone, first find out the school’s policy. Younger children are probably not allowed phones, while older children may be asked to turn off phones during the day. Your child should be mature enough to use a phone responsibly.
No false starts
  • Get prepared the night before; school uniform laid out; lunch and school bag packed; remember PE kit and equipment needed on certain days; sign any paperwork for the school.
  • Get up early; think reasonably about how much time you need to get ready in the morning and then add on extra time.
  • Plan breakfast; narrow down the options available to your child and have it ready to go. Let them eat before washing, dressing and brushing teeth.
  • Getting dressed; for toddlers and preschoolers, limit the choice of outfits to choose from. For your early grader, if you have the time, let them try tying their own shoelaces and buttoning up shirts while you simply supervise.
  • More on routines; ask your toddler’s soon-to-be crèche for a copy of its daily schedule and try to follow their lunch, play and nap times to help your toddler adjust better when daycare starts. With your primary and high schooler, discuss the expectation of teachers to do more with their time and therefore the importance of getting into a daily routine.
Practise everyday activities to help make the school day a little easier.
For crèche, your child should:
  • Learn your phone number and address by heart.
  • Know how to put on their own shoes (tie shoelaces or use the Velcro strap).
  • Know how to use the zips, clips and buttons on their bag so they can open and close it if necessary.
  • Use their water/juice bottle.
  • Be potty trained, if necessary – ensure your child feels comfortable with putting up their hand to use the bathroom.
All children should:
  • Have good manners – greeting elders, saying please and thank you, waiting their turn, sharing with other children.
  • Keep track of their things – you want your children to be responsible and come home with all their possessions.
School’s out; where to now?
Here are some options:
  • Arrange flexitime with your boss and work remotely in the afternoons.
  • Hire a childminder or enrol your child in aftercare, either at or outside your school.
  • Hire the services of a lift club or organise a carpool with other parents.
  • Discuss extracurricular activities that your child may want to do, which will keep them occupied on certain days until you can get to them.
  • Rely on family. Willing and able grandparents are a huge help.
Questions you should consider when vetting aftercare facilities:
  • Do they offer transport from your child’s school to the aftercare premises?
  • Do they split the children into age groups?
  • What is the child/teacher ratio?
  • Do they offer lunch/snacks? If not, do they have kitchen facilities available to prepare packed food?
  • Do they offer homework assistance?
  • Do they offer holiday care?
School-life game plan
Create and hang a large white board calendar for all school/extracurricular/playdate activities or other commitments. It’s helpful having a calendar with a month view at a time. Have a section running down the side of the board for “important to remember” points. Have a pin board or magnetic board nearby for all important notices sent from school. Make the calendar colour-coded (for each child or activity) and try making it visual for children who can’t read yet.
Child magazine has a number of downloads to make your life easier. Simply print them off and stick them on your fridge for easy reference and inspiration. Go to www.childmag/downloads for our:
  • 31 day lunchbox planner
  • weekly planner
  • eyes checklist
  • teething chart

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