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Transitioning to school

Parents guide

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Starting school is an exciting time of change for children and families. There are many things you can do to prepare for the change. Helping children to feel confident and positive about school will give them a good start.

The school environment is different in terms of academic expectations of school, the physical and social environment, and communication structures. Teachers and school staff are available to help you and your child transition smoothly to this next exciting phase in life’s journey.

Find out more:

Booking your child into school

If you want your child to attend a local government school, begin enquiring about orientation days and preparations for starting school the year before your child starts school.

You need to check which local government school is your ‘in area’ school. Your ‘in area’ school is predetermined based on your home address and location of schools in the area. Your child is entitled to enrolment at this school. Contact your local school to find out if you are in area.

If you want your child to attend a government school that is not your ‘in area’ school, contact the school to inquire about the availability of a place for your child.

Use the School Locator to find a government school near you.

Non-government schools have different policies and procedures for enrolment. Many schools accept applications soon after your child’s birth so it’s best to contact the school as soon as possible.

You may be required to pay a holding deposit or enrolment fee.

Helping your child transition to school

When children first start school there is a lot for them to get used to. Some children will adapt more easily than others. There are many things you can do to help your child transition to school as smoothly as possible.

Helping your child feel confident and positive about school will give them a good start.

Children's perceptions of themselves as learners and as someone who belongs at school are often formed early in their schooling.  

Most schools will conduct early assessments of your child to gain an understanding of your child’s needs. Best start will be conducted for kindergarten children in all schools from 2017.

School transition programs

Many schools, preschools and child care centres plan formal programs to assist children to transition to school easily and smoothly.

Each school operates within its own local context, so transition programs will vary from school to school.

Programs may include:

  • Visits to the school over several weeks.
  • Buddy programs where senior students partner with incoming kindergarten students to help them learn about the school, get to know some of the older students and feel welcome.
  • Orientation/information session for parents to learn more about the school, the curriculum and the school’s routines.
  • School tours to see where everything is located such as playgrounds, the office and toilets.
  • Incoming students spending time in a classroom with a teacher and other children.

Transition programs work best when parents participate in short sessions with their children. Prior-to-school staff may also be invited to participate in activities and this may be the beginning of a collaborative partnership between schools, parents, prior-to-school services and where relevant, other community organisations.

Helping your child transition

Once you know which school your child will be attending, you can help your child transition by:

  • Referring to the school as your child’s school whenever you are passing by.
  • Attending school fetes, fairs or community events.
  • Completing your electoral voting at the school with your child present so the setting becomes more familiar to your child.
  • Finding out from your preschool or day care centre which children from the centre will be attending the school. You can then organise play afternoons and get to know some other parents.
  • Asking if your preschool is running a parent evening to provide information on school readiness.
  • Attending the school orientation days and parent information sessions

Building your child’s confidence for school

Some children adapt very easily to school. It is important that you do not display anxiety about attending school nor speak negatively about your children not being at home.  Talk about the excitement of attending school, and present school as the next interesting chapter in your child’s life.

Visit the library and borrow books about children going to school. Download stories your child may like to read and read them on a computer or tablet.

Read to your child on a regular basis and model reading to them whenever possible. Develop a love of reading, books and learning.

As a parent, reframe your questions about school, preschool and day care from, ‘What did you do today?’ to a more positive question such as ‘Tell me the best thing you did at school today’, What is one thing you learnt today? Segment the time at school and ask what did you do during the morning, after recess today? This is a useful way of talking with your child after school – not just in kindergarten, but also throughout their schooling.

Other tips:

  • Start to get your child into regular sleep and waking hour routines. Children need to be in bed at a reasonable time to wake up refreshed. Televisions or technology (eg computers or tablets) should not be in the child’s room. If these items must be in the room, establish a routine, such as not allowing them to be on after dinner. This will help your child begin to relax and prepare for sleep.
  • Establish packing away routines with toys and encourage your child to help with simple tasks around the home to develop responsibility.
  • Label your child’s belongings for school. Set a pattern that expensive toys and treasured items are not taken to school. If they get lost or broken, this can create a lot of anxiety for you and your child.
  • Help your child learn to dress themselves in their uniform and if using laces to tie up their shoes.
  • Ensure your child can go to the toilet unassisted and teach them how to ask the teacher should they need to use the toilet during class time.
  • Practise walking or travelling to school. Transport for NSW has useful guides for parents. This includes information on student bus travel.
  • Become familiar with the many resources available to help keep your child safe as they journey to school, for example Safety Town.
  • Have your child help you pack their lunch. Remember schools are nut-free zones, so consider carefully what to provide in your child’s lunch box. Many parents make the mistake of over-packing the amount of food a child will need in a day and children struggle to eat it. If you are unsure, ask your child to bring home any uneaten lunch so you can gauge the amount of food that is acceptable. Think about easy-to-open lunch boxes, re-useable water bottles, sandwiches, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Relax! If you are stressed, your child may sense this and worry.

Special needs

Some children have special education or additional learning needs. If your child has an identified learning or other need, make sure you communicate with the school as early as possible so a plan can be put into place to assist your child.

Each plan will be individualised, so it is important to provide the school with all the information they ll need to cater for your child's needs.

Working with your child’s school

Children do best at school when parents and teachers work together to support them.

To do this you can:

  • Let the teacher know if there is something happening at home that may be affecting your child.
  • Tell the teacher about any health problems your child may have.
  • Read all the school notices and reply as soon as possible.
  • Get involved in school activities such as children's reading sessions and join parents associations.
  • Become familiar with the school’s communication processes and read the school’s newsletter.
  • Always drive carefully around the school and follow the road rules. Take extra care and drive slowly.

If you need to see the teacher, always make an appointment. Prior to school, teachers have meetings and preparation to complete. It is not a good idea to expect teachers to meet with you as they are organising the class for the day ahead or when supervising their class. This is a crucial part in your child’s day and it is important the teacher follows the established routines every day.

Making an appointment to see the teacher will ensure you get to speak with your child’s teacher and issues can be discussed and addressed in a professional and discreet manner.

What to expect in the first few weeks of school

Learning new routines, meeting new people, playing and learning to adjust to a new environment are all very tiring for children. Often your child will want to rest after school. Try not to over-plan your child’s afternoons, particularly in the first term of school.

You might need to:

  • Plan a light, nutritious snack for after school or give your child an early dinner as they may be more tired than usual.
  • Encourage your child to talk about the good things that happened and do not pressure them to talk too much if they are not up to it. Some children like to wind down completely in a quiet environment after a busy day at school.
  • Make reading part of your daily routine. Reading to your child as they prepare for bed is a wonderful way to wind down with your child before bed, spend some quality time together and build the important skills of vocabulary, story structure and a love of reading.
  • Pack a spare pair of underwear in your child’s bag. Talk to your child about how they can let the teacher know if they need to go to the toilet.

Dealing with a stressed child

It is important that you do not become overly anxious and stressed about school, as your child will pick up on your feelings. Some children can become tearful and struggle to go to school.

Remain calm but firm and reassuring. Try not to show stressed emotions, as this is often a signal to your child who may escalate the situation. Contact the school and seek their support. Often the teacher will be able to meet you and assist you during this period. Most children settle quite well once their parent has left the school.  Ensure the school always have the most up to date contact details should they need to contact you during the school day. Encourage your child to talk about what exactly is worrying them. Ask your child what they think might help them settle.

Be clear in your expectations. Let your child know you are confident that they can manage. Letting the teacher know by letter or email is a good strategy, as the teacher will be there to help you. Your child’s older buddy may be a useful support in these situations as well.

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