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How to prepare yourself for your kids starting school

Sarah Ockwell-Smith specialises in gentle parenting methods and is co-founder of the GentleParenting website (www.gentleparenting.co.uk). She writes a parenting blog (www.sarahockwell-smith.com) which is read by 3 million parents per year, and is the author of the author of several bestselling books on topics such as gentle approaches to parenting, sleep, discipline, potty training and adding a second baby to your family. Sarah’s latest book (The Starting School Book) looks at how to choose, prepare for and settle your child at school.


The Starting School Book is a reassuring and practical guide for parents of school-age children. It provides clear and helpful advice for each stage of the process, whether your are just beginning to think about your child’s education, applying for a school place, preparing your child for starting at the school you have chosen, or your child has already started school and you would like to help smooth the transition. But here we are going to focus on you! And how you can prepare yourself for your child starting school.


When writing the book Sarah spoke to hundreds of teachers and asked them what advice they had for parents of new school starters. The book contains loads of advice but here is just a small extract.


…on school readiness

‘I think parents understanding what ‘school readiness’ really means is so important. It doesn’t mean teaching children how to read or write before they are ready. It’s about making sure they can dress themselves (it’s not uncommon to end up with a ten-minute PE lesson, because the rest of the session is taken up with helping children dress and undress) and being interested in the world around them.’


. . . on practical preparations and purchases

‘Don’t buy lots of expensive brands to dress your children in. They will – and should – get messy at school! This means they are learning and exploring.’


. . . on children’s emotions, settling in and making friends

‘I wish that parents knew how important it was to celebrate their child’s independence. It is such a huge milestone for parents when their child starts school and I completely understand their fear of them growing up too quickly. Combat your feelings by smothering them with cuddles and kisses at home, rather than waiting until you’re in the playground. When they are inside the school grounds, encourage them to walk in and to carry their own posses-sions and hang their own things on their peg; please don’t be tempted to follow them in and do it for them. If they can be a little bit independent at the start of the school day, they will get on so much better at school and find it much easier and more enjoyable. I know it’s hard, but letting them own their independence really does set them up well for life.’


. . . on expectations and communication with parents moving forward

‘I would love parents to know that communication and openness are vital to securing a good relationship with your child’s school. Talk things through instead of worrying about them and don’t let things trouble you. A problem shared is a problem halved! Children will feel supported and loved by everyone if we work as a team and have the same goals and expectations for them.’


. . . on their own feelings

‘I wish parents knew that on the first day of the school year, we are often really nervous too. Most teachers I know wake up multiple times the night before meeting all the new kids and parents from nerves/excitement. It’s like starting a brand-new job every year (but we wouldn’t change it for the world).’


If you’d like to read more of Sarah’s advice (and more from teachers and parents) then pick up The Starting School Book at any good bookshop.