Back to school …
I remember as a child, looking forward to the long summer holidays, and being haunted by the “back to school” signs that appeared in the windows of the high street shops before we’d even broken up for school! If anything, this is even more a mark of the times today, where we have Christmas decorations in the shops in October and Easter eggs for sale on Boxing Day. I never appreciated that those three little words “back to school” would continue to have such significance for me as an adult too.
With a mixture of excitement and trepidation, for children, their parents and teachers, the long summer holidays are over at last and at The Elms we welcomed back our existing children together with 68 new faces (our largest new intake ever).
As I held the door open and greeted our returning children at the Elms Upper School, my Deputy doing the same at the Elms Lower School, most faces were smiling, many had tales of holiday adventures to share with me, and a few parents looked a little anxious as their child had moved to The Elms from another school, or moved up from the Lower School. It was a similar tale with younger pupils, and indeed our youngest pupils in our Nursery, some of whom had rarely been left without mum or dad for a whole day before. Despite the slower than usual start to a school day because of children learning new routines: where to line up, where their coat pegs is, where to put bags, where musical instruments are stored, where to sit in assembly and Chapel, the day had gone extremely well. Only two children had tears in the infants, and these children were soon getting on fine (once parents had been persuaded to leave them), which all in all isn’t a bad statistic for a school of more than 340 children. I don’t know how many parents, or indeed teachers, shed a tear that morning. Whether the loss of their children from the home environment to school, or the feeling of middle age creeping in as one’s youngest child enters Year 6 (I find myself in this category), or perhaps the tears were of joy as mum and dad skipped off into the car park – was it the cry of “freedom” I heard as the 4x4’s roared off down the drive?
I thought that I would share with parents a few essential tips for helping your child settle in in their new school, or new class, or new teacher. So here goes…
1) Routine, routine, routine! There is nothing more that causes worry with children than not being prepared for school. As parents we can help our children be prepared. Firstly at home, a good routine to get into is before bed, to put out the school bag for the next day, and get your children (with help for younger children) to go through the checklist of items needed. Teachers will have given older children a timetable in their homework diaries and all parents will soon receive a welcome letter from the class teacher. Some children benefit from having a timetable or visual planner at home reminding them of what kit is needed on each day: swimming kit on Mondays, violin on Wednesdays, spelling homework on Fridays, etc. Having the right kit on the right day helps children get off to a flying start. It is also a good way of encouraging children to check themselves and to start to take responsibility for organising themselves.
2) Independence! All children are capable of remarkable independence from an early age – especially at school. As parents, we tend to do things for our children that they can do for themselves –often because it seems easier or is quicker in the morning when we’re rushing to get to school. For younger children, make sure they can dress themselves and can change into PE kit. Practise this at home and encourage your children to lay out clothes / put them in a neat pile at the end of the day. This helps enormously with changing for PE at school. It’s always telling when children get changed for PE, which children have a go at dressing themselves and which children present themselves in front of the teacher with arms outstretched, waiting for someone to do it all for them. Even older children can be completely disorganised when changing for games. It’s amazing how many children take each other’s kit home on a Friday instead of their own, which usually surfaces on Monday, thanks to the name labels that mums (dads do email in and complain) stitch into the 152 items of the school kit.
Equally, in the mornings, children are quite capable, from the very start of school, of hanging their own bag and coat on their own peg. A quick good-bye kiss, encouragement for your child to join the class line, carrying their own belongings and following the teacher into the classroom is all that is needed. Prolonging the good-bye or insisting that you will make an exception for your child and enter the cloakroom with bag and coat, is not helping your child become independent.
3) Responsibility! At school, we are as much about teaching children to take responsibility as we are about teaching the subjects in the curriculum. All children make mistakes, do things wrong, forget to behave in a certain way from time to time, and school is a safe and secure place in which children can make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. My advice to parents is to let your children take responsibility by not making excuses for them. If a child in the juniors forgets to bring in their homework or forgets their swimming kit, it is their mistake and not their parents. If a child is given a warning for talking in assembly or failing to follow the school rules, it is their mistake, not the child next to them. The best way parents can help their children be responsible is to allow their children to understand that actions have consequences, and this is how we all learn.
4) Communication! At The Elms, we have many and varied methods of communication including texts, emails and of course the website. Infants have the reading diary and juniors have the homework diary. Education is a tripartite process, involving the school, the parent and the child. Do find time to build up a relationship with your child’s teacher, giving positive comments as well as raising concerns. Do realise the best time to speak with your child’s teach is probably not first thing in the morning when they are getting ready to receive the class, unless it’s a quick message about the end of day arrangements or to let them know your child has been upset for some reason. The end of the day is always best. If in doubt, email you child’s class teacher (allow 24 hours for a reply) or email the school office / speak to Mrs Christie (Lower School) or Mrs Cullen (Upper School). I always encourage parents to raise any concerns early on and not to save up worries until they have become pressing. Most issues are resolved quickly and easily by having a polite word with the class teacher.
I remember when I first started teaching, being given the advice “Don’t smile until Christmas”. What was meant by this was one needed to set out one’s stall with the children very clearly in the first few weeks of term to ensure that the rest of the year went well. This is a very important truism in schools and The Elms is no exception. Over the coming weeks of a new school year, teachers and even Headmasters will be setting out our stall with the children. Your child may come home and tell you they have a strict teacher. That they were told off for talking when they shouldn’t be or that they had to practise walking down the path to assembly quietly. And yes, we’ll be doing all of these things to ensure that The Elms continues to enjoy an excellent reputation for our children’s behaviour, manners and self-discipline.
But I have to admit, I’ve never been very good at not smiling, so if your children look carefully, I’m sure they’ll see a smile creeping in before the term is out!