First day at school! 11 steps to a smooth start

big school

Big School?  Big Start!

As a former reception teacher I know that watching your little chicks make the transition to ‘big’ school is such a sea of mixed emotions.  On the one hand you’re as proud as proud can be, but at the same time leaving them on their first day at school is a big step and it’s one of the first steps towards independence.  It’s the first step to flying the nest!

And I know that mums in particular find this quite an emotional stage, particularly if the number of mums sobbing outside my classroom on day one is anything to go by.  So here are my thoughts on how to make that first day of school and beyond, as smooth a transition as possible, for everybody.

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11 steps to a smooth first day at school

Talk it through:

By now your child should have had some sort of induction and should have a fair idea about the environment in which he is going to.  It’s worth having a chat about his experience and what he remembers by saying things like “do you remember when you visited your new classroom…can you remember your teacher’s name?” etc.

Gently ask about what they are looking forward to most and whether there is anything that they’d like to know more about.  By asking the question in this way you’re really trying to ask what he is worried about without suggesting that he should be worried.  It tends to be practical things like where the loos are and where do they have lunch that tend to be the centres of anxiety.


Help your child to understand how long it is until the big day arrives by counting down the number of days or sleeps.   You could keep a chart if you wanted to.

Try not to overplay it:

Many kids are absolutely ready for that first day at school and raring to go so overplaying it can just increase anxiety or transfer your anxiety.  If your child is anxious, you need to keep positive and light and to downplay the experience.

Read a Story about starting school:

There are a number of really good story books about starting school.  Some children find it easier to talk about their feelings within the context of a story and this will give you a basis to ask about what they are looking forward to, can they remember where their peg is and so on.

Set the expectation:

Perhaps as you are reading the story, set the expectation that when you first go into the classroom that you will stay a couple of minutes and then you need to go so that he can get on with all the fun and then repeat the things that he is looking forward to.

Phrasing it like this is very positive and benefit led.

Label everything:

You should see a classroom by the end of the day, it looks like utter chaos… so label everything, perhaps even a couple of times.  Those sticky labels do come off water bottles (albeit perhaps with a bit of help from little fingers) so do keep a stash close at hand for a last minute repair.

Show your child what you are doing and why it is important that everything has a label.  Teaching your child to look after his or her possessions is really important and will pay off over the years if they can learn to take care of their gear.  Skills like putting socks inside his shoes or putting both his shoes together is really helpful.

Your child will also feel better if they know that you have everything under control.

Make it fun:

Choosing a new lunch box, having a fresh new uniform is all such fun and should be a very positive experience.

Make uniform easy to find:

It will help enormously if your child can get himself dressed and ready for school.  To help it is worth having all the uniform somewhere that’s within reach and that your child knows what is expected of him.

On the day:

Get up slightly earlier and leave yourself loads of time.  A stress-y start, complete with the fishwife shouting is best avoided so have everything ready and aim to leave the house earlier than usual.  Double check to make sure you have everything your child needs for that first day at school.

Be very positive and avoid saying anything out loud that might be worrying you or that might make your child anxious.  Stay calm even if the traffic is bad or it’s difficult to park.

Reiterate that you will stay a couple of minutes to make sure that he is settled and then you need to go so that they are ready for all the good things that the teacher has planned.

If you are feeling emotional this is your Oscar award-winning moment.  It’s important that you are calm and encouraging and stifle any tears.

If your child is tearful, be very supportive and positive, put everything in its place and then catch the teacher’s eye.  They are very experienced at this situation so give your child a big hug, more encouraging words and hand your child over to the teacher.  Then go.

This may sound harsh but in my experience the tears are short-lived and the teachers are great at creating diversionary tactics.  If your child continues to be upset then the school should call you.

Keep this level of organisation and positive energy going for a few weeks as your child may get emotional a couple of days in when they begin to get tired and the reality that this is a daily event settles in.

Early nights and simple suppers:

The first year at school is exhausting so make mealtimes easy by cooking things that you know your children will happily eat and bring your bedtime routine forward so that your children get lots of sleep.

Now You:

Do take some time out for yourself!  It’ll be no time before you’re back at the school gate for pick up!

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If you’ve got any experiences that you would like to share or that you’ve got any tips then do comment below!  We’d love to hear them.

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Wendy Shand
Wendy Shand

Wendy Shand is the founding director of Tots To Travel, mum of three, award winning mumpreneur, traveler, business enthusiast and author of ‘The Mother of Invention’.

Find me on: Web | Twitter

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