Your little one’s introduction to prep can seem equal parts anxiety-inducing and exciting – and it’s important to be prepared for a range of emotions from both yourself as parents and carers as well as from your child. Finding the right school for your family and being prepared to support your little one’s emotional needs can make the process much easier
than you may think.

Starting prep is not just about the first day of school, but rather setting your child up for a smooth transition from early learning to a life of education. Parents should work in partnership with their chosen school to make this big step much less daunting. According to the Victorian Education Department, “successful transition programs contribute to 60 per cent of student learning improvement in academic and social development”.

With this in mind, the school’s transition program is imperative to not only your little one’s adjustment into prep, but also their long-term academic outcomes. So be sure to attend information sessions and educate yourself on the school’s transition period and how it can assist your little one.

Finding the right fit

Choosing a school with a successful transition program offers families and schools the opportunity to get to know one another and brings the entire family on the journey from enrolment right through to the first year. It gives your child the chance to build relationships with teachers and peers, as well as feel comfortable, confident and supported in their new learning environment.

Common objections: “I don’t want to go to that school!”

Make sure your child has the chance to be heard. Get down on their level or bring them up to your level so you are eye-to-eye. Ask them what they are concerned about and reassure them that their feelings are valid rather than dismissing how they are feeling. It is likely they are worried about not knowing anyone or not fitting in, so you can comfort them by letting them know their classmates will be feeling the same way and will want to make new friends, too. You could also reassure them by explaining their pre-prep transition days will give them the chance to meet new friends.

The big day

Offer plenty of opportunities for communication prior to their first official day so your little one has a better understanding of what to expect. You can start to mention big school, school uniforms and how proud you are of them or involve school talk in playtime at home. The Queensland Government offer a ‘Starting School Game’, which is available to download online and includes games and information encouraging parents and kids to talk about starting school in a playful way. If you find your child is overwhelmed or worried about starting prep, this is a fun way to get them accustomed to the idea.

Common objections: “I want to stay home with you!”

It can be so difficult to see your little one upset at drop off, but reassuring them and being prepared for how they may react will help you to respond to the situation. Kids Matter recommends learning from other transition periods and tailoring an approach that suits your little one’s temperament. For example, think about a time your child experienced another transition period. What approach helped them through this stage? Use this experience and tailor it to this  situation.

Prep and beyond

Once your child is settled into prep, clear communication with the school is crucial for ongoing success. Schools see education as a partnership between schools and families and parents and carers are welcomed as members of the school community.

Primary to Secondary School – Are your children ready?

There is no doubt that the environment of a primary and secondary school traditionally are very different.
The classroom teacher in the primary school has always been the person to deliver or manage the educational needs of their students. They are multi-disciplined and can deliver and teach content from most subject areas, while in secondary school, teachers have been seen as masters of their subjects, often delivering content from one or two subject areas.

A local teacher with experience in both primary and secondary schools told us their story, recalling an interesting conversation in a secondary staffroom. The teacher had been teaching year six for about ten years and decided to teach year nine humanities. In this particular staffroom, the teachers prided themselves on mastering their disciplines.

“One by one the teachers were exclaiming ‘I teach history but my specialty is Ancient Greece,’ or ‘I teach maths and I’m an expert in trigonometry’. Eventually they turned to me and asked what I taught, and I replied ‘I teach students’.”

A significant difference has been how teachers viewed their role; in primary, teachers are very student focused – while in secondary, teachers can be very subject focused.

How are secondary schools different?

Secondary schools have changed significantly in the last ten years. Over time it has been realised that care to the individual must not be lost, particularly as students move from primary to secondary. Many schools have transition programs that include exposure to the routines of secondary school. Primary students will often spend time in secondary schools by shadowing year seven students for a day. Some schools even allow primary students access to the science labs available in secondary schools.

In order to manage transitions, there are mentoring programs both before and after students commence secondary school. Strong pastoral care programs have become a feature of transition programs, and parent meetings are held to explain communication channels as these are often quite different in secondary schools.

Teachers are often asked the question, “when is it the right time to begin the transition process for primary students?” To which the local teacher’s answer is, “no matter what age some students still struggle. The answer lies within the skills and attitude of the student”.

This teacher recently researched and wrote an educational framework for middle schooling (years five to nine) which included interviewing students. The most common concern of students moving from year six to year seven, especially when moving to a new school, was making friends. The students that coped the best were the students with high resilience, organisational and social skills. These cannot be taught overnight, but are lifelong skills and should be encouraged and nurtured both at home and school.

While schools can do a great deal to help students cope with the transition, parents can too.