Starting School in the Mercy

The First Day

Your child may be anxious about what to expect on the first day at school. If so, one way of helping them is to talk through their fears.

  • Explain where they’ll be going, what they’ll be doing and for how long.

Answer questions and iron out any fears by asking what they think the school might be like. Emphasise the things they may enjoy doing e.g playtime, art, learning read and write, PE and singing

Don’t dismiss your child’s fears – things that seem obvious or silly to an adult can seem like terrible obstacles to a five year old.


Building on practical skills

If children have a good idea of what school is going to be like and have already experienced learning activities at home and in other settings, they’re less likely to find the experience stressful.

Games, role-plays and reading at home can help your child get into the right frame of mind and boost their confidence.

Activities for your child could include:

  • playing games that involve taking turns or speaking in front of a group
  • playing with children of a similar age to develop social skills
  • reading books about starting school
  • using your child’s favourite toys to role-play going to school
  • painting and drawing, which involve sitting down for short periods of time


In the weeks before school starts

In the run-up to the first day of term you could:

  • involve your child in choosing things they need for school like school bags or uniforms
  • visit the school with your child so they become familiar with the building and the local area
  • establish a routine and discuss what might be happening at school at different times of the day


After the first day

If your child has been to a preschool they will have had some preparation for primary school and so their transition may be smooth. However, they might still find their initial weeks a period of change and stress.

Your child may be more tired than usual and need time to relax. You may find that rather than becoming more ‘grown up’, they may regress or become more difficult or defiant, in response to the stress of a new routine.

Your child may also have concerns about making friends or be more withdrawn than usual.


What you can do

In order to provide support or help your child through what can sometimes be a difficult first phase, it may help to:

  • set aside time with your child to talk about school and take an interest in what they have been doing
  • listen carefully to any worries your child might have
  • find out as much as possible about your child’s school and what happens there during the day
  • try to keep a regular routine at home to keep stress to a minimum
  • make sure your child knows what is happening on a day-to-day basis and is informed in advance about any changes to their routine
  • encourage your child to build friendships with children in their class
  • keep positive as some problems may be resolved as your child adapts to a new way of life

If you cannot sort out problems your child has by talking to them, you may find it useful to talk to your child’s teacher about your concerns.


Developing reading and writing skills for under fives

In order to make a good start in reading and writing, your child needs you to talk and listen to them. This helps them hear how language is put together into sentences and prepares them to become readers and writers.


Learning in everyday life

Whether you’re at home, on the bus, in the shops or at the doctors surgery, there are countless opportunities to help your child to learn. You can do this by talking with them and reading together, plus there are fun ways to develop their writing skills too.


Reading together

Reading stories with your child, if only for 10 minutes a day, helps build important skills as well as capturing your child’s interest in books. Books are a rich source of information for your child as they contain words you might not use in everyday conversations. From their earliest days babies enjoy listening to stories and looking at books.

To help your child become a lifelong reader you can:

  • spend a few minutes a day telling stories and reading together, and make it fun by choosing books you both enjoy
  • talk about the pictures and characters in the books and make up your own stories
  • read as you walk down the street and round the shops, pointing out signs and words and talking about them
  • buy books as presents and join a local library


Learning about letters

As children grow older they begin to understand more about the sounds of our language and can join in with rhymes, songs and stories. Over time this will help your child develop an understanding that words are made up of different sounds. Soon they will be able to hear these different sounds in words.

Gradually they will learn to match sounds to letters. They use this knowledge when they are reading and writing. To help this learning process you can:

  • sing nursery rhymes and songs together, sometimes pointing to the words in a book
  • play games with sounds, making up silly words that all begin with the same sound (for example the first sound in their name)
  • get your child to spot letters they recognise in words (for example the first letter of their name)
  • look at brochures and catalogues together, pointing out words printed in bold or with unusual fonts
  • play ‘I spy’, as children get older, to help them listen to the sounds different words begin with


Developing mark-making and early writing skills

Your child will notice adults around them reading and writing and they will want to copy them. From a young age children enjoy experimenting with making marks. The more opportunities your child has to develop large and small movement in their arms, hands and fingers, the better. This will make it easier to make marks with a variety of tools. You can help your child by:

  • doing activities like digging, ‘painting’ outdoor surfaces with water and a large brush, sweeping and swishing a scarf through the air in different shapes
  • hanging out the washing, using a peg board and picking up grains of rice with fingers, which all help develop the grip needed for writing
  • helping them to make marks on paper with their fingers, brushes and crayons
  • helping them write labels, birthday cards and invitations

Going to Primary School Leaflet from Early Childhood Ireland