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"My son's first day of school didn't go as I expected."

Unlike many other parents I know, I wasn’t nervous when it came time for my little one to start school.

My son is a naturally confident child and was looking forward to the big day. In fact, throughout the summer holidays, he tried on his uniform almost every day. He wished away the holidays wanting so badly to be in the classroom, so I didn’t expect any nervousness or tears.

When we arrived at school he was noticeably nervous. He clung to my leg and asked to be picked up. He buried his head under my arm and asked to go home. When the time came to go in to the classroom, I had to carry him just to get him through the door, and then he erupted in tears, begging to come home with me.

As I walked away, I felt sad that he was sad, but was also struck by the realisation that it had been many years since my little boy had cried because he wanted me. Was this the last moment he will cry for me? The second day came with the same clingy behaviour, but he bravely fought back his tears.

Now, in Term 4, every school day is fun and exciting. And, while my boy still remembers how hard it was in the beginning, his greatest memory is how brave he was and he is proud of himself for getting through it.

One of the reasons I believe that he (and I!) got through this traumatic time is the excellent orientation process at his school, which involved many visits to the school throughout Term 4. He got to experience bringing in a lunchbox (a new task as a kindy student), and was able to ask questions about what his new classroom would be like.

"When we arrived at school he was noticeably nervous." Image: iStock.

I particularly enjoyed the information evening for parents of new school students that gave me tips and tricks that I hadn’t even thought of – everything from ensuring your child could open his snack packets, to teaching your child how to lock and unlock a toilet cubicle on their own! The process helped both of us anticipate and handle the new emotions and activities encountered in the start of kindy.

One of the most heart wrenching and unexpected experiences my son and I faced at the start of the school year was the social divide in his class. The school that he attends is connected to an Early Learning Centre meaning many of the children in the class knew one another from their days spent at ELC.

My son was the only new boy in his class and, as such, was often excluded in the beginning as the other children got to know him. It was an emotional time for the both of us and my heart broke every time he asked me why the other kids didn’t play with him. Luckily, I had the help of the lovely mothers I met along the way who helped me organise play-dates that enabled my son to create friendships with his classmates.

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Unfortunately, not all parents are as fortunate as I was to meet fellow parents at my son’s school. Today’s parents are so time poor that most aren’t able to linger on school grounds and get to know other parents and their child’s teacher.

However, it’s these relationships that are critical when it comes to how your child will experience school. Involved parents make a real difference to their child’s schooling experience, and being able to contact the teacher with questions, or contact other parents to help foster friendships for your child are key.

Once they make friends the only way it can go is up. Image: iStock.

Kindergarten is an exciting milestone, and I think parents want it to become a happy memory for their child. My biggest piece of advice following my experience is to expect the unexpected! Even the most confident child can crumble on that first day.

Also, be sure to attend any and, if possible, all of the orientation events that the school hosts. Take in all the information, even if you feel it’s not relevant for your child. Observe who your child plays with at orientation – and seek out that child’s parents for play-dates over the Summer break. If you’re not confident in approaching other parents, try networking tools. The secure social media platform schoolparents.com.au allows you to sign up for free and connect directly with parents based on the school your child attends.

Ultimately, how your child enjoys school can come down to friendships, and if they look forward to seeing particular children each day, and have someone to play with at recess and lunch it can make the world of difference to their confidence. Knowing other parents also helps you to keep up to date with school events and information. The last thing you want to do is forget about a mufti day or special event while your child is still trying to settle in!

Although the first day of school didn’t go as I expected, it’s actually a lovely memory for me. My son and I were incredibly close on that day and I was able to reassure him and help him to feel the pride in himself at handling such a huge milestone.

Kate Sanchez is a digital entrepreneur and co-founder of schoolparents.com.au, the first and only secure, parent-only online social networking platform that makes it easy for mums and dads with children in childcare, primary and high school to meet and communicate with one another. She is also mother to three beautiful children; six-year-old Austin, four-year-old Talia and two-year-old Scarlett. 

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