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Making that transition to primary school
by Fiona Walker

Life is all about change. As the saying goes "Change is the only constant". This is true of many things in life and especially our educational journey. Just when we become very comfortable in one stage we get bundled off to the next.

How children handle these transitions will vary greatly child to child. However a number of factors will affect a child’s ability to manage change and if you are aware of these factors you can support your child as they move along from one stage to the next.

Firstly, your attitude will greatly impact your child’s attitude towards the new school. You must be confident this is a positive move for your child, and one that with support he is ready for. If you are shaky about the decision your child will pick that up and lose faith in the belief that she will be just fine there.

Before choosing a school for your child ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the teachers’ experience and qualifications?
  • How important is the child’s social and emotional development as opposed to the more academic development?
  • How does the preschool ensure the children are prepared for Primary One?
  •  How does the school deal with children testing boundaries and conflict? This is a normal aspect of young children’s development but it is important that you agree with the schools approach to discipline.
  • How does the school ensure safety during pick-up times, outdoor play and field trips?
  • How well is the curriculum suited to meet individual learning styles and personalities?
  • How involved are parents? What channels of communication between home and school are encouraged?
  • What is the overall philosophy of the school and, most importantly, do you agree with it?

Secondly, we must remember we are the sum of all our experiences. Children too, will face a new situation with the knowledge and experience gained from previous activities, experiences and feelings. The more positive experiences your child has had outside of the home and away from immediate family the more confident they will be when faced with a new environment and people. By enabling our children to attend activities they enjoy and arranging social play-dates and sleepovers we build up their confidence in managing in unfamiliar situations.

More than academic learning it is the life skills of confidence, positive communication, high self esteem, problem solving and creative thinking that children need to make a success of new situations. As parents we can help children develop these skills by developing trusting bonds, playing with them, enabling them to play with peers, modelling positive discipline at home, by reading together and listening to their ideas and thoughts.

Thirdly, the most important factor we must consider when our children make the transition from a very familiar setting to a new and perhaps daunting environment is their own character. Some children take on the new challenge with enthusiasm and hardly a backward glance, others will need a longer time to warm-up and may require more support and understanding from you, and their teachers before they are really comfortable in their new school.

I have known this for many years as I have worked closely with parents, children and teachers as we welcome children into Nursery One and prepare our Kindergarten Two children for Primary School. This January I experienced it on a very personal level as my son joined Primary School and my daughter started Nursery One. Even though my son is older he is the more sensitive child and needed me to be there to wave goodbye each morning as he followed his new teacher and classmates into his new class. My daughter, a tougher cookie, would love to sleep in her uniform and demands to know why we can’t go to school on Saturday and Sunday!!

We can’t shelter our children from the changes they will inevitably face but we can give them the skills and support they need to face them head on, excited about the opportunities they bring.


This article was contributed by Fiona Walker, Principal Director of Julia Gabriel Centre for Learning & Chiltern House.

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