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How to prepare your child for "big school".

Going to Grade 1 is an adjustment for both child and parent. Here’s how to prepare and adapt.

The first day of Grade 1 can be traumatic: shaking bodies, sweaty palms and plenty of tears – and those are just the parents!

Some children are able to say goodbye at the school gate and walk to class with confidence. For others, it can be an anxious time at a place that is far removed from their family and friends.

Anything new is scary, even for adults and more so for children. Claudia Abelheim, an educational psychologist with Family Life Centre in Joburg, offers advice on how parents can make the transition to “big school” easier for their little ones.


1. Talk about their fears

Find out what scares your child when they think about the first day at school. “This will be a very big change for them, and with change always comes a bit of anxiety,” Claudia says.

“Help your child to understand what they’re anxious about, and that their nervousness is absolutely normal. You can say something like: ‘Everyone will be nervous on the first day. It’s okay to feel like that’.”

2. Tell them what to expect

Knowing what will happen when they get to school and what to expect can lessen the fear of the unknown, especially for young children. Some primary schools arrange to have parents take their children to their classrooms and help settle them in.

“If this is the case, be sure to tell your child you will be there with them for a little while,” Claudia says. You could also plan fun things to do with your child after school or the first week to celebrate the beginning of “big school”.

“This can help turn something that is scary into something that’s exciting and fun,” she adds.

3. Prepare beforehand

Make sure your child is organized the night before school starts. Help them to put out their uniform and pack their schoolbag and lunch the next morning.

Talk to them about what will happen in the morning and try to keep their old routine in place as much as possible, even as you start a new one. “Children feel safer with stability and consistency. Your child will feel calmer about all the new changes that are taking place,” Claudia explains.

4. Do trial runs

Visiting the school with your child beforehand or teaching them how to use public transport is important. This helps ease any anxieties and allows your child to ask questions about the new environment.