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December 2008

Coping with your child’s first day at school

Londonderry principal Maureen Smith says that it’s essential for parents to share in their child’s joy and enthusiasm for starting school. If you have a child or children due to start at primary next June, then you may find Maureen’s advice useful…

Good preparation for your child’s first day at school is extremely important and will hopefully, relieve the pressure so often associated with this transition period.

At Cumber Claudy Primary School, we run a three-week induction programme in May and June. Children are invited into school for an hour each week to meet their new teacher, classroom assistant and peers as well as become familiar with the setting and enjoy curricular activities, for example, indoor/outdoor play, music, art/craft, stories and so on. At the same time, information sessions are organised for parents on topics such as the Revised Curriculum at the foundation stage; the importance of reading, speech and language development in young children and/or the role of the school nurse in early education.

Hopefully, the induction process will be a positive experience for you and your child which will take any anxiety out of their first day at school in September. Children look forward to coming to school to meet their new friends and the prospect of wearing a uniform is so “grown up”!

Remember that young children are very impressionable and can be easily influenced by messages transmitted by parents, friends, older siblings and so on.

Share your child’s excitement and enthusiasm for learning. Prepare him for coming into primary one – read stories about going to school, new experiences and make links with your preferred primary school.

If you personally had a good primary school experience, then share this with your child, perhaps by talking to him or her about your memories or showing some of your photographs.

If, however, you didn’t have a particularly positive primary school experience, then please don’t pass this on to your child! Instead, use this opportunity to become actively involved in your child’s school where hopefully, the learning experiences will reflect the child’s interests through practical and informal activities. These experiences should be enjoyable and challenging, should motivate your child and encourage positive attitudes to school and learning.


By now, the Revised Curriculum should be well embedded in most primary one classrooms which means that your child will be taught through play-based learning themes. Links will be made between all curriculum areas:
language and literacy
maths and numeracy
the arts
personal development for mutual understanding
physical development
the world around us

In this way, the children are encouraged to become actively involved in the learning process.

Whatever your personal experiences of school, you should expect a child-centred approach for your little one which should develop his confidence, self-esteem and independence. The key learning and teaching tool for your child will be play – a child’s work!

Through play, he’ll discover, explore, investigate and learn about the world in which he lives, and be aware, this invariably means getting messy! Plastic aprons, cover-up sheets, wellies, patience and understanding will all be integral ingredients of what primary one is about and will greatly enhance your child’s learning experiences. They will regularly be involved in sand play, water play, painting, cutting/sticking, digging and so on. And this will start right from the very first day!


As soon as your child sets foot in primary one, ‘learning for life’ begins. Cries of ‘It’s mine’, ‘He won’t let me play’ and ‘I’m not playing any more’ are often heard from young children. Learning to share and co-operate with others is important; providing opportunities where your child can socialise with others will hopefully, ease the transition to school routine.

It would also be helpful if you could encourage your child to finish and tidy up one play activity before moving on to the next – not easy, I know.

What else to expect:

Your child may become overwhelmed and/or quite upset on coming to school for the first time. On most occasions, a quick but reassuring exit is best as the child normally settles very quickly. (A phone call to the school later will reassure you without prolonging the agony!)

Some children may demand a lot of attention as they relate many stories of what has happened at school. Listening to your child is so interesting and rewarding at such an important stage in their development

A warm, welcoming environment. This is the first day of what will hopefully become a very strong partnership between the child, the parents and the teacher.

This may well be an emotional day for some parents. Feelings of redundancy are quite normal as you watch your fledgling leave the nest! A cup of tea in the staffroom and the chance to have a chat with other parents who may be feeling just as miserable as you are is certainly to be welcomed!

Do expect a very tired child by the end of the day!

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