Brookham headteacher offers some insightful and handy top tips for starting school and hints for a smoother first step on a child’s educational journey.
Hundreds of thousands of children started school in September. Hundreds of thousands of children will start school again next September. And a great many more will experience school for the very first time at various points in between.
This can be an exciting, if somewhat daunting, period. But a child’s first experience of school is important and it’s in everyone’s interests to ensure that the transition is as smooth and positive as possible.
Sophie Baber, Headteacher of Brookham School in Liphook, Hampshire, has shared her seven simple steps to help your child approach school with a spring in their step:
Top Tips for Starting School
1) Go for a family day out
You need to give your child the confidence and courage to face this new environment. Schools are busy places, filled with the constant hum and energy of young children voraciously learning. For some this will feel very daunting, particularly if they have never left your side. So, for those that have not attended a nursery, make sure you are providing them with the experience of being in busy, child-friendly places. This is a great excuse for a day out to your local soft-play centre or family attraction.
2) Ask Granny and Grandad to babysit
In this instance, the children are developing the ability to separate from their parents, while you have a day to sew name tags onto their new school uniform.
3) Arrange a home visit with school
Schools will often enquire if teachers can visit your child at home. These home visits are a wonderful opportunity for children to get to know their new teachers in an environment where they feel confident and relaxed. Equally important for the teacher, they help give a real understanding into your little one’s interests.
4) Have a play date
Another key ingredient to settling a four-year-old is developing friendships. If you know some of the other children who will be attending the same school, use the summer holidays to hold regular playdates. Reach out to new families and consider making the most of the beautiful British summer to hold picnics in your local park.
5) Challenge them
No matter what the subject, there is one key ingredient that will allow your child to be successful – courage. In order to develop this attribute, you need to challenge your child. Your little one is at the very start of their educational journey. They are not supposed to know all the answers, so don’t take away the joy of learning by removing the obstacles. Children are like scientists, they come up with a theory and they test it out. When nothing goes as planned, they try again and keep on trying. They are resilient learners who adapt as they learn. This is so important for their success at school and in the future. It is the process, not the answer, that will create courageous and efficacious learners. Challenge can be developed everywhere. Encourage your child to climb, jump, whizz and skip around the playground without your support.
6) Question them
Listen to your child when they explain what they have been up to. Really listen, stop what you are doing for five minutes and give them your complete undivided attention. Learn the beauty of the phrases, ‘I wonder…’ and ‘Have another go’ to extend their learning. Then set them off to happily make mistakes all over again.
7) Teach them to listen
Summer is a wonderful time to practice listening. Lying in the garden listening to the bees buzzing and the birds singing is a lovely way to encourage a young child to practice sound discrimination. This skill will, in turn, help a child learn the units of sounds in words as their auditory discrimination becomes more finely tuned.
Mrs Baber said: “Starting school for the very first time can be an incredibly daunting and scary process for a young child, so we try to make the transition from home to school as smooth and painless as possible.
“Some children take to school and their new environment like a duck to water, others need a little bit more time and reassurance before they settle fully into their new, and hopefully exciting, routine. And parents themselves can play a big part in helping their child feel safe, secure and happy in their new school.”
More About Brookham School
Mrs Baber, who has been the highly-respected headteacher at Brookham School – the pre-prep school for Highfield – for the past six years, certainly speaks from a position of experience and quiet authority which has earned her a huge amount of respect and admiration during her time at Brookham.
And such is the regard in which Brookham itself is held that it currently boasts its highest number of young pupils since its inception in 1992. To meet the ever-growing demand, two existing rooms have been renovated to create a large new nursery room with its own dedicated garden. The refurbishment ensures that class sizes don’t increase and that staff-to-child ratios remain low.
As far as education goes, Brookham’s ethos is simple – if it doesn’t benefit the children, they don’t do it. Meta-cognition is at the heart of the educational approach, raising awareness of a child’s own thought process as they discover how to learn effectively, a skill that will stay with them on every step of their learning journey. And the school never rests on its laurels, it is always looking at ways in which it can make its teaching more effective. Like the children, the school is always learning too.
One key area of success is language, with teachers never dumbing down language and using it to challenge children to really think and spark their imaginations with simple but highly-effective phrases such as ‘I wonder…’ and ‘tell me more…’. The result is vibrant classrooms, a truly healthy sign of learning.
Brookham has long championed its extensive Forest School and child-initiated learning to build independent thinking and develop future skills, but the school is constantly looking to evolve and provide new opportunities for its children. As a result, there’s time in every lesson for children to demonstrate their independence, to give voice to their inner curiosities and not simply accept what is told to them. They are encouraged to think, asking ‘why?’, ‘how?’, ‘what for?’.
And a wonderful ‘playground pals’ scheme was introduced when the children returned to school in March in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Empowered with a sense of responsibility these children have been learning lifelong values of empathy, care and reflection as they lookout for their classmates at break times.
Find out more about Highfield and Brookham Schools.