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What REALLY happens on your child's first day of school? A teacher's step-by-step guide

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Back to school
It's officially back to school time, and we can bet that for little ones starting for the very first time, they won't be the only ones a tiny bit nervous.

It's a huge thing letting go of your child and watching them take those first steps into education and everything that goes along with it.

As a first day of school mum you'll have lots of thoughts running through your mind once your child has been dropped off with their new teacher. You might be wondering what they're doing and if they're okay, which is why we've enlisted the help of a primary school teacher to give us a glimpse into every child's first day of school.

We spoke to Jessica Conroy, a primary school teacher who has taught in both London and Scotland. With her experience in a variety of schools, she gives us an overview of exactly what sort of day your little one can expect.

Jessica says, 'This kind of planning is really typical of a first day, all of the teachers I've worked with have put together something like this for their classes too'.

Beginning of the day

Leaving your little one for the first time can be really difficult for both of you. There's bound to be some tears and possibly some tantrums to deal with, but Jessica says it's important to stay strong.

'The worst thing you can do is show them that you're having a wobble too. They are looking to you to reassure them that school is going to be really fun and not as scary as they are imagining it to be. Even the slightest doubt about that from you will make them distrust the environment that they are about to enter. You need to stay really strong and positive, constantly reaffirming how fun school will be.'

Jessica's biggest tip for getting them through the classroom door happily is to physically hand them over to their new teacher, who will be consciously making an effort to get them excited about their new classroom.

'To help your child feel that they are going into a safe, comfortable place it's helpful to establish straight away who their teacher is and make sure they know that their teacher is there to help them. Instead of dropping them off at the door and watching them walk in with anticipation, it's best to walk them over to the teacher and introduce them properly.

'For example say, "Hello Miss Conroy, this is Betty and she's really looking forward to playing today at school but is a little bit nervous". This gives the teacher a chance to introduce themselves back to your child, making that connection and reassuring them that they will have a great time.'

If your child is really struggling, don't worry, you can ask your teacher to keep you informed. Some teachers will send you a picture of your child once they are settled in if you need some reassurance, or if they continue to feel upset they will call you and you can pick them up after the first hour.



Mid-morning

This is the time to get the children introduced to each other and the classroom. Jessica says that she makes a particular effort to decorate the classroom before term time so that it looks more inviting for her new class on their first day.

She puts up welcome signs, bunting and decorations to give the feel of a celebration. She hopes this reminds the children in her class of other happy days that involve decorations such as birthdays, helping to give them a positive association. She walks the children around the classroom, showing them what each area is used for and will put different games in each corner of the room so that they can start playing straight away.

'For me the classroom environment is really important so I tend to pick a theme and go to town decorating before term starts each year. This year I have decorated the classroom with paper decorations in pastel colours and put cute touches on our storage areas with signs and bows'

Most Early Years Foundation class rooms will be set up with both sand and water play, table top games and painting or crafts areas so your child will be introduced to all of this and encouraged to get involved and make friends with the other children.

They will be shown where all the important things are such as where to hang coats and bags, where the toilets are and what to do if you need it. A lot of schools send an adult with your child to the toilet for the first few times to make sure they know where they are going.



Mid-afternoon

After lunchtime Jessica chooses an activity which will help the children feel at home and encourage them to get to know one another.

'I have designed our wall displays to be interactive and appropriate for the first day. For example, this year I have made 3D hot air balloons, each one representing a different month and these will show when each child's birthday is.

'Starting them on a crafty task like the hot air balloon birthday wall display is a nice way to make them feel at home. Once they have all made a little tag to say their birthday and put it in the balloon, it's a good way of introducing themselves to each other and feeling settled.'

Feeling comfortable and as though they belong is very important, and Jessica takes this really seriously as a teacher. She wants the children to feel like this is their classroom, so she also asks each of them to make a fun self-portrait with paper and pens. These will be made into a wall display and stuck up to show all of the children that belong to this class.

Although teachers can't force friendships, tasks like this will get children talking about themselves and who they are which will help those friendships develop. Other activities that teachers may do with children on the first day are group games that mean children have to work together and get to know each other and engage.



Finishing the day

The end of the day will often finish with a story or a song. By this point the children will be tired and may be feeling overwhelmed with such a big day, so gathering together and sitting on the floor to listen to a story is a nice way to finish off.



Jessica says that this pattern will probably continue throughout the week for your child, 'I tend to follow this kind of structure for the whole first week of school to get the new children in my class into a routine. I keep reminding them where to keep or find things that they need as they will forget, and keep encouraging them every morning when they arrive with lots of interactive and engaging games'.

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If you feel your child is struggling especially with school, don't hesitate to speak to your primary school teacher and talk through options that may help your little one feel more at home.

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