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Starting school is a big step for all children and their families. While some confident boys and girls take change in their stride, sensitive kids need all the help they can get.
That’s why attending orientation days is very important and I encourage you to make them a priority in your calendar if your child is starting school next year.
Your child’s new school is likely to offer at least one designated orientation day where they invite you and your child to visit the school for a morning.
Of course, it can be a little nerve-wracking for first-timers, but don’t forget, even if you have older children who already attend the school and you feel that you know all you need to know, this is a new experience for your younger school starter.
Just like their older siblings, they deserve the chance to get familiar with their new school and to feel the excitement of finally being a ‘big school’ kid.
What happens on an Orientation Day?
Schools put a lot of thought and effort into orientation days.
Teachers want you and your child to have a fantastic first experience of school, and so your child’s orientation days will be deliberately designed to give your son or daughter a taste of the fun and success that lies ahead.
Every school has it’s own way of introducing new students and families to its community on its orientation day.
Typically, your child will spend time in the school’s Kindy, Prep or Reception classrooms, engage in group activities and perhaps meet children in Year 5 who could be their ‘buddies’ next year.
Many schools offer sessions for parents while the children are occupied, and this can be a good way to learn more about the school and meet other families.
Some schools have extensive transition programs that run over several weeks to give new students and their parents the opportunity to get to know the school and the people who are part of it.
This can be especially helpful if you have an anxious child who takes time to ‘warm up’ in new environments or you are new to the area and have yet to make connections with other kids and families.
The benefits of orientation days
Orientation days are helpful for a number of reasons. Obviously, they give your child a chance to meet prospective classmates and be in the classroom environment that they will be part of next year.
But perhaps less obviously, they give you the opportunity to see how your child interacts and copes with new people and places too.
If you are undecided about whether your child is ready to start school, an orientation day could provide you with helpful insights that could guide your decision making.
Despite what you might have heard, teachers typically don’t use orientation days for the purpose of educational assessments.
What they do use them for, however, is to get a general idea of group dynamics.
If your child’s orientation day experience highlights some areas for development, the good news is that you have time to support those skills before school begins.
What if one orientation day is not enough?
Some kids need more than just one orientation day, and you might find that the school is open to organising extra visits for you and your child.
In the term before he started school, my son joined the Kindergarten class for a couple of hours each fortnight and the familiarity it gave him made a world of difference when school began the following year.
Try to remember, though, that Orientation Day is not the day to bowl up to teachers or the principal and to engage in a deep and meaningful conversation about your child’s needs.
There could be as many as 100 other parents and children visiting on the same day and you will not get the attention or support of staff if you choose the wrong time and place to discuss these kinds of matters.
If you think your child is going to need more support than the orientation schedule provides for, make an appointment to chat with staff on another day when things aren’t quite so hectic.
We all want our relationships with our child’s new school and teachers to get off to a great start, so when you show sensitivity for busy teachers’ schedules, you’ll set the tone for positive interaction in the future.
And that’s exactly what your child needs, right?
Written by Sonja Walker
© 2018 Kids First Children’s Services
Is your child school ready?
The article above is an excerpt from SCHOOL READY: A practical and supportive guide for parents with sensitive kids by Kids First founder, teacher and best-selling author Sonja Walker.