Preparing for the first day of school
Whether your child is entering international kindergarten or a local school, they are moving into a transformative and important time in their educational lives. A child’s first day of school can be emotional in more ways than one. The child might be crying, the parent may be emotional, and the whole process can seem daunting or overwhelming.
Rae Lang, Deputy Head of International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP, www.issp.edu.vn)—the only early years and elementary school in Vietnam fully accredited by both CIS & NEASC— says parents’ concerns are often in regards to the school curriculum, qualifications of teachers, safeguarding of the children, is the school right for a child, and will my child be happy here. While these are all valid questions, she says a child’s first teacher is their parent and a child’s education begins at birth. Parents can help ease the transition by having a positive attitude and being enthusiastic about the upcoming change—if you are excited and confident, your child will be too. Encourage the whole family to have a positive outlook, to ensure the child’s start is as smooth as possible. Rae answers some common questions parents ask, as they prepare to send their child to early years school for the first time.
As parents, how can I emotionally prepare my child for their first day at school?
The best way to prepare your child is to reassure them and talk to them about what the first day may be like. Reassure them that you will be there to pick them up when the school day is over, even go to the school prior to the start day and show them where you will wait for them, said Rae. She also recommends if it is possible, for the child to meet their new teacher and class, prior to beginning school. This will help the child to understand and may lessen anxiety. Constant reassurance is key, Rae believes.
Are children who go to early years more ready for kindergarten?
Children who are exposed to an engaging environment where there is plenty of opportunities for social activities, rich oral language, time for exploration and interactive experiences such as taking visits to parks, outdoor playground or zoos, will be ready for kindergarten. This may be in the home environment or an Early Years schooling environment, said Rae. Starting a new school is an anxious time and can feel stressful, she said, and it can happen at any age. In most cases, children begin to feel more comfortable in the new environment within a few days, however every child experiences change differently and must be allowed the time to settle in.
There is often confusion about what age is right to start a child at school. What would you recommend?
Children are naturally curious and are full of wonder. An environment where the child is stimulated, encouraged to develop their curiosity, independence, ask questions, explore and engage in rich conversations—either at home or in a school environment, that is what is important. A strong oral language environment supports the academics; reading, writing, maths, science, but also through conversations and interactions the social and emotional side is developed such as: co-operation, listening, turn- taking, and negotiation skills.
At home, parents can encourage independence and responsibility by allowing the child to eat by themselves, dress themselves, pack their own bag, make their own bed, or be responsible for tidying up their room.
Is there a set of skills that a child should know before entering international early years & elementary school?
Not necessarily. One of the most important things children learn in our school is character, Rae said. In ISSP, a child is given many opportunities to build their character. Opportunities are infused into the curriculum to develop the soft skills of friendship, perseverance, resilience, leadership, responsibility, and co-operation.
Years ago, it was more common for children to enter kindergarten without receiving an early years education. With the abundance of good early literacy materials, and a variety of early years schooling, children can enter school with a basic understanding of letters, sounds, pre-reading, pre-writing and number skills These are important foundation skills, and sit alongside the soft skills of character development. Together these prepare the child to enter school.
How can I tell if my child is happy in school?
When your child arrives home ask them how their day went. What was something funny that happened at school? What did you do at recess time? Tell me something new you learnt or got better at. Was there something you found difficult to learn, and how can we make it easier for you to understand it? From these questions, you will be able to fathom how your child is feeling about school. If they are able to answer, engage in the conversation with you, then they are most likely enjoying being at school. Spending time talking with your child about their school day, will give you an insight. If you have any concerns I encourage parents to speak with their child’s teacher.
What are other signs that my child is not thriving in school?
All children are different and express themselves differently. As a parent you will be know your child and be able to notice anything unusual, or slightly out of character. If the child is anxious to go back, or if you have any concerns, it is important to keep an open line of communication with your teacher.
At International School Saigon Pearl, we believe in building strong relationships with the child, parents and community. Having strong communication is part of building that relationship and trust. If you have questions, talk to the teacher, Rae said.
My family speaks a language other than English at home. Is this good for the child?
In Vietnam, families often place their children in a Vietnamese- speaking daycare. When they enter an International School, it is generally their first time being exposed to an all English-speaking environment.
At ISSP we believe the Mother Tongue is important. Children who have a strong mother tongue often transfer the skills from the mother tongue into English.
However, language acquisition takes time, and it is important we are realistic and manage our expectations around the rate of language acquisition. After 3 months, your child may not have English, but they would have grown their English vocabulary, have a better understanding of the spoken language, and may be trying to use words or phrases.
Giving your child opportunities to practice their English in a supportive environment, praising them for their attempts and any small successes, will give them confidence to keep learning and using the new language. A school with a strong English as Additional Language program will be able to support you and your child, as they develop their English levels.
What can I do to help my child succeed in their early education?
Parents need to be positive about school, Rae said. Children thrive on routine, and a schedule at home is extremely important. Making sure the child has a good night’s sleep and eats well at home is crucial. She urges parents to relay to their child how much they loved school. Making negative comments about school, even if it’s just a complaint about waking up early, can have negative effects on the child’s outlook. Negativity breeds negativity, while positivity breeds success.
Text and Images Provided by ISSP