Bindu and Ajay Agarwal from Sarjapur Road have been on a shopping spree lately. Their only daughter Ritika, four is on her way to ‘Big School’ and the proud parents have been pampering her with brand new school goodies. But behind all the excitement, Bindu has a constant worry: Will Ritika be as happy in the sprawling school as she has been in the tiny four room nursery next door to her home?
Bindu’s troubles aren’t new. If the time has come to send the apple of your eye from the cosier, smaller environment of her playschool to a big school, you’ve probably had the same concerns too. With everything from the size of the classrooms to the sheer scale of the campus and number of children being larger than the child is used to, it is an entirely new experience for the child.
In Bengaluru, children usually make the transition from playschool to a bigger school at the age of three and half when they join nursery in a mainstream school. Some parents wait it out and enroll their child in Class 1, by when the child is five years plus. If some kids take to ‘big school’ like fish take to water, for others it takes weeks or even more than a month to settle in.
Whatever the age, the first step into an unknown environment can be as intimidating as it is exciting.
Dealing with anxieties
Child psychologist Vinita Shah who consults with Parivartan, a counselling organisation and some schools and students says the change to a big school can be a tad impersonal, because in a playschool everyone from the teacher to the security guard knows the child by name. "The fact that nobody knows her can result in a sense of loss. The child also thinks ‘will I be accepted, will I be able to cope’, as the rules and regulations in a school are very different," she adds.
These anxieties, according to Vinita, can manifest themselves in several ways like loss of appetite, bedwetting, etc. She advises parents to understand the child’s fears and anxieties and acknowledge them instead of brushing them away. "Smaller children cannot verbalise their anxieties and so they act it out. Parents should not be over anxious but watch out for the signs as well."
Making your child feel a sense of belonging to his new school is key. "When my child started nursery in a class with 20 other children, his constant refrain was nobody is my friend," says Srimoyi Chakraborty, who lives in Hebbal. She handled it by patiently explaining to him that since most of them were new in the class, it would take them a while to get to know each other and that the teachers here loved him as much as his old playschool teacher did. "It took a while but I stayed patient and gave him time. It worked."
According to Vinita, parents often get very anxious wondering whether their child will adjust to the school, and in the process pass it on the child. Avoid voicing your worries in front of your child, she suggests. "Even five-year-olds have the cognitive ability to understand."
Give your child the freedom to share and encourage them to talk about their experience at school. Instead of asking them how school was and whether they were able to understand what teacher said, ask how their day went and how they felt, says Vinita. "Give your child time to settle down and never compare. Each day, tell her something positive about the school," she says.
Early childhood consultant Meena Sivaraman based in Koramangala says eventually, most kids tend to thrive in school even if they take a while to settle in. "If your child is a quiet kid, talk to the teacher if need be and make them understand that the child may take more time to open up as compared to the others."
"Trust the school" suggests nursery teacher Swati Jain, who works in JP Nagar and has earlier taught in mainstream schools. She feels that parents tend to become over-anxious if the child takes a while to adjust in the new school. "Some children react to the routine and newness of a bigger school later and not in the initial days, when the structure is still is very loose." If the child reacts negatively later, parents shouldn’t blame the school immediately, and instead be patient and give the child time to adjust, she feels.
The Practical Stuff
In a regular school everything is time bound. Parents need to get children into a routine.
One important factor parents need to keep in mind before packing off kids to a bigger school is the need for a routine. Early childhood consultant Meena Sivaraman says parents need to make kids sleep at the right time so that they are able to wake up early, have their breakfast and go to school. "This is important because in a regular school everything is time bound," says Meena. Toilet training is important, especially for older kids. "Parents need to train the child in some basic needs, like toilet training, encouraging them to button their shirts, wear shoes on their own.
Gina Raisinghani’s daughter is dropped off at a daycare at Whitefield after school in the school bus. She says that it is extremely important for the parent to explain concepts of safety to the child and also find out from the daycare what their system of picking up children from the school bus is. Meena agrees. "The parents of any schoolgoing child need to have a ready checklist. This should include the school bus number, the route, the specified bus stop, pick up and drop timings, et cetera."