The start of grade one brought a gradual realization for Olivia White: no more twice-weekly playgroups or visits to the skating rink. For months, she clung to her mom in the schoolyard. “All she could think about was what she was missing,” says her mom, Tracy White, of Carleton Place, Ont. In January, White suggested her daughter list good things about school. A week later, Olivia marched into class without a fuss. “She was able to see that just because grade one involved more work and less play, it wasn’t all bad,” says White.
Along with new routines, a different teacher and more rigorous academics, transitioning to grade one brings other challenges — from navigating recess to sitting still five full days a week. Help your child stride past common hurdles with tips from two veteran educators.
Plan for crankiness The shift from play-based kindergarten programming to paper-and-pencil work takes enormous effort. “Those first days, parents should know they are receiving home a child who has used up all their good, sweet energy in the classroom,” says Elizabeth Morley, principal of the Institute of Child Study Laboratory School at the University of Toronto. Offer an active kid a sports activity to release energy; a quiet child may prefer reading with you.
Monitor sleep First graders need lots of energy, especially for the first term. Children who go to bed late, rise early or are overbooked with activities may be too spent to follow instructions or engage well in classroom activities.
Help him get organized Kelly Blair of Bridgewater Elementary School in Bridgewater, NS, a 28-year teaching veteran, sees plenty of first graders get frustrated when they can’t find what they need in their messy desks. Train your child to put away his stuff, ideally in the same spot. “Never do for your child what he is capable of doing for himself,” says Blair. “Have him pick up his coat or toys — it develops responsibility and helps a child feel confident.”
Model recess success While kindergartners are used to cavorting in a designated play zone, first graders face an array of options — and classmates who may be becoming choosier socially. Arrange playdates and talk about building friendships so your child has the skills to feel included in the schoolyard social scene. Pay attention to unhappiness: Some schools will help by arranging for recess buddies. (If your child is nervous about taking the school bus, you can request that he be allowed to sit near the driver or with a bus buddy.)
Pack a test-driven lunch There’s no more important year for your child to be well nourished, so get her buy-in on a handful of healthy food combos. Make sure she can open containers and eat what’s packed in the allotted time.
Rev those fine-motor skills Blair also sees children who can blaze through video games, but struggle to hold a pencil and complete seat work. “Give them lots of play exposure with crayons, lacing activities or Lego — anything that requires that pincer movement,” she says.