Starting school is a momentous occasion for a child – and for their parents. Like us, most schools have an annual programme of activities to prepare children who are due to join them in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). With information evenings for parents, meetings with the children’s previous nursery or pre-school and home visits for new starters, everyone is more than ready for the big day.
However, things are very different this year.
We’re all having to adapt to new ways of working during the pandemic, and schools are no exception. But making sure children settle into their new school while Covid-19 is still a threat calls for a large dose of creativity and lateral thinking.
These are some approaches we are finding effective in organising our school transition this year.
Jo Cox, deputy head and Early Years lead at Willowbrook Primary School, shares her school’s ideas for welcoming new children to the foundation class while following social distancing guidelines.
1. A photo book of the school
Schools usually invite children to spend part of the day in their new class before they start for real. This time round, teachers are having to find different ways to give children a taste of their new surroundings, through photos and videos which bring the school to life.
Our school has produced a book of photos of every aspect of the school, accompanied by details of what happens there. These even include pictures of the school guinea pigs, and the chickens which lay the eggs we use in our cookery projects.
Each book is sent out to the child with a personal letter saying how excited we are to have them joining us.
2. Activities in the great outdoors
While visits to the classroom have not always been possible this year for the new starters, schools have been organising activities to give children a feel for the outside areas of the school.
This approach has worked well for us, with socially distanced gatherings in the school field for the families. Children bring a special toy with them, and they have the chance to meet their new teachers and classmates.
Some schools carry out home visits for their early years children, and these are warmly welcomed by parents. So, rather than cancelling them outright, we are going to do garden visits in the first week of next term. We’ll have a chat with the family in the front garden, or outside their home so children can get to know us a bit while they’re in their home environment.
3. Regular chats with parents
Instead of the traditional open evening to provide information to parents, schools are having to communicate differently, and it’s more important than ever to cover all the bases. Particularly as coronavirus has caused additional concerns for some families.
In our telephone calls with parents we talk through the child’s likes, dislikes, personalities and friendships.
While we still send information by email and post, parents have the opportunity to contact us directly with questions, worries or even just for a chat.
4. Calls with pre-school settings
Liaison between a child’s new school and their previous settings is very important when it comes to getting a picture of a child’s development.
In our case, we would usually visit these settings in person to get to know more about the child, and while we’re there we give the key workers a special story pack they can share with the child with details about our school day, lunchtimes and uniform.
This year, we’ve spoken to all nursery and pre-school keyworkers on the phone, received copies of any reports or assessments and sent the story packs to the children’s homes to look at with their families.
Even if children have had the opportunity to attend their nursery or pre-school post lockdown, it’s likely to have been on reduced hours which may have affected their readiness for school.
So when the early years children start in September, teaching staff will almost certainly find they are spending more time building social skills and nurturing friendships as well as preparing everyone to learn.
As time goes on, we will continue to find creative ways to help the children settle into their new school. But as long as we focus on their wellbeing, and create a safe and happy learning environment for them, starting school in 2020 should be just as exciting as any other year.