The first day at school, how we long for and dread it. It is a milestone that can hang like a millstone if not approached and prepared for in the right way. Though the day is tinged with sadness, the sadness of letting go, it is also a day of quite pride and joy, for is not life a going forward, a going away. And in letting them go freely, will they not return with greater freedom?

Your attitude is the one that counts. Batten down your tears and your fears and be confident, positive and quietly joyous. Don’t go overboard for that is as bewildering for your child as your tears. The preparation does not begin the day before. It begins at birth but for most conscious preparation begins around three.

Then you may decide to send your child to pre-school, to help soften the final blow of “big school”. But even for pre-school the preparation is much the same as big school though many of the desirable requirements may be undeveloped. During the year or years at pre-school, hopefully your child’s speech will have improved and developed.

Concentration, even to a small degree will have come along and the social and emotional experience of mixing, sharing and playing with children his/her own age, plus the separation from you will all have led to a greater independence in your child. This independence can also be achieved at home where you have consciously provided a stimulating and loving atmosphere.

Emotional and social maturity is so necessary for a happy start, so don’t take your child from a secluded home environment and expect him/her to settle into a strange and frightening environment without having been gently helped by previous experience.

Concentration and independence also come with opportunity and experience, but the biggest head start you can give is to wait until he/she is five. That way you are giving the child a chance to have the vital emotional maturity that is more necessary than any intellectual development. The latter will come with time, but started too young at four and your child may never recover from the experience. As one teacher wisely told me “Start at four and you struggle; Start at five and you swim.”

Remember most reception classes are from thirty to forty children and no matter how gifted or loving a teacher is, it is humanly impossible to give that one to one attention that such a child needs. The very numbers alone in the classroom alone can overwhelm him/her, not to mention the shock of the playground with a couple of hundred screaming, roaring and racing children. The toughest child can be overcome by such an unforgettable experience.

But given that your child is ready for school then there are a number of practical points to consider. First see that your child can attend to his/ her dress and toilet needs alone. The toilet needs are very important for panic and shame can set if your child finds themselves unable to cope. Hopefully helped by previous experience your child will be able to share and mix and cope with separation from you. Another important need is that he/she will be able to accept direction and correction from another adult.

Some children find this very difficult and should a teacher find herself with a number of such children, then they will wreck her class. On a final note, if your child receives a high quality education then his or her chances are improved for life. They will get on better in school, will need less remedial help – if any, are more likely to finish school and even get into third level education. It is your choice to give your child the best possible start.

We here at Athenry Montessori School can give your child the head start he/she needs. Why not give us a call and come and see the school for yourself.