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Getting over the first-day jitters

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The transition to school is getting easier, Megan Doherty writes

Five-year-olds   Matthew Ellwood, left,  and  Coco Gunther prepare for kindergarten at Macquarie Primary School.

Five-year-olds Matthew Ellwood, left, and Coco Gunther prepare for kindergarten at Macquarie Primary School. Photo: Colleen Petch

Going to big school is a significant milestone in any child's life. So, too, for the parents who give over their child to an institution that will help shape their little one's rapidly expanding world.

This week an estimated 5200 children in private and public schools in the ACT will be pulling on their brand-new school uniform - for real this time - and heading off to kindergarten.

It may be a week of tears and tissues (for the mums and dads, too) but also can't-wait-to-get-out-of-the-door excitement. A whole new world awaits.

Jovi with her daughter Jacinta van der Kallen, 4 of Queanbeyan who is starting school at St Benedicts in Narrabundah.

Jovi with her daughter Jacinta van der Kallen, 4 of Queanbeyan who is starting school at St Benedicts in Narrabundah. Photo: Melissa Adams

Jovi and Robert van der Kallen are sending their daughter Jacinta to St Benedict's Primary School in Narrabundah.

Jacinta won't turn five until May 30. Usually ACT kids must have turned five by April 30 to attend kindergarten. However, Jacinta passed an early-age assessment that include an IQ test under the guidance of a child psychologist.

Her parents, who both work at the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), have no misgivings about sending their daughter to kindergarten while still aged four.

"We felt towards the end of the last year she might be a bit bored going to preschool,'' Mrs van der Kallen says. "She already knows her letters, how to write her name, her numbers. And most of her friends in the childcare are older so we felt she was quite ready.''

Jacinta can't wait to get there. And her parents say the fact she has gone to daycare will probably make the first-day handover not as traumatic.

"At the same time, it's a formal, proper school so while it's not really heart-wrenching, you're more anxious about how she will fit in,'' she says.

Catholic Education Office senior officer Tim Smith says an estimated 1282 children will start kindergarten this year in Catholic schools across the archdiocese.

A former primary school principal of St Anthony's at Wanniassa and St Greg's at Queanbeyan, Smith understands the nerves, concerns and excitement of starting kindergarten. He says the schools start their orientation in May of the previous year for parents to come and see the set-up. Many are guided by year 6 students of the school. "We find the parents ask them questions they probably wouldn't ask me as a principal,'' he says.

There are orientation days for around October and November so kids can meet their teacher and experience school activities.

There's also just the simple act of physically getting to know the school.

"I used to encourage the parents through this long summer break when going for your evening walk with the dog or whatever, to come past the school, take the kids in and let them play on the equipment, let them look through the window and have a drink from the bubblers and do all those sorts of things just to make it a familiar environment,'' Smith says.

Five-year-old Matthew Ellwood is so excited about starting kindergarten at Macquarie Primary School that he has been wearing his school hat all summer.

He's had a number of visits to the school from nearby Macquarie preschool. And his older brother Jamie, seven, is going into year 2 at Macquarie Primary, which may make his first day that little bit smoother. But his parents Michael, a lecturer at the Australian National University, and Kitty, who also works at the TGA, say they will just take it as it comes.

"You accept that it's different so you don't try to replicate it with the second child,'' Michael says.

While Matthew is bursting at the seams to get to school, Michael says the little boy's main worry was if he had to know how to read before he got there. He loves books and can't wait to read himself.

Macquarie Primary principal Wendy Cave says reassuringly: "That's what you learn when you're here.

"It's one of the most exciting things that happen, when you start to take off as a reader,'' she tells Matthew.

One of his classmates will be five-year-old Coco Guenther, from Murrumbateman. They are friends from preschool. Coco is the only child of Toni, who works for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, and Martin, a farrier. It's been a long wait over the long summer holidays for the start of kinder for Coco, who doesn't see many children her own age at home.

"She wants to see her friends,'' Toni says. "She's desperate to read. She tries so hard. It's well and truly time. She wants to learn. The whole world is opening for her. It's exciting.''

Toni says, laughing, if there are tears on the first day, they will probably be for herself, realising the passage of time and that "I'm getting older''.

Macquarie Primary deputy principal Marc Warwick knows all about first-day nerves for parents. His own daughter Caillie, five, is this year starting kindergarten at a southside school, close to where they live. He and his wife Michelle, also have Leila, two, and seven-week-old Maiya.

"She's very keen to be starting, hoping that she makes some new friends. The learning aspect is important but so is the social building that resilience, independence,'' he says.

Cave says parents just need to help their children enjoy the experience.

"I think it's really important to be positive with them and share the excitement and when children do have little worries, they may seem little worries to us, but give them time to talk through things and reassure them. And if parents aren't sure of things, talking to the school and talking to the school early is a good rule of thumb,'' she says.

Macquarie Primary also hosts orientation visits. Cave says the teachers are always mindful they are dealing with individuals - ''they're children, not robots'' - and some students will have different reactions to those early days of school.

"Many have been at preschool or daycare so they're used to a long day and sometimes one quite longer than nine to three,'' Cave says. "But there are different energy levels being spent with the start of kindy so they can get tired. Our teachers talk to parents if they feel they need a little break but in the main they're there and firing on all cylinders.''

Scott and Sally Robson live across the road from the Forde campus of Burgmann Anglican School.

Their son Oliver, five, who is about to start kindergarten, is already familiar with the school grounds, including the play equipment. He'll be starting with a new group of friends after attending day care at Brindabella Park. Sally, a public servant, has been able to restructure her work to fit in with the school hours.

"I met some mums at orientation and we've had a few play dates already so at least there will be some familiar faces,'' she says.

Oliver has already met his kindergarten teacher, Edwina Passer, and is comfortable in her presence. His parents don't see him going to kindergarten as letting go but another stage of him growing up.

"I think he's quietly cautious. But you can see it in his eyes, he's just so excited because there's going to be so many new things,'' Sally says.

Oliver's little sister Amelie (Millie), who is almost three, is also starting two days a week at preschool at Burgmann. Sally says last year they started getting Oliver into a routine of dressing and brushing his teeth himself - "all those little things that make it easier for us in the morning because we both work''.

Burgmann's head of early childhood, Wendy Hegarty, says the enrolment occurs more than six months before the child reaches the classroom to ensure the transition is smooth. They have an orientation day in November when they take home a book of pictures of the school and another orientation day before the real start of school without the older students present. They meet their teacher early on in the process. They know their classroom. They start to feel at home there.

"They get a real sense of what they're coming to,'' Hegarty says.

"We feel it's really important that both the children and their families feel connected and a real sense of belonging when they come.''

Scott, who works in IT, is feeling positive about the experiences to come for both Oliver and Millie.

"It'll be good. We're just looking forward to seeing what they want to do as humans as they grown up,'' he says.

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