Braving the back to school blues

First day yawns... Sasha Baartman, Leah Irua and Razaan Philander wait for their first day of Grade R to start at West End Primary School in Lentegeur. Perhaps someone should tell Sasha that this is only day one of a very long journey ahead.

A few Mitchell’s Plain primary schools opened their doors a day early to help ease their Grade R pupils into this new adventure as the new school year kicks off today.

The Plainsman visited West End Primary School, in Lentegeur, and Tafelsig Primary School, which started the 2020 academic year yesterday, Tuesday January 14.

West End Primary School principal Clive Arries said the orientation day allowed them to welcome the younger members of their family and ease them into school with less tears.

“It is easier for us to handle fewer pupils also, the day before the rest of the school returns,” he said.

He said parents and pupils were invited to participate in an open day in October last year, for them to visit the school and familiarise themselves with their new home.

“It is frightening for pupils meeting other people on their first day. The parents of Grade R pupils have also been in contact with teachers via WhatsApp, with any notices and additional stationery needed. We’ve done this in previous years and it has proven to help,” he said.

Clinical psychologist Carin Lee Masters, who writes the Plainsman’s “Help is at hand” advice column (see page 16), said it is helpful for younger pupils to be introduced to a structured environment, like school, progressively so that they can be prepared mentally for leaving the safety of their home or their parents for longer than they have been accustomed to.

“Any new environment is scary for children in their early years. An adaptation period is especially necessary and helpful to help them acclimatise to the change,” she said.

Ms Masters said preferably the first month or first term should not be a full day of schooling, but should be kept relatively short with lots of playful learning and not such a strict disciplining system that could overwhelm them.

“They learn a lot while they play, as play is children’s ‘work’. We may see this as being silly or frivolous but they actually learn the rules of social interaction as well as learn through exploration of new materials, events, experiences and things, through play first and foremost,” she said.

“Their curiosity is vital and needs to be encouraged and not dampened, criticised or shut down.

“If they overstep limits, we can always redirect this instinctive curiosity to those spaces, places and things which are acceptable,” she said.

Ms Masters said parents could prepare them by talking about school, both the fun parts (hopefully the curriculum includes many fun ways of learning) as well as exploring their feelings about going to school and listening to their worries and concerns.

“Don’t them not to feel this way or that it is silly, respect their feelings. When feelings are heard and understood, they are less overwhelming,” she said.

Ms Masters said that this applies to all of us but especially to a little child who needs to adjust to a totally new environment and routine, without the presence and support of their parents or caregivers.

If they have not gone to pre-school prior to entering formal schooling, this can be even more overwhelming.

This could be further exacerbated in situations of very close-knit families in which children, who have mainly spent their time with family members and socialised very little, do not want to leave their parents or caregivers.

This is what can be viewed as a precursor to a child possibly experiencing “separation anxiety”.

“But, in general, most children overcome the ‘separation’ from their families and quickly adjust to the new situationhowever, easing them into it is much better for them psychologically,” advised Ms Masters. “A kind and gentle teacher (who sets appropriate boundaries) also helps the adjustment to the school environment.”

West End Primary School Grade R teacher Loretta Basson had her class sit on the mat at her feet. Moments after parents had left and pupils had stopped crying, Ms Basson comforted her charges, saying to them: “It is okay to feel sad. Sometimes teacher also feels sad”.

Her class was set up and she started to read a story to the class. Meanwhile next door, teacher Julie van Wyk was singing and dancing with her class, with some tears falling in between.

The Western Cape Education Department’s district offices each have officials who are assigned to deal with placement queries. In the Metro South district, under which Mitchell’s Plain falls, Lynn Primo is the official to contact should you need assistance with placement. Call her at 021 370 2000, 021 370 2035 or email Lynn.Primo@westerncape.gov.za