I recently moved house and as many of you will know, it is a pretty stressful experience. It was especially so for our two cats who were beside themselves for the first week and only just settling in now. I will spare you the gruesome details of the trip to the new house but they were obviously scared out of their wits.
Young children, too, are wary of change and often respond in a similar way to my cats. I remember when my eldest child was going from pre-primary to transition (they have four intakes per year in the Northern Territory – or at least they did then – and could spend up to a year in transition to year one). My son found it altogether too traumatic because he was not going to a primary school attached to his pre-primary so he didn’t know anyone. He had only just turned five. Furthermore, it was a full day whereas pre-primary had been half-days. To cut a long story short, he ended up going back to pre-primary where the teacher organised special activities for him at his cognitive level because it was only the social and emotional aspect that he couldn’t deal with – all those big, rough, loud kids in the playground! Yikes! Interestingly, when we started back at pre-primary, lo and behold, his two best friends were also there! Both were also traumatised by starting school but for very different reasons. One had experienced the separation of his parents during the school holidays and going to live at different houses and all the changes and friction going on was too much for this sensitive little soul. The other child had contracted a virus which left him with temporary Bell’s Palsy so the muscles around his face were effectively paralysed. He thought the other children would make fun of him so he was too scared to go to school.
By the end of the term those three little boys were ready to go to ‘Big School’ which they then happily did. The teachers had all been sensitive to the emotional needs of those children, putting those needs first. Any lagging behind that may have occurred was quickly remedied. What was most important was that their very real concerns were listened to and so they were not ‘turned off’ school.
We often fail to consider what children are going through in their private lives, often with disastrous consequences. I believe if there is a solution to a problem, why not take it? The principal at my son’s school thought my son going back to pre-primary was a retrograde step, but he didn’t know my child. I did. He got over it when he realised what a happy chappy my son was the following term, as opposed to how he had been at his first encounter. Watching your child go from a confident, happy child who loves school to one who cries at the thought of it to a point of stomach upsets is very distressing for a parent. Why persist? We need to find solutions. As teachers of young children, we do need to be sensitive to their very real needs. How can they learn when they are so stressed?