Although the first day back at school, or even the first ever day at school, can be an exciting prospect for some children, school anxiety and adjustment difficulties are more common than you think.
Anxious feelings are expected and normal in children returning to school, changing schools, or for first timers starting kindergarten.
[i]According to a recent study conducted by the University of Queensland, 1 in 10 children aged 6 to 11 years suffer from anxiety and are feeling burdened by external pressures to achieve more.
Children are faced with emotional, social, and educational challenges when school is back in session. Concerns of being accepted by their peers, separation from parents and not understanding the material presented in class are often cited amongst the primary reasons for back to school anxiety amongst children.
[ii]The good news is that normally most children will adjust well, and their anxiety will reduce to normal levels within the first month of school. But, as a parent, is there anything you can do to support your child when they’re experiencing anxiety in the lead up to the start of school?
We’ve enlisted the help of Brent Hughes, Ex-Teacher and Education Expert for Matific, to provide us with some key strategies which could help your child to overcome their school related anxiety in the run up to ‘back to school’
1. Ease back into a routine
Before school starts, it’s a good idea to start preparing children for the upcoming transition by helping them get back into their regular school routines. This could mean things like; earlier bed times, planning mornings in advance and getting back into the waking rhythm for school. It could also be a good idea to start having more chats about the upcoming academic year ahead and what your child/children are looking forward to. All this will help to get them back into the right mind-set, so it’s less of a shock when the alarm goes off for the first day of term.
2. Share your own personal school experiences
As a parent, it’s beneficial to share your own school experiences; the activities you enjoyed, what you learnt, anything you felt anxious about and overcame, and subjects you may have struggled with. Children typically enjoy hearing stories from their parent’s childhood as it helps normalise the anxiety they may be feeling and offers them reassurance.
3. Use intelligent technology resources to help with tricky subjects
Children that are anxious before returning to school often worry about what others may think of them and whether they are as competent as their peers. There are certain subjects, such as maths, which can cause anxiety in many students. As a result, anxious children typically have difficulty participating in whole class maths activities.
There are some fantastic educational resources out there though which can really aid children’s at-home learning, helping to increase their confidence and engagement with trickier subjects.
We all know how much children love their screen time, but many parents are rightly vigilant about how much, and the kind of screen time, their child is exposed to. However, technology-based learning programs can be harnessed in a positive way. For example, Matific Galaxy is an award-winning online program, for kids from Kindergarten to Year 6, which uses genuine gamification.
Gamification in learning operates on the assumption that the high level of engagement gamers experience can be brought into educational contexts with the goal of facilitating learning. The stimulating tasks have been proven to change the mindsets of children, from seeing maths as something to be endured to a subject that is really enjoyable. More than 90% of students said that they would want to keep learning and practising maths with Matific*. The program can also be fully downloaded onto whatever device you’re using (it’s available on the app store, Google play store, and as a desktop app), so you don’t even need WIFI to use all the features.
4. Role play
Role play can really help in dealing with anxiety inducing situations and assist children in feeling confident about coping with them when they arise. For example, have your child act out the part a student who isn’t understanding class work or a strict teacher and help them model appropriate responses and copying techniques. This will help them relate these into real-life situations.
5. Prepare and familiarise
Plan how you can help reduce the amount of unexpected and uncontrollable situations your child will face. Think of everything you can do in advance of their first day to help your child feel in control of their experience. Take them shopping for school supplies, walk them or drive them on the route to their new school, so they get used to what the trip will look like, and think about arranging play dates with one or more familiar peers before school starts. [iii]Research shows that the presence of a familiar peer during school transitions can improve children’s academic and emotional adjustment. Every little bit of preparation helps relieve their anxiety of going back to school.
Matific is part of global educational technology company whose founders include top Australian businessman Leon Kamenev, who has launched a number of high profile online companies including Menulog and HotelClub.
The Matific resource, which is currently in 46 countries and translated into 26 languages, has been getting excellent results and making inroads in both the New Zealand and Australian education systems, following the 2014/2015 TIMSS findings which revealed both countries’ primary maths standards were slipping, sitting at 491 and 517 respectively.
Given the decline in numeracy standards in New Zealand and Australia, highlighted by PISA and TIMSS, Matific is committed to supporting primary school teachers in the classroom and helping them get students engaged in maths at an early age.
*According to survey conducted by Matific in 2018