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FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL: HOW TO HANDLE  THE FEARS, TEARS

By Vision Reporter

Added 27th January 2009 03:00 AM

AT 7:00 AM Tim Namanya started watching cartoons as he munched his breakfast. It was one hour away to beginning kindergarten — his first day at school. After breakfast, he put up a fight saying: “I don’t want to go. I want to watch cartoons.”

AT 7:00 AM Tim Namanya started watching cartoons as he munched his breakfast. It was one hour away to beginning kindergarten — his first day at school. After breakfast, he put up a fight saying: “I don’t want to go. I want to watch cartoons.”

BY R. AANYU AND C. NATUKUNDA

AT 7:00 AM Tim Namanya started watching cartoons as he munched his breakfast. It was one hour away to beginning kindergarten — his first day at school. After breakfast, he put up a fight saying: “I don’t want to go. I want to watch cartoons.”

His mother eventually managed to dress him up and off to school they went. And when they got to school, mother and son walked hand-in-hand to meet the teacher.
Namanya excitedly screamed: “Look, mummy, other children are dressed like me (uniforms)!” But when his mother walked away, the little boy burst into tears.

Namanya is not alone. He is in the same boat with Jemini Nassali. “She is the girl who studied with her mother for a week,” says a classmate.

“It was ridiculous, but I had no choice,” says Jemini’s mother. “We had talked about school and she was excited about it. However, when we reached school, she began crying,” narrates Jemini’s mother.

The teacher advised her to stay for a while with her daughter until she got used to the new environment. For the first three days, mother and daughter reported to school, sat in class and played together. On the fourth day, Jemini had made friends so her mommy was free to leave.

This change has become a hot topic in the education sector. The question is no longer whether a child is ready for nursery school. It has become, ‘is the family and school ready for the child’s transition’?

The change may be harder for children who need extra attention, who are having trouble with social skills, or who have gone through other losses, like divorce.
And you cannot blame them. Apart from the places being new, the caregivers are not well-trained, according to the 2005 report on Basic Education in Uganda, by the education ministry. “This means early childhood development issues are not adequately observed,” the report states.
Little wonder that the enrolment into kindergarten is dropping.

Statistics show that the pupil enrolment in the pre-primary sector was 58,572 in 2001 and continued to rise steadily to 78,257 in 2002.

But in 2004, it reduced to 41,775.
While there could be other reasons for this spiral, experts say, the way children are handled can be equally emotional for them and their parents.

“We have heard of cases where someone doesn’t want her children to go to nursery school because the teachers mishandle them,” remarks an official at the Early Childhood Development Centre in Kyambogo.

Kyambogo University works with the ministry to coordinate the training of nursery teachers.

Although statistics are scanty, the education ministry reports there are “still few trained pre-primary teachers,” in Uganda. Across sub-Saharan Africa, the percentage of qualified nursery teachers ranges from less than 25% to higher than 90%, according to the 2008 Education for All, global monitoring report. Yet, the interaction between the child and the teachers is the key determinant of how the child will adapt, the report notes.

Part of the problem is that the private sector, which is nearly the sole provider of nursery education, seems to pay attention to minting money, than meeting the children’s needs. Statistics show that 46.4% of pre-primary centres are privately owned, while only 36% are affiliated to the Government and about 15% are community-owned.

“Most of these centres don’t prepare children and parents for the transition, yet they charge a lot of money,” says Emmanuel Kayongo, a senior educator.

The reasons are not just about adjusting to the transition. Children may suffer from separation anxiety, if they are not helped to settle into the system, according to psychologists. “They may struggle with the demands, like having to sit on a bench for long periods of time,” says counselling psychologist, Rev. Matovu.

Signs that the transition may not be going smoothly for the child include crying, not wanting to go to school, stomachaches, clinging to parents and reverting to behaviours that they seemed to have outgrown.

MAKE THE FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL MEMORABLE

TIPS FOR PARENTS:
-Do not feel guilty when your child cries, because going to school is a milestone they need to achieve.
-Check it out: Get familiar with the school buildings and the playground. Either use the orientation day or set up a tour of the school with your child.
-Be prepared: Teach your child the basics like where to get off the taxi or whom to ask for help.
-Meet and talk to the teacher: The two of you play an important role in your child’s life, so start that relationship off in a positive manner as soon as possible.
-Be encouraging: Listen to his excitement and appreciate his school work by giving positive comments about it.
-Get involved at school: Get involved with the Parents Teachers Association. If work prevents involvement during school hours, volunteer to cut out patterns during the evening. Your child will see that school matters and you will share being a part of that community.
-Establish a routine: A few days before school starts, begin your “school night” routine with your child. Pick out clothes, go to bed earlier and even have your child set the alarm.
-Cry a little: After the goodbyes are shared at school, feel free to shed a few tears. And be ready to greet your child with a smile when he comes back home!

FOR TEACHERS:
-Many children have never been anywhere, so the first week or so teach how to walk in a line and eat by themselves.
-Have something for each child to do at their desks when they arrive. You can start with crayons and paper.
-Engage them in lively activities like singing or drawing
-Encourage them to talk to you in case they are stuck.

Compiled by Hope Abimanya

FOR THE FIRST DAY JITTERS
For some parents and children, the first day at school is scary. Below are tips on how to cope. Gertrude Apalat, a clinical psychologist, says: “Do not dismiss your children’s worries, acknowledge the fears, but assure them that things will be okay.”
Like their children, parents can suffer anxiety during the first time their children attend school.
Grace Babirye, the principal of Young Angels Nursery School Kawempe says on the first day of school, she has had to wave off “crying parents of crying children.”
A parent agrees: “There is a sense of loss, that is they’ve grown up so quickly.”
Molly Kiiru, the head of the infant section at Green Hill Academy, says one should not feel bad. “Nursery is where children aged two to five come to learn through play, drama, singing and relating with others,” she says.
“If the anxiety is coming from the parent, I advise them to think through what’s going on for them. Let them talk to parents,” says Rev. Matovu.

FIRST DAY AT SCHOOL: HOW TO HANDLE  THE FEARS, TEARS

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