This is a post I first drafted seven years ago as our eldest was starting his senior school years. I was already six years removed from my own teaching days, but once a teacher, always a teacher!
This time of the year will always brins to mind those anxious, exciting first days of a new school year, for students, parents and teachers alike. Even now that both boys are done with school and my teaching days are thirteen years in the past, I still find myself nervously watching all those new, shiny Kindergarten children heading off to school for the first time, with their clompy new shoes, huge backpacks, wide-brimmed hats and over-sized uniforms, with a lump in my throat.
During my preschool teaching years I used to bemoan the fact that most of the starting school books available to me were written by US or UK writers. Very few of the books that I read to my classes accurately reflected what would happen to them as they went off to school, for the first time, in Australia.
The closest thing I had to a home grown Aussie school experience was Hazel Edwards Look, There’s A Hippopotamus in the Playground Eating Cake.
This book is part of her delightful series about an invisible friend, a hippo, who likes to sit on the roof and eat cake. He doesn’t get into trouble, he doesn’t get scared and he’s always there when needed.
I used to read this book, year after year, as a springboard to ‘what will happen to me at school next year’ discussions. It covered everything from uniforms, to lunches and play equipment. It’s a great story that appeals to 4 year olds, but I did get tired of reading the one book over and over again.
In 2014 we were suddenly inundated with several new books about Australian kids starting school.
My First Day of School by Meredith Costain & Michelle Mackintosh uses the Victorian term Prep, which is not that surprising as both Costain & Mackintosh are from Victoria. However, it does highlight the unusual nature of Australia’s education system that has evolved different terms, curriculums, frameworks and teaching training standards across each state & territory in Australia! It makes for a highly stressful situation for anyone moving interstate with school aged children.
My First Day of School includes headings such as ‘coming in, leaving mum, rules, in trouble, partners, mats, hungry, storytime, hometime’ which ensure that every 5 year old’s concerns will be addressed at some point.
The questions are answered in a fun, light-hearted way with lots of practical advice.
It finishes with “I think I’m going to like this place called school.“
Starting School by Jane Godwin & Anna Walker is written from multiple points of view – in fact, from the entire class!
Each child gets to highlight the thing about school that interests or concerns them the most.
Godwin also uses chapters headings to structure her book – ‘getting ready, things we need, first day, in the playground, doing work, packing up & hometime’ are just a few.
The book finishes with “What do you like about school?“
First Day by Andrew Daddo & Jonathan Bentley is a simple, fun story about getting ready, with mum, for the first day of school.
As we go along with their breakfast, dressing, packing, school selfie & goodbye’s at the school gate routines, we realise that the first day of school can be just as stressful on mum.
“Remember what we always say: the best bit about waving goodbye is the next wave will be hello.”
And the last line continues the affectionate, positive attitude “And the next day will be even easier!”
An Aussie Year: 12 Months in the Life of Australian Kids by Tania McCartney & Tina Snerling is a seasonal approach to school, celebrations and the everyday things kids can do.
January talks about swimming at the beach, picnics, cricket, thongs & sunscreen, Australia Day & the tennis.
February focuses on going back to school, Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year and more swimming.
There is a bio at the front on each child that is featured throughout the book and a map of Australia at the back.
Wombat Goes to School by Jackie French & Bruce Whatley follows the further adventures of their (now) very famous wombat.
This time wombat manages to find a tunnel that brings him to school. On his quest for carrots & grass he frightens children, disturbs the peace (& the Principal) and generally makes mischief.
The illustrations combine with the text to make for a very humorous day at school.
First Day by Margaret Wild & Kim Gamble was first published in 1999 (but I somehow missed it at the time.)
The cover and format of the book does not immediately attract me to it.
Which is a shame, because it’s a lovely story once you start & the illustrations become more endearing as the characters come to life.
It’s also a lot wordier than all of the other offerings.
It highlights the multicultural perspective as well as showing us an adult going back to study for the first time since her own school days.
On the first day of school…Alex hopes she will make a friend, Salma wants to learn to write NOW, Stephen is a little scared, and Penny is as wriggly as a tadpole. Khalil is the best a tying shoelaces, and Jun just wants to count…10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 ZERO! But what is the little dog, Josh up to?
Throughout February, kids all over are Australia are heading back to school or starting school for the very first time. Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed it will be a year where all the children and all the teachers will be able to stay in class for the whole year, with no lockdowns and no home-schooling via zoom.
Are there any other Australian starting school books I’ve missed?
What are your memories of the first day of school?
A very special shout out to my former colleagues as they head back into another hectic preschool year – I hope you find these book useful.
May the 2021 school year be a bright, happy & productive year for everyone concerned.