Our first day at school

Starting school isn’t just a milestone for a five year old, it’s a big change for parents too. A dad tell us how the first day was for them.

Zane and Paora

Zane&PaoraIt’s been a big year for Paora Scarborough. He’s become a big brother and started school. His dad Zane tells us about the very first day.

I dislike a few truths about my life. 1. I’m getting older, 2. I’m getting balder and 3. The only constant in my life is change. My parenting journey has been this tension between, “I’ve got it sussed,” and feeling completely out of my depth. My son recently started primary school and I’m learning how to swim all over again – parent interviews, school photos, menacing big kids! Looking back now, that first day is a reminder that although change can be tough, change can also be good.

My wife Chloe and I began looking for a school about three months before my son’s 5th birthday. We started by asking others about their experiences, looked at what we wanted for him and then began to look online for information to help us with this process. There were local schools to consider, private schools (I wish!) and schools with special character. It felt like such a huge responsibility, getting it right for our son.

Next the application process began. It felt like a job interview, filling out forms, signing documents and waiting. Chloe and I were pretty relaxed and assumed that we would get accepted to the schools we’d applied to – I mean our son was well-behaved and his parents were good people, right? The stress began when none of the schools we’d applied to called us back. The waiting was painful until finally, three weeks after we applied, we got a call to say our son had been accepted. It was to a school that was a little way from our house, but we liked the school’s values and decided to take the opportunity.

Looking back, I can’t believe I thought the application process was full of tension – the day my son started school I really stepped out of my comfort zone and into the deep end of the pool. My son’s kindergarten has a policy that a full powhiri has to happen whenever one of their students leaves to start primary school. So when Paora turned five and turned up to his first day of school, so did 25 toddlers from his daycare in oversized raincoats.

Rain, wind and a bus trying to negotiate the narrow streets of central Auckland made for a late start. We walked into a room where seats had been set up for the manuhiri (visitors). We sat down and suddenly the weight of the situation hit me. Across the room from us were 80 primary-aged students who had been waiting all morning for my son to arrive. I heard some of them whispering to each other, trying to figure out which one was Paora. My son gave away his identity by digging his head so deeply into my collarbone I knew I’d have bruises in the morning.

You don’t realise how big the ‘big kids’ are at primary until you sit them next to the new entrants. Seriously, my son and his ragtag group of kindergarten buddies were so undersized it appeared as if they were malnourished or something!

The powhiri started. Speeches were given and songs sung from both sides. Then a tuakana (older brother, but peer mentor in this instance) from his new school walked over and took my son’s hand. Some people smiled, I blubbered – in a manly kind of way.

The concept in itself is simple. The kindergarten that he belonged to would physically hand him over to the school he was about to attend. However, the fact that we were participating in a tradition that many Māori had experienced in one form or another, made it special. I mean how often do more than 100 kids, 15 adults and a grumpy bus driver with his hazard lights on participate in someone’s first day of school?

I think my son’s first day impacted me so much because we were both confronting such big change. Paora left a kindergarten that had nurtured him for three years and was now becoming a part of a new and unknown school. I don’t think I’ve ever coped with change well (I lived on the same block of streets for 22 years) but my son seems to be dealing with it in a much better way. Going through this process has highlighted something big for me – that as my son continues to get older, I’m challenged to adapt with him. It’s difficult but important that I change, adjust and understand his world so I can support him.

Getting ready for school

Confidence is an important ingredient in a successful start to school. Here are some things you might start to gently work on with your child as school approaches.


Before starting school encourage your child to work on –

  • Dressing themselves
  • Undoing and doing up a school bag and lunchbox
  • Holding a pencil or crayon correctly
  • Cutting with scissors


Make learning the following basics fun and your child will soon catch on to –

  • Recognising their written name
  • Spelling out the letters of their name
  • Recognising colours
  • Recognising numbers
  • Giving their address and phone number

Socially and emotionally

Help them feel confident with the following –

  • Playing both on their own and cooperatively
  • Being assertive and showing empathy
  • Listening to and following instructions
  • Asking questions, and being able to get help if they need it

These are the important messages your child needs to feel ready for school

  • I belong and I am loved
  • Making mistakes is part of life and learning
  • I can handle problems
  • Someone believes in me
  • My emotions are real but not the boss
  • I can ask for help
  • I have a contribution to make

First published in 2013