M. Bhuvaneswari, PhD
Regional Thematic Manager – Education
Save the Children Sweden Regional Office for South Central Asia
Many of us share memories of family members embarrassing us when they remind us of our behavior on the first day at school. We have thrown tantrums or witnessed the same from our children. “Crying children at the gates” is a common sight in a good number of pre-primary schools in my home state, Tamil Nadu, India. Rolling on the ground and kicking the adult who tries to pick them are some coping mechanisms demonstrated by some children. The faces of parents and children on “Day One” reflect the gravity of mutual pain. I tried to imagine and feel how a child might feel on Day One and this was what I thought: “This is an unfamiliar environment, I understand nothing and I am unused to everything. This sends fear waves in me. I am completely lost.”

My elder sister asked me, “Who cried? You or your daughter?” on the day my 3 ½ year old daughter started school. On her first day at school, I spent the whole day with her inside the classroom. This article is an outcome of an insider’s insights.

There was crying from every corner. In one large classroom, there were 150 children in the 3-3 ½ age group belonging to four different sections. Some of them had been in school for a year starting with Pre-Kindergarten when they were 2 ½ years old. There were children like my daughter starting afresh with Lower Kindergarten. The silent spectators of the crying children were obviously the “Old students” in the same school.

The four classes were kept together for logistic reasons on “Day One”. All four plus two extra teachers were trying to manage the children. The parents, van drivers, people who were caregivers were coming in and going out. Van drivers were trying to identify the names and faces of children whom they would take back. Teachers were distributing uniforms and other materials. They were trying to juggle between the crying children and their first day tasks which were obviously endless.

Here were my observations from the first day of school:

My daughter was not crying. We had taken some wax crayons and notebooks to school and my daughter started coloring every now and then, asking me to make some outlines for her to color. Around 5-7 children came around to watch with excitement. There was no crying in that corner any longer. The glee I saw on the faces of children inspired me a lot and made me think that engaging activities distracts children from crying. The “separation anxiety” for children or parents may disappear with more happy activities.

In my daughter’s school, teachers did not encourage parents to stay inside the class. I was trying to keep myself in a corner. At one point, I told my daughter, “I am keeping your bag here and I’ll be away for a while”. She immediately asked me, “Who will take care of me? Will that bag take care of me?” Her question made me wonder if all the crying is because of this uncertainty about who the “caregiver” is after the mother leaves from school.

One teacher tried to make a difference. One teacher came forward to sing and dance to a song. She ran around the class and balanced a bottle on her head. Some children watched her with glee while others continued to cry.

It is understandable that the separation between parents and their child has to start someday and the sooner it happens, the better, however, I believe that having the parents around at schools would make the transition smoother. There has to be enough positive engagements at school for the child to wean away from the parents’ presence.

By having the parents around on the first day, children may tend to feel less separation anxiety. While there has been debate about the appropriate age for admission into pre-primary schools, inadequate child care support for mothers at the workplace often leads to babies ending up in school earlier. How prepared is a two year old child to face school and how prepared are schools to care for a 24 months old child? These are questions worth considering.

Most often the first day of school is the day when the child is away from the family for the very first time. It becomes stressful for the child in many ways. If the teachers and the school can think of how they can make the child smile, despite all this, it will surely make the experience better.

Outlined below are some strategies to assist in a successful home to school transition on day one. These are strategies based on expert opinions and experiences of other parents and caregivers:

A warm and welcoming environment: A warm environment should be created so that the children can begin to enjoy the school from the minute they enter. The place should be very clean, colorful and not over-crowded. There should be a variety of toys, game options and play equipments that automatically attracts the children. There is a warm and natural environment and nobody tries to control the children (or their parents).

A welcome ceremony is usually organized in many schools. During this time, children should be welcomed with garlands and sandalwood paste or anything auspicious and special to help them feel as the honored guests.

Colorful outfits: Encourage the children to come to school with color outfits rather than uniforms.

Addressing the teacher differently: There is a school where pre-primary school children call their teachers, “Aunty.” In countries like India, where extended family members frequently serve as familial caregivers, this practice can be beneficial. Though simple, this can have a great impact.

Child-friendly adults: Ideally, it is important to assign one teacher/caregiver for every five children. Though this is important, number is not entirely sufficient to ensure child-friendliness. Every adult member in the school starting from the person at the gate and the person who cleans has to be genuinely loving and caring. They have to be aware of the fact that children need and deserve all respect as much as the head of the institution.

Frequent interactions with diverse adults: Interactions with children, parents and caregivers is vital. Often children develop some kind of attraction and respect to the head of the institution. Whenever possible, the head of the institution should spend some unstructured time with the children. This can prove to be very reassuring for the children, teachers and parents.

Involving parents – a suggestion: Allowing parents to accompany the child and encouraging them to engage with a group of children is critical for smooth transitions. This may help prevent crying and may support many children at once. The school can invite mothers to volunteer for some activities. I think children can better accept a mother of another child on day one than a new teacher. This also creates an “informal atmosphere” where a child feels free and safe. We often hear and learn that young children learn best in an informal environment (which may be true for elder children and adults as well). Apart from making the first day happy, this experience helps build mutual understanding between teachers and parents

It is definitely worth exploring ways and means to keep children smiling on their first day of school. For more information, read “The Must for Nursery Admission,” written by M. Bhuvaneswari and
Dr. K.Shanmugavelayutham.
The article has appeared in ARNEC E NEWS FLASH today
ARNEC: Asia-Pacific Regional Early Childhood Network


23 thoughts on “THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

  1. Pingback: Crying children at the gates at Blogbharti

  2. This is the only uruppadiyaana suggestion i think…..”Involving parents – a suggestion:……..” i won’t say bad…., it is not universally applicable, think of children / parents in all levels of society, for many of them even school going is a luxury…..if parents are worried, i think those of kind of parents can accompany….. but you remember so much in detail about dakshu’s first day…..a really lovely mother…..or lucky dakshu i should say……that too for that type of school, u could do so much bhu…..hats off to you….

  3. Dear Bhuwana,

    This is eye-opening article for me and I strongly feel that this article should be distributed among all pre-primary school teachers and also to the ECD facilitators.

    I will share this article to Private School’s Association and National Centre for Educational Development (teacher development department) of Ministry of Education.

    With Regards// Raj Kumar

  4. Dear Raj Kumar jee,

    It was good to read the article on ‘Frist Day of School’ prepared by Bhuvaneswari Mahalingam. While going through the article, so many images, memories and thought came cross to my mind and here I could not stop myself writing few of it.

    First I tried to trace back my first day of school. I could not remember from when I begun to go to school, as my mother says I fled to school with senior girls of neighborhood before my parents admitted me to there around an age of three. It means I used to go there for fun rather than learn. Since, it was the school of small city and did not have any hard and fast rules and regulation as the schools of today’s so called boarding or private school have. May be that was a reason I enjoyed being in school rather than being at home. According to my mother, I used to collected some books of father and keep that in my small bag and go to school with seniors. From my this experience, I see a rational behind the point( warm and welcoming environment) made by Bhuvaneswari. Exactly, the environment of school I visited must be somewhat like that viz. warm and welcoming, unlike these private schools there was not compulsion of wearing uniform, in a name of maintaining discipline nobody asked to follow strict time table or routine and as a result of such environment I got motivated to go to school without any pressure.

    However, after having formal admission to school, yet, I do not remember learning anything in there. Alphabets and basic words or numbers, I learnt from my parents at home. From the childhood, I was very bad in memorizing things. I still remember my parents beating me whenever I got failed to memorize the counting taught by them. Consequently, their behavior made me introvert. I used to have a lot of curiosities but because of the fear of being beaten again I could not ask it. Even in school, I used to have kind of fear to ask teacher any questions. By citing this experience, I was just trying to point out the importance of ‘child friendly learning environment’ in early childhood. I learn that childhood was an important stage of behavior of human beings but, if proper guidance and assistance is not given then it may cause adverse effect for a long.

    In contrast to my experience of going school during the early childhood days, these days, making children regular has become one of the problems in kindergarten classes of many schools. I think, this article would make able think both parents and school family once themselves while dealing with children entering in to the school premises for the first time.

    Thank you Raj jee for such a wonderful article.


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