Rite and ready: how the world’s parents prepare for the first day of school

Do you remember your child’s first day at school ? Perhaps you are among the millions of parents preparing for that milestone later this year. Whatever stage you are at and wherever in the world you are, one thing is almost certainly true: your child’s first steps through the school gates or into the classroom are ones that you (and they) will never forget.

 

The same…but different

Yet behind those feelings of excitement and trepidation shared by all parents lie a diverse range of first day rituals. Traditions and rites of passage ingrained in local culture and handed down from generation to generation help us take the big first step towards the future. Some are based on nothing more than superstition. Some are borne of more practical concerns about the weather or the journey to school itself. But what’s true in every case is that for the families involved, adopting and abiding by their chosen ritual is key to giving their child the best possible start to life in education.

 

In it together

Take Brazil, for example, where parents regularly stay with their children during the first day of school to help them adapt. Often, this support lasts throughout the first week, with the child referred to as being in “adaptation”. Similarly, in South Africa, dads frequently accompany their kids on the first day, with grandparents occasionally even joining them too. And in the UK, Mum will usually drop her son or daughter off in the playground…but under strict instructions not to embarrass them with a kiss in front of their new classmates!

 

The blessing of education

For many cultures, a child’s first venture into the world of education also carries a deeper spiritual meaning. In India, children may seek special blessings by touching the feet of their grandmother (or another important elder) while entire families will often join hands in worship before leaving the house. Meanwhile, across the ocean in Vietnam, a full Opening Day ceremony is commonplace. Here, families use balloons and flowers to celebrate the milestone and bring youngsters good luck for the year ahead.

 

Dressed for success

Perhaps unsurprisingly, deciding what to wear also plays a major part in many kids’ first day. For Thai pupils, white shirts with trousers, shorts or a skirt are standard issue. Yet in China, children do not tend to receive their uniform until they arrive at school, meaning many go dressed in their own clothes to begin with. But woe betide anyone not looking their smartest in time for the country’s traditional first day General Assembly. As for the most important item of clothing for a Vietnamese schoolchild, it is a bright new shirt to kick off the year with confidence and luck.

 

Pride comes before a school

Amidst the various rituals and first day jitters, there is also another common thread linking families all over the globe: the almost universal sense of pride as the next generation enters the world of education. How otherwise could you explain the Turkish Flag Ceremony in which children gather together to sing the national anthem watched by their Mum and Dad? Or why else would Chinese parents place such importance on meeting with teachers before school starts to ensure their kids are as well prepared as possible for that unforgettable first day?

 

A brighter future

Of course, not everything is rosy. The start of school is a first step in life, it can be a stressful time for families too, with parents struggling to let go and children often intimidated by the prospect of taking such a big step. Yet, for the majority of the world’s young people, education is a source of great happiness, friendship and opportunity. A journey full of ups and downs, but one that offers a path to a brighter, more secure future. And rituals or no rituals, that must never change. From the first day to the last.