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First Day at School: Dundonald PS

September is a crucial month for thousands of youngsters across Northern Ireland as they embark on their first day at school. Education |correspondent Kathryn Torney spoke to children, parents and staff at two primaries about the annual big day in every school’s calendar

A Sea of green jumpers snaked towards Dundonald Primary School in the bright sun yesterday morning.

The school car park was packed while others chose to make the most of the good weather by walking to school.

Many of the little ones, new to the busy start of the school day, stuck a little closer to their mums and dads.

Over 110 pupils started P1 this week which meant an expansion to four P1 classes for the first time.

There are currently 582 pupils in total at the school — a new modern building based on a spacious eight acre site - and it has been designed to cater for up to 840.

The bright and colourful P1 classrooms are clustered around a central open plan play area which features a play kitchen, sand pit and water play area. An outside play area is also available for the pupils.

Twins Kyle and Matthew McDowell will celebrate their fifth birthday in just a few weeks time.

Their mum Tanya, a trained psychology lecturer currently working as a childminder, left buying their uniforms for P1 until a few weeks before the start of term in an attempt to contain their excitement.

“Their two big brothers told them all about the school so if I’d bought the uniforms too early they would have been asking me how many sleeps it was until they started for the last two months!” she said. “I thought their first day earlier this week would have been more emotional but there were no tears from them or me, which was quite a surprise.

“When I collected them they were fighting over who would get to tell me first about their day.

“It has also been really nice to listen to them talking to each other about school — although they use their own coded language at times so I haven’t understood it all!

“The boys like being in the same class but they also play independently and have their own friends.”

Their classmate Ben Glasgow also started on Tuesday, well prepared for his first day by his three older brothers — 14-year-old twins Kyle and Marcus and Cameron (11).

Starting with just an hour and a half in class each day, today is the first day the P1s will stay in until noon. Their full day to 2pm starts in October.

Ben’s mum Trish, a nurse at the nearby Ulster Hospital, said yesterday: “His first day went well. It is really like a home away from home and the new building means that the facilities are fantastic.

“It can be a bit chaotic in our house in the mornings but Ben was so excited today that he got himself ready.”

How does Ben think it’s going so far?

“Good,” was the reply, accompanied by a smile.

What’s the best thing?

“Drawing pictures.”

Richel Lobregas moved to Northern Ireland from the Phillipines three years ago.

Her son Noel is in P6 at|Dundonald Primary, her daughter Kristelle in P7 and four-year-old Kathleen started P1 this week.

Richel said: “Kathleen was so excited about starting on her first day because she was really looking forward to joining her brother and sister.

“They told her all about the school and said there were lots of toys and a playground. She woke up early and we walked in|because we live close by.

“It is such a family friendly school and they really help the children with their English if they need support.”

The school’s P1 co-ordinator is Ann Coard. She said: “This is a fun time of the year and our aim is to help the children get settled in and feel confident in their new setting.

“There is a misconception that children are no longer reading and writing in P1 but they are actually just learning in a more child-friendly way.

“In the past children may have been given a pencil to hold before they were ready. Instead we now develop their skills so that they can learn independently.”

Principal Julian Byers said: “Towards the end of June we|invite our new P1 parents to attend an induction evening followed by a curriculum information afternoon in September. We also offer parent workshops.”

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