Making the most of primary school in New Zealand

Starting a new school in a different education system where you don’t know anyone can be as daunting for parents as it is for children.

The school will brief you on the mechanics of how they operate – curriculum, operating hours, term dates.

But new parents are likely to have many other questions to which the answers may not be immediately obvious - How do I interact with teachers? How do I get to know other parents?  How can I help my child make friends?

We’ve put together 8 tips about the informal customs and systems of New Zealand primary schools:

1           Get to know the teachers

The relationship between NZ teachers and parents is quite informal compared to many other countries Your child’s teacher will usually expect you to call them by their first name, even if the children are required to use a more respectful title.  They will appreciate you stopping in to say hello when your child starts school and/or sending an email with information about your child and your family.

2          Join the Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

This group is run by parents to support the school.  You won’t be asked for money but if you’re prepared to volunteer your time to help with school activities like sausage sizzles you’ll quickly meet other parents.  Senior teachers and Principals are usually closely involved in the PTA so it’s a great way to get to know the teaching staff.

3          If you have questions, email your child’s teacher

Parents are expected to be proactive so don’t feel that you are being pushy or disrespectful.

4          Parent teacher interviews are a good thing!

Schools are required to meet with all parents a few times a year to discuss each child’s progress – so if you receive a communication about making an appointment with the teacher, see it as an opportunity to learn more about your how your child is doing, not necessarily that they are in trouble.

5          Get to know the school office staff

These people are the glue that hold the school together.  They will know the answer to just about any question about how the school operates, will look after your children if they are sick or something is wrong and can be incredibly helpful to newcomers.

6          Small Presents for teachers

It is usual to give a small gift to your child’s teacher at the end of the school year.  Sometimes one parent will coordinate a gift from the whole class and ask for donations from others.  Some families like to give directly to the teacher, but it need not be large – home baking or something the child has made, toiletries or chocolates are all good gifts.

7          Volunteer for Field trips

If you can, take the opportunity to go on class trips – the teacher will usually send out a note in advance asking parents to help as a certain number of adults is required to take the children off-campus.  Your child will love to have their parent along and it’s a great way to see how your little one interacting with their friends, and to meet other parents.

8          Suggest playdates

It is very common for children to see friends outside school by going to their homes to play, say from 3-4:30pm immediately after school.  At primary level, you would usually ring the other parent first and maybe even invite them in for a coffee or a drink the first time the child comes to your place.

New Zealand schools are the focal points of their local communities.  Your involvement is welcomed and encouraged – it will benefit both your child’s education and help your family connect with people in your neighbourhood.