Probably one of the biggest milestones of being a parent is when our baby starts school!
It’s kind of a big deal, for you and for your child! And perhaps you, like me, are currently going through all of the motions leading up to the big day. You’ve applied for your child’s place, you’ve secured a school and now you are wondering nervously how you can help prepare them for this massive next step!
I am very conscious that this can be an anxious time for parents (and children) and I definitely don’t want to panic anybody, so what I will say first and foremost is don’t worry (easier said than done I know). Schools are very good at helping to support children as they transition and will always ensure their needs are met. However, there are a few things you can do and some good habits you can encourage, over the next few months to help your child feel a little more ready for starting school. And I’m not talking about them being able to write their name, or count to ten. It’s a common misconception that the best way to support your child is via academic things but actually preparing them for starting school isn’t about putting pressure on them to learn lots in a short space of time, it’s more about preparing them both socially and emotionally for the upcoming change.
Firstly, is your child able to dress themselves? Can they pull their jumper over their head or pop socks on their feet? Can they do the buttons up on their shirt? Can they put their school shoes on? Try having a little practice. No doubt they are really excited about wearing them and it’s really handy for them to get used to dressing themselves because they will have to attempt it at school i.e. during PE class or when they need the toilet.
Secondly, try to get them in to the habit of eating independently. Teachers will not be expecting miracles and they will of course still be supported, no one is going to let them starve, but it won’t be the same as their main carer being there to spoon feed them, gee them along or playing ‘here comes the aeroplane’ to get them to eat their greens! If they don’t already, encourage them to have a go at using cutlery. I highly recommend Nanas Manners cutlery - designed by an ex-teacher to help train children how to hold their knife and fork properly. Invite them to take their plate to the kitchen afterwards too as they may well be expected to clear their lunch trays at school.
Similarly, practice independent toileting. Can they wipe their own bottom? Can they flush the toilet and wash their hands? Why not create a poster to stick up in the bathroom reminding them of the correct routine - draw around their hands and label each finger: rinse, soap, rub, rinse, dry.
In addition, a small thing which may seem silly but young children often don’t link cold weather to putting their coat on or taking a layer off when it’s hot. Keep prompting them so again they get into the habit. Likewise, when it comes to drinking! It’s important to stay hydrated.
They are going to be in an environment with lots of other children. Now if they’ve been to nursery or pre-school previously, they may be used to this but if not perhaps you can play some games with them, particularly focusing upon sharing and taking turns, following instructions and routines.
Also, try working on and developing fine motor skills, encouraging them to do lots of little fiddly things (strengthening the muscles used in the pincer grip which will be required to hold a pencil or using tools such a scissors). Practice threading beads on to a string, making small items from playdough, or shredding scraps of paper.
As I have already mentioned, your child may naturally be feeling a little anxious about starting school. Try to notice if they keep asking you the same question, it may be that it’s a certain something which they can’t quite get their little head around and is causing them a bit of concern. Even the smallest of things can appear a big deal to them so sit down together, talk through and unpick the matter. It could be anything to do with all of the aforementioned things. Hopefully you’ve been to visit the school and they have provided you with a booklet with all the information you need which you can take the time to digest with your child. Why not draw out a simple timetable of the school day i.e. drop off, sit on carpet, have a snack, play, lunch and so on. Try drawing pictures to accompany each activity as a visual aid or try these cards below from Routine for Kids. You could also start a countdown to their first day as kids can find it hard to understand how long it is until a designated point in the future.
Now while it might not be about learning to write their name starting to recognise it can be very helpful just because they are going to be seeing it on their pegs, their book bags, their PE kit. When children start school it’s all about supporting them to be that little bit more independent and take a bit more responsibility for themselves, their wellbeing and their belongings. There is no doubt that their jumper at some point will end up in a big pile on the playground floor and they’ll have to rummage through to find theirs at the end of break (or you will have to rummage through lost property at hometime!).
But don’t panic if they don’t recognise their name. It will come. If you don’t already have one, try putting a nice sign on their bedroom door - you could even make it and decorate it yourselves! Just recognising the first letter of their name can be a big help. Why not make it fun by writing it in shaving foam, paint, chalks, playdough, magnetic fridge letters - do it in loads of different ways. Also all great ways to practice writing their name if this is something they are starting to want to have a go at (though this is by no means expected). Please can I just ask that they learn their name with a capital letter at the beginning and the rest in lowercase letters, as this is how they will learn to write when in school.
Then, if they are also showing an interest in numbers try singing lots of numerical songs i.e. Five Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day; One, Two, Three, Four Five, Once I caught a Fish Alive, as well as doing lots of counting when you’re out and about. Point out bus numbers, house numbers, numbers around the home - on the oven, on clocks. Numbers are all around us. Count when you climb the stairs, when their brushing their teeth. Most importantly, keep it fun. No pressure! Number recognition is handy but not essential. If they don’t know them then it’s absolutely fine because that is what school is for!
My final tip, if you’ve let it slip - and we are all busy people so this easily happens - is to start getting into the habit of reading bedtime stories together again. Your school is no doubt going to be sending home books so encouraging their love of reading now will pay dividends and it’s obviously a lovely way to end the day too, providing a great opportunity for you to have a chat, and inviting them to share their day (and any new experiences) with you. Do beware however, kids have a notorious knack for miraculously forgetting all they have done the moment they walk out of those school gates. Take a look at my post about how to talk to your child about their day.
I leave you with a list of fantastic books all about starting school:
- Starting School by Janet Ahlberg (a very popular book)
- Harry and the Dinosaur Start School by Ian Whybrow
- Alfie and the Big Boys by Shirley Hughes
- Topsy and Tim Start School by Jean Adamson and Belinda Worsley
- Usborne First Experiences: Going to School by Anna Civard
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and Ruth E. Harper
- There’s a Dragon at My School by Philip Hawthorn (one of my favourites which I am currently reading with Mason)
- Suzie Goes to School by Charlotte Olson
Finally our Starting School play calendars offer 12 playful ways to prepare your little one for September! Kids love opening the little doors to discover fun activity ideas that will support skills for starting school.
Wishing you and your little ones the best of luck in the next step of your journey.