Starting School – Top tips for getting your child ready for their first day at school

I decided to write this blog as there is very little information available to parents about starting school and the best ways to support them through this time. I am able to write from the viewpoint of a Reception teacher as well as a mum who went through the process last year. Isabel was starting school when she had just turned four and she had complex medical issues as well so I thought it would be good to share our experiences and things that went well for us.

I thought I would start with the phrase ‘Ready for School’. If you hear this you assume that your child should be able to write their name, count to 10, sit for long periods of time and concentrate. Actually it means something very different, and as a teacher whilst these things are very nice they are not a requirement for starting school. Below are a list of things that you should try to concentrate on between now and starting school in September and they will really help your child to settle into school life quickly.

  1. Independence – your child will be in a class of up to 30 children, so they will be expected to carry out certain tasks on their own. There is of course help available if they need it but it is very helpful if your child is able to dress and undress themselves. They can turn jumpers and t-shirts the right way round after taking them off. They can open a lunchbox and the items inside it. They can open a straw and push it into their milk. They can go to the toilet independently. If they need help in this area then it is really important you talk to your child about asking for help. My finger gym blog has lots of ideas to help support your child to develop the dexterity they need to become independent.
  2. Social Skills – Your child is used to playing with children of a similar age. This could be with family members, play dates or at nursery or pre-school. It is through these interactions your child will be building the social skills needed to create friendships, they will also be learning to take turns and share which are all vital skills when starting school. They will also be experimenting with words and feelings so they know what words make others feel sad, and what words make others feel happy. They will also need to know how to tell an adult if they are worried or upset about something and practising these in a safe environment first are vital, so get those play dates booked in!
  3. Emotions- Is your child able to leave you comfortably? Do they get upset when going into nursery or pre-school? What strategies do they use to calm down? Do they use a comforter? A hug? A distraction? Before your child starts school in September try to support them by talking to them about emotions, encourage them to name the emotions they are experiencing. Explain to your child that you will be coming back and although they are feeling sad now, they will be having lots of fun whilst you are gone. Tell them what you will be doing while you are away from them (make sure it is unappealing to your child) and that you will be back soon to hear all about the fun they have had. Ensure your child’s class teacher is aware that your child may get upset when you leave and the strategies they use to calm down.
  4. A love of books- Does your child enjoy sharing stories? It is so important to share books together from an early age. It gives your child exposure to a wide range of vocabulary. They are able to recognise the patterns in stories and become familiar with story language. They are also a great way for your child to access learning about new experiences and feelings. Go to the library together and find stories about starting school. This will help your child to share any anxieties they may have or share their excitement.

Here are some frequently asked questions about starting school and my responses to them.

My child is worried about starting somewhere new. How can I help them?

Most schools have transition visits for new children starting so try to attend as many of these as possible. They may encourage you to leave your child for a short time on their own. This is a good idea and one that will show your child they can do it on their own without any help from mum and dad. Your school might provide a transition book with photographs of the school setting such as ‘This is where I hang my coat’, ‘This is where I eat my lunch’. If the school does not provide one of these then ask permission to take photographs of the main areas your child will access during the day. You can then make your own book and look at it over the summer holidays. It means your child will be familiar with the setting and the teachers before they start in September.

My child is shy and doesn’t know anyone.

Many children start school without knowing anyone else. Sometimes they may have been to the same pre-school but have never met because they did different days. Teachers are very aware of children who do not know anyone else in the class, they will try to support them by grouping similar children and personalities together. The first couple of weeks in school are based on getting to know each other and so will focus on activities that help children to know each others names and play together.

My child will be just 4 when they start school. Are they too young? Should I defer their start?

Isabel started school two weeks after she turned 4. I worried about whether she would be emotionally mature enough to start school, however I didn’t need to worry at all as she was so excited about her first day at school she practically ran into the school gates, ran into the classroom with a huge smile on her face. In my experience it is all down to the individual child rather than their age. Every summer born child I have taught has coped well with starting school. This is due to the support they receive at home and the support they receive in school. The Early Years curriculum is based on planning for the individual child. Therefore your child’s teacher will be looking at where your child is and planning activities for them rather than as a class as a whole. The decision to defer for part of the year or indeed a whole year is completely personal for you as a family and one you need to think about carefully. I would definitely speak to the school and your child’s class teacher if you are thinking about this option as they may be able to support you with the decision.

Do they get to play in school?

Reception is the final year of the Early Years Curriculum which starts at birth. They will be doing everything in the same way or very similar to pre-school and nursery. They may have some more focused activities to do and more directed teaching time, however the majority of their day will still be based upon learning through play. When you ask your child at the end of the school day ‘what did you do today?’ and they say ‘play’ then you know they are learning in the best way possible which is through purposeful play.

My child can’t write their name yet. 

Your child doesn’t need to write their name when they start school although ti is helpful if they can recognise it as they will need to know where to hang their coat, and find their drawer or book bag. My blog has some great ideas on how to help your child recognise their name in fun ways.

My child has additional needs. How will they cope?

It is a good idea to introduce yourself to the school’s inclusion manager as soon as you can. It would be helpful for the school to have a complete history of your child’s needs and the support they currently receive. Most of the time this information is passed on through the pre-school setting, however the earlier the school have the information the easier it will be to plan support for your child. Most schools have a personalised plan for children with additional needs which outlines their strengths and the areas they need support in. It also states what the school is doing to support your child. This is then reviewed termly and shared with parents and your child so you all agree on the next steps. If there are any outside agencies involved such as speech and language therapy then their recommendations are also included.

My child is bright, will they be challenged?

As mentioned earlier the curriculum is individualised and based on where your child is learning at that time. This means that your child’s needs will be catered for and teaching will be adapted accordingly. If you are concerned then speak to your child’s teacher as soon as possible.

My child has medical issues. will they be looked after?

When Isabel started school she was four months into treatment for Leukaemia. We thought about deferring her entry, but decided against it as she was really looking forward to starting school and it would have been heartbreaking for her to wait another year. We had a couple of meetings with the headteacher prior to the summer holidays and then a meeting with the class teacher and our Clic Sargent nurse. These meetings were great as it meant the school was able to ask any questions they had about her treatment and the way she needed to be cared for at school. It meant they had all the information needed before the start of school to write her care plan and have everything in place before she stepped through the doors on her first day. Isabel ended up missing huge chunks of school in that first term, but the school worked closely with the hospital school to ensure she could do activities the rest of the class were doing when she was well enough. Her teacher would also provide us with the activities and focus for the week so we could do things at home together if she wanted to. I know that not everyone has had the same experience we have had and we are truly grateful to the school for taking the time and going the extra mile for us as a family and Isabel to make it possible for her to attend school as much as she can. If you are facing worries about your child’s medical needs while they are at school such as epilepsy, diabetes or severe allergies to name a few I would urge you to speak to the school at the earliest opportunity. I would also speak to your child’s medical carers as they may have liaison nurses who go into school and train the staff in how to cope with your child’s medical needs. It is also imperative you have a care plan in place that you as a family and the school are happy with so that your child can attend school safely.

I hope these tips have been useful and your questions have been answered. If there are any questions that I haven’t covered or you would like more information or advice then don’t hesitate to ask on my Facebook page ‘thehappylearner’.

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