Starting school is a huge milestone in every child’s development. We spoke to a primary teacher to find out how you can help ease your tot's journey into ‘the big school’.
Giving your child the best start to their time in school can have a positive impact on their entire education. So, how do you get it right? All children will enter school at different stages of development, and this is completely normal. But there are certain things that all parents and carers can do to ensure children are ready for this new experience.
Preparing your child emotionally
Become familiar, together
Get to know the school – new places and people can be very daunting for little ones. Becoming familiar with their new surroundings, as well as meeting the teachers and other adults working in their class, will give your child the reassurance that they are going into a familiar and welcoming environment:
• Arrange to visit the school, with your child, in the summer term before they enter their first year so that they are familiar with the setting.
• Attend information evenings for new parents, if provided, so that you can ask questions and find out about the school’s expectations for your child.
• If an older sibling already attends the school, ask them to tell your younger child about what school is like, who the staff are and what to expect. They may be doing this naturally in conversation already!
• Many schools organise home visits, where your child’s teacher will visit you at home or in the child’s nursery setting, to get to know a little about your family and background.
• Seize these opportunities to ensure that there is good communication and understanding between home and school, as this will provide your child with the structure and security that they need for this next stage in their development.
My son has autism so planning weeks ahead helps keep reminding him school starts. I also show him pictures of his school teachers etc. to get him used to the idea. - Suzanne Cunnane Taylor
Socialising your tot
If your child has attended nursery prior to starting school, they may well have friends in the class who will be starting school with them, which is great! If they are starting school without having attended nursery, or in a different setting to their friends, try to connect with other parents or children in the class. You could arrange play dates over the summer holidays so that your child can get to know other children before starting school with them. Opportunities to socialise with other children are important for your child; they will help develop certain social skills that will benefit them in school and later life:
• Turn taking. Give your child opportunities to play games and understand the importance of taking turns and listening to others.
• Inviting others to play and asking to join in.
• Encourage them to be empathetic towards other children.
It’s important to let your child get excited, too! Starting school can be daunting but also exciting for young children. Allow them to enjoy this anticipation and help them to prepare emotionally for what school will be like. Why not read books about starting school together? Encourage your child to ask questions, and answer them honestly. It may help to buy some school uniform a little early to allow your child time to get used to wearing it or to role-play going to school at home.
Preparing your child developmentally
One of the main aims of a child’s first year in school is to help them to develop their independence, both personally and academically. It is important that children are able to transition from dependence on adults to being positive and confident individuals. Teachers and staff in school will support your child to become independent in accessing their learning, but there are many ways you can support your child with the independence before they begin school.
Using the bathroom
By the time they start school, developmentally typical children should be able to use the toilet independently. This includes removing necessary items of clothing, wiping themselves, flushing the toilet, dressing and washing their hands. Of course, children may still have accidents in school, and early years classrooms are well equipped to deal with any mishaps your child might have. But try to give them the best start by teaching them independence with toileting before they start school.
In their first year at school, your child will likely spend a lot of time outdoors, playing in mud, paint, water and sand. Expect them to come home dirty – this is an essential part of their learning and development. But to help maintain their personal hygiene (and save on your washing bill!) encourage your child to become independent with self-care. Show them how to wash their hands when dirty, how to use aprons to protect their clothing and how to clean up after themselves, too.
For P.E lessons, outdoor learning, or even just to remove a layer when hot, it is important that your child is able to dress and undress themselves independently. If they only ever have parents doing this for them at home, they will continue to be reliant on adults when they start school. You can make this easier for them by choosing fun clothing with zips or elastic instead of buttons, and shoes with Velcro rather than laces.
When they start school, children will begin dining with their peers, whether eating school meals or packed lunches. It is again important that they are able to eat independently so that they are not reliant on adults to help them. Show children how to use cutlery at home, and even if they aren’t particularly adept, this skill will develop over time as they eat socially at school.
Preparing your child for learning
The first year of school for most children will consist of a lot of learning through play. In most settings, children will not be expected to take part in formal, sit-down lessons until they are a little older. Children’s academic development is underpinned by their development in the areas of personal and social development, communication and language and physical development. However, there are ways you can give them a good start academically.
Read with your child
One of the things your child will start to learn in their first year of school is how to read simple words and sentences. But it is important to expose them to books, language and stories from a young age. Being familiar with traditional stories, talking about books and developing the skills of listening and attention are important to a young child’s development. Your child does not need to be able to read books independently before starting school, but should have plenty of opportunities to enjoy and share books with you, listening to them being read and joining in with familiar patterns of text. Try to make this part of your daily routine, perhaps before they go to bed.
Before they can begin to write their own name, children need to be able to recognise the patterns and shapes of letters within their name. This will help them to find their own belongings when they start school, label pieces of work, and recognise letters in other contexts. If your child is ready, teach them to write their own name too!
Opportunities to count begin from a very early age through games and songs, and in playgroup and nursery settings. Encourage your child to practise counting so that number patterns become second nature to them. See if you can spot numbers in your day-to-day environment and encourage children to identify them. Learning numbers doesn’t have to be boring!
Let them rest
In the first few weeks of school, your child will be very, very tired. For many, this is their first time in a full-time educational setting and it can be a big shock to the system. Allow your child time to rest when they get home from school and try not to plan a heavy schedule of extra-curricular clubs and activities for them. They will need time to adjust to their new routine, so give them plenty of time to relax and sleep at home.
Starting school is not just a daunting experience for children, but also for parents. Particularly if your first child is beginning school and you are not sure what to expect. There are some simple things you can do to help yourself prepare for your child starting school.
Label everything. Seriously, everything!
For your own sanity, label every belonging which your child is taking into school with them – uniform, water bottles, P.E kits, bags, reading records, hats and any accessories. One school jumper looks much like another and if your child cannot find their own, they once again become reliant on adults for help. It is similarly frustrating for parents and teachers when items go missing and are difficult to find because they are not named. Sew-in or stick-on name labels are a great solution - put them on everything you can!
Involve them in choosing and labelling school supplies and make sure they have something special as a surprise in their school bag. Even tinies need one for their reading folder/bag that comes home every day. - Penny Meyer-Polins
And finally, prepare to get emotional
It is completely normal to shed a tear when your child starts school. It can be upsetting for parents to accept that their child is growing up and is able to cope without them for whole days at a time. As you wave them off, you may be overwhelmed with a range of emotions – pride, sadness, longing, apprehension, happiness, and even guilt. But you are not alone. Most other parents will feel the same way! Why not arrange to go out for coffee with other parents, or do something relaxing to help take your mind off it and pass the time until you can pick them up – remember, self-care is important for yourself too. Your little one will be overjoyed to see you again at the end of their first day!