by Claire Russell
Early Years Specialist
Probably one of the biggest milestones of being a parent is that of your child starting school. Before their little one takes this massive next step, mums and dads everywhere will be wondering nervously how they can help prepare them!
It can be an anxious time for parents (and children) but first and foremost, it’s important not to 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 parents can do and some good habits they can encourage to help their child feel a little more ready. And I’m not talking about them being able to write their name, or count to 10. 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 socially and emotionally.
1. 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 shoes on? Try having a practice. No doubt they’re excited about wearing them and it’s handy for them to get used to dressing themselves because they’ll have to attempt it at school during PE class or when they need the toilet.
2. Try to get your child into the habit of eating independently. Teachers will not be expecting miracles and your child 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 or gee them along! If they don’t already, encourage them to have a go at using cutlery. Invite them to take their plate to the kitchen afterwards too as they may well be expected to clear their lunch trays at school.
3. Practice independent toileting. Can they wipe their own bum? 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.
4. Encourage your child to keep warm. 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 they get into the habit. Likewise, when it comes to drinking! It’s important to stay hydrated.
5. Focus on sharing. They are going to be in an environment with lots of other children. Now if they’ve been to nursery or preschool previously, they may be used to this but if not, play some games with them, focusing upon sharing and taking turns, following instructions and routines.
6. Try working on and developing fine motor skills. Encourage them to do little fiddly things which strengthen the muscles used in the pincer grip which will be required to hold a pencil or use tools such a scissors. Practise threading beads onto a string, making small items from playdough, or shredding scraps of paper.
7. If a child is a little anxious try to notice if they keep asking the same question. It may be that it’s a certain something that is causing them to worry. Even the smallest of things can appear a big deal to them so sit down together, talk through and unpick the matter. Draw a timetable of the school day including pictures as a visual aid, for example, drop off, sit on carpet, have a snack, play and lunch.
8. Teach your child to recognise their written name. Now while it might not be about learning to write their name, starting to recognise it can be very helpful because they’re going to be seeing it on their pegs, book bags, PE kit. If you don’t already have one, put a sign on their bedroom door – you could 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 and magnetic fridge letters.
9. If they’re showing an interest in numbers try singing lots of numerical songs. For example, Five Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day; One, Two, Three, Four Five, Once I caught a Fish Alive, as well as counting when you’re out and about. Point out bus numbers, house numbers, numbers around the home – on the oven, on clocks. Count when you climb the stairs and when brushing their teeth. Most importantly, keep it fun. No pressure though! 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!
10. Finally, make a habit of reading together regularly. School will be sending home books so encouraging their love of reading now will pay dividends.
Claire Russell is an Early Years Specialist and founder of playHOORAY!. Find out more about Claire at www.playhooray.co.uk or follow her on social media at www.instagram.com/play.hooray and Facebook at www.facebook.com/playhooray.uk for live play demos every week day at 10am.