Most children attend nursery or pre-school, but there is a wide variation in what they have attained at this crucial point. How much should children be able to do when they start school and what do teachers expect?
Teachers are fully prepared for children in their new intake to be at different levels of learning. They don’t expect children all to start Reception knowing their alphabet or how to read – though of course, a few will. Some children are ready to start reading and numbers before school, but many are not, so teachers generally assume that children will know nothing. It’s tempting for parents to compare, but what children can do when they start school is not always a good indicator of what they will achieve in years to come. However, there are some basic skills you can introduce at home which can help them educationally and practically.
Children vary in their ability to look after themselves – such as dressing and using the toilet independently – and this is an area where parents can really help. If children can put on their own shoes and go to the toilet by themselves, it not only makes the teacher’s life easier but it will give the child greater confidence.
KEY SKILLS CHECKLIST
Recognise their name
It’s really useful for children to be able to recognise their own name. It means they can find their coat pegs and named clothes when they change for PE, making life easier all round.
Grip a pencil
Many children find it hard to hold a pencil with the correct grip. It can take years to correct an incorrect grip. Stationers have plastic pencil grips which fit all pencils and train children how to hold the pencil correctly.
Teaching your child how to sit still is very important. Many children have a low level of concentration and wander off around the room at the slightest opportunity. You can increase a child’s concentration by reading to them and asking them to sit still beside you.
Wait for their turn
Children also need to learn to wait for their turn. Reception is slightly more formal than pre-school or nursery and some children have not learned how to queue for equipment or wait to ask an adult for something.
Speak to teacher
While they need to learn to wait, it’s also important that your child overcomes any shyness so they can alert an adult quickly, if they are unwell or need the toilet for instance. So it’s worth chatting about when it’s okay to ask the teacher for something they need urgently.
Learn from life
All learning should be fun. August is not the time for workbooks or work sheets – there are years of those ahead. Use what is around you. The cereal box is a good starting place: can they see a letter ‘a’? How many of the letters are red, blue or green? If you are sitting in a cafe you can play the same sort of games by asking them the starting letters of objects around you, such as ‘c’ for ‘cup’ so they begin to link sounds to letters.
Read and count
Read to your child as much as possible. Introduce number work by counting bricks when they build a tower. Being able to hold a paintbrush, trace around objects and use scissors is helpful – it develops fine motor skills and makes children feel more independent.
Keep it fun
Don’t force children to do anything they are not ready for, or not enjoying. The point of learning at this stage is that it should be fun – use those weeks before school starts to help children enjoy all the activities they will discover in the classroom.
BE SCHOOL READY
Sarah West is marketing and communications manager of charity Parentkind, which runs the Be School Ready campaign to support parents and kids in getting their school life off to a flying start. Here are her ‘be ready’ tips:
1. Be positive
Reading books about school to children, and talking about the characters, can really help them to understand what happens there and to recognise and express some of their own feelings about starting school. Talking about your own school days can be fun too. Teach your child some of your old playground games and dig out your old class photos.
2. Develop independence
At school they’ll need to do things themselves, so let them practice at home – be patient while they’re learning. Everyone progresses at their own pace, so celebrate the little achievements. Encourage them to get dressed and undressed, into and out of their school uniform, coat and PE kit. Look for Velcro shoe straps and elasticated waistbands to make it easier.
3. Practice makes perfect
Playing games like shops, cafes and schools is a fun and relaxed way for children to try out skills like packing their school bags or carrying plates, cutlery and a cup on a tray. Encourage them to use the toilet independently and remind them of basic hygiene rules - little prompts, like making a hedgehog with their hands when washing them, will help them remember!
4. See the new surroundings
Going along to events at your child’s new school, like the summer fair, can help both you and your child get used to the new surroundings before term starts. Take part in the settling in or welcome events for new starters if you can – they’re a great way for you to get to know other parents and staff beforehand.
You could also do a ‘dry run’ of your route to school, just as if it was the big day itself, so that children understand where they're going and get used to the journey they’ll be taking every day.
5. Get organised
It’s not just your child who is preparing for a new routine. Being able to manage all the new things that come with school is just as important for you. There’s a surprising amount of admin to deal with – letters and forms come home every week – and you need to keep on top of them. Read the newsletters, familiarise yourself with the school website and note dates on your calendar. Remember to share information with everyone involved in your child’s care.
6. Buy in bulk and label everything
Kids can get really messy in Reception class, so stock up on some spare uniform. Supermarkets generally have a good budget selection, but don’t forget to check out the PTA’s pre-loved uniform sale.
Once you have all that new uniform, the last thing you want is for it to end up in the lost property box, so make sure you label everything! Labels with little pictures, as well as names, can be really helpful for children who don’t recognise their name written down yet.
7. Be positive and calm
Both you and your child are on a steep learning curve! Accepting that they will become more independent of you can be really difficult, but if they can see you are positive about their new adventures (even if you’re not there!) it will make them less anxious. If you have any worries, talk to their teacher, school office, or head teacher - they are there to help.
Top tip for their first day is to make sure you don’t stick around at drop off. It’s generally best to leave them to it and have a box of tissues ready at home – just in case of tears… yours, not theirs!
8. Get involved in school life
As a new parent, volunteering for the PTA or helping in class are great ways to be more involved with the school. By attending meetings and get-togethers, you will soon get to know other parents and learn more about the day-to-day running of the school. Children always like to see their parents participating and being part of the school community.
If you can’t make it through the school gates because of work or other commitments, don’t worry: you can still get involved and stay in touch by joining school social media groups. This a great way to keep up to date with what’s going on when you can’t be there in person.
9. It’s not a race!
Try to avoid playground discussions about whose child can already read or count – every child develops at their own pace. The qualities that matter most in Reception age children are curiosity, independence, imagination, and enjoying playing and sharing with other children.
Showing an interest in your child’s education right from the start is a great way of helping them settle. Research shows that parents who are involved in their child’s education can truly make a difference, helping them to reach their potential academically, behaviourally and emotionally. So help children thrive in their new adventures by staying positive, calm and enthusiastic about school. Good luck!
As leading Parent Teacher Association (PTA) membership organisation and registered charity in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Parentkind champions ways that parents can participate in their child’s education. It also provides training and support to teachers, governors and parents to build successful home-school relationships.
or for more top tips for parents, follow them on Facebook - @Parentkind.org.uk