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Preparing your child for starting school

There’s often a lot of mixed emotion for parents and carers before their child starts school, not only is it an emotional time but it can be confusing trying to understand what you need to do to get your child ready for school.

What is school readiness?

Professionals talk about school readiness but what does it really mean for parents? This blog aims to explain how we, as parents, can help our children to develop good physical, social and emotional skills appropriate to their age. Having these skills will help the children entering Reception to be comfortable in their surroundings and therefore be ‘ready to learn’. Having experienced the transition from an Early Years Setting to ‘Big School’ with my own three children, it is important to remember that each child is different and needs to be considered as an individual. Every child develops differently, and may require varying levels of support to make sure they’re physical and emotionally ready for school.

Communication

Having good language skills when entering Reception class is very important, as is having the confidence to interact with adults and children in their new setting. Children need to be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings to those around them. As parents we can help our children to develop a range of vocabulary and language to express their needs, feelings, thoughts and ideas. This can be achieved by reading to our children every day and encouraging conversations around everyday lived experiences. Many libraries will have books about starting school which are useful for starting these conversations.

As a child develops their communication skills they’ll also develop their ability to follow instructions, understand boundaries and have an awareness of their own behaviour. This ultimately leads to a happier and more confident child at school.

Independent dressing

All children have different ranges of abilities when it comes to getting dressed, but they will be expected to be able to out their uniform on with minimal help when they start school. Some children enjoy the excitement of picking out an outfit and relish the challenge of getting themselves dressed. Others will have spent their pre-school years happily walking around dressed in the minimal of clothes given the chance.

The summer holiday is the perfect opportunity to teach your child how to dress and undress themselves independently. You have the time to practice in a relaxed manner and show them how to work tricky zips or buttons. Most school uniform for young children is geared towards making this as easy as possible, but it still needs practice! The next few months are ideal for your child to learn these vital skills which will make getting ready for PE, playtime and home time a less stressful experience.

Please remember, help is available if you are struggling to buy your child a school uniform due to financial reasons. Your child’s school and First Days Children's Charity are both able to help if support is needed.

Independent eating

Eating and drinking independently are skills that your child will be expected to have experience of when they start school. This is often the first time that your child finds themselves in a position where they need to do things by themselves, such as using cutlery, cutting up their school dinners and drinking from an open cup. All reception children can receive free school dinners, so if you’re taking this option, they'll need to be able to hold and use a knife, fork and spoon. Adults will always be available to help with cutting, but the more independent your child is, the less time they'll need to spend waiting for help. This will make them feel more confident and also give them more time to play with their friends!

If your child is having a packed lunch, they might have to open containers such as yogurt pots and packets. It's a good idea to practise opening these at home as they can be tricky (and often messy!). Even peeling fruit such as a banana or orange can be difficult so try to encourage your child to do this independently at home before they start school.

And as for the food itself, as a busy parent I know the challenges of trying to think of different nutritious food to put into the lunch box of a fussy eater. For ideas on healthy lunchbox ideas visit the Change 4 Life site.

Toileting

Teachers report that more children than ever are starting school in nappies, not yet toilet trained. This places huge demands on the school staff and has an impact on your child’s health, wellbeing and educational attainment. Being toilet trained is a skill that children need to develop independence, self-esteem and confidence to thrive at school. Ofsted guidelines state that every child should be able to go to the toilet independently by the age of five.

However, it’s acknowledged that using the toilet is a developmental milestone that can create huge stress for some families. Lets Go Potty from ERIC – The Children’s Bowel and Bladder Charity, provides a useful guide to getting children to use the toilet independently. There's also advice on our bedwetting pages.

Many children who start school regularly wet the bed. Bedwetting (also known as 'nocturnal enuresis') affects around half a million children and teenagers in the UK. It's an issue families can find very isolating and difficult to talk about openly. Growing up with bedwetting can take a huge toll on family and school life and affect a child’s self-esteem and emotional well-being. The good news is you don't need to wait until children grow out of bedwetting - treatment is available and recommended from the age of 5 years. Your school nursing team run a regular clinic which offers information, advice and practical tips to support you and your child through this common childhood condition. More information can also be found on the ERIC website

School Health Questionnaire

In the Autumn term you’ll receive a leaflet about our School Nursing Service and a school health questionnaire. It’s useful if you can complete and return the questionnaire so that we have the most up-to-date demographic and health information about your child. It lets the school nurse know if they need to be aware of any essential medical information about your child.

It also provides you with the opportunity to highlight any additional difficulties you may be experiencing with your child; for example issues with sleep or behaviour. Please be reassured the information you provide is confidential and will only be shared on a need-to-know basis with the school.

Specific Medical Conditions

If your child has a medical condition such as Asthma, Epilepsy or a Severe Allergic Reaction, starting school can create increased feelings of anxiety for parents. Please be reassured that schools receive regular training on how to manage these conditions, and care plans are available within schools to make sure your child will be looked after safely.

Make sure you contact your GP to request any additional medication which needs to be kept at school (such as inhalers, auto injectors or buccolam if your child requires emergency medication to manage epilepsy). Please communicate with the school staff if you have any specific concerns (sometimes a home/school communication book can be useful) about your child’s medical needs. The School Nursing Team are also available to offer support and guidance to school or your family where needed.

You'll find more to help you on our School Readiness pages. BBC Bitesize has some great resources on preparing to start primary school

Starting primary school is a major milestone for you and your child, and this blog has been written to help your child make the best possible start to school life. We hope the first few weeks of school go well for you and your child – good luck! 

About the author

Kirsten Hill is a Specialist Practitioner School Nurse