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Getting your child ready for school

Children learn and grow through playing, exploring, being active and creative, and by being asked questions to help their thinking. They go to school or nursery at different ages with different abilities - your child’s teacher will help your child to progress at their own pace.

There are lots of skills you can practise with your child at home to give them the best start when they join their new classmates.

Chatting with your child about school in a positive way in the time leading up to them starting, and involving them in the process of getting them ready to do things for themselves so they can concentrate on learning, can help lessen any worries they may have. They do not have to be able to reach all of the milestones by the time they start school, but it can be helpful to practice these things in the lead-up.

Skills to practice at home

  • When sharing a book or playing with toys, ask your child questions starting with what, where and who. Play with them and share games. Use imagination to tell stories and sit and read a book together, looking at the pictures and talking about the story. 
  • Encourage your child to join in with singing songs and rhymes. Take them to Story Time sessions at the local library where they’ll be taught a few simple songs to practise at home. 
  • Help your child to make friends with other children and be able to take turns, by taking them to places where they can play with other children, such as playgroups and playgrounds; there are probably some play sessions near home. It’s good to meet other children and share toys with them. 
  • Talk to your child about how they are feeling and show them what their needs are. Talk about your own feelings and ask about theirs – ask what they’re looking forward to and what they’re unsure of. Help them to understand how their feelings and actions are connected.
  • Encourage your child to talk using three and four-word sentences. Talk to them about what we they’re playing with and what they are doing. Talk to them when you are outside about what your plans are and what is happening next.
  • Help your child to understand simple ideas, such as ‘big’ and ‘little’ and ‘hot’ and ‘cold’. Tell them about things you see together and help them to describe things and feelings you can’t see.
  • Follow routines so your child will be able to do things on their own. Talk to them about the order they do things in and the reasons why. 
  • Teach your child to use the toilet on their own and wash their own hands. Give them chances to use a potty or toilet and wipe clean. Show them how to wash their hands and explain why this is important.
  • Watch them pour their own drink from a small jug and use cutlery to feed themselves. Give your child a small jug and a cup with no lid that they can play with and feed their toys.
  • Teach your child to react to their name and recognise it in print. Show them their name and point out the letters. Talk about all the letters of the alphabet, and things at home and outside that begin with those letters.
  • Help your child to make lines on a picture that go across, up and down, and round and round. Give them chances to hold pens and pencils, and try drawing and painting on paper. Put some up on the wall to decorate.  
  • Help your child to put a coat and shoes on themselves. Show them how you put your coat on, and give them a coat with simple fastenings so they’ll be able to manage it themselves.  
  • Show your child how to climb stairs safely and be able to understand how to keep safe. Talk to them about staying safe and offer chances to do things safely, such as climbing. A visit to an outdoor playground is perfect to practise running, jumping and climbing.
  • Check with your health visitor that all of your child’s immunisations (often called pre-school boosters) are up to date. 

Children who have started to practise these simple skills at home have a better chance of focusing on learning when they start school.

We have also drawn up a Get Ready for School checklist and Get Ready for the Big Day for parents and guardians to go through in a fun way to help counter any first day nerves.

Getting Ready for School checklist

Stay Positive

  • Talk about how exciting it will be to start school and how much fun they will have.
  • Share all the activities they might do e.g. painting/sand and water/ stories ask them what they are looking forward to. Share your favourite activities with them.
  • Remember to only talk about your worries when your child is not around.

Encourage independence

  • Practise going to the toilet by themselves, washing and drying their hands.
  • Familiarise yourselves with hand dryers as the noise can be quite scary. Make it fun!
  • Help them to use a knife and fork like they will in school.
  • Learn about tidy up time - put a timer on your phone and see how many toys they can pick up before the song finishes.
  • Help children to blow their own nose and put the tissue in the bin.
  • Practise putting shoes and coat on and off - encourage them to do this by themselves.
  • Ask your children - what do you think? When they ask a question to encourage them to solve problems when you are not there.

Read, Chat and Play

  • Read stories about starting school - ‘Dear Teacher’ by Amy Husband, ‘Harry and the dinosaurs go to school’ by Ian Whybrow.
  • Help your child to start a conversation with their new classmates. Use dolls and soft toys to practise saying ‘hello’!
  • Talk about how teachers are there to help and they can ask them anything.
  • Make school a part of everyday conversation without putting too much pressure on your child.

​Listen

  • Listen if your child wants to ask questions or share worries. Even if they seem silly to you, such as where will I put my coat.
  • Practise listening for sounds - loud sounds, quiet sounds. And remember to have fun!
  • Play board games such as Snakes and Ladders. Be sure to use the language of turn-taking, like ‘Whose turn is it next?’ and ‘Thank you for waiting’.
  • Play pretend school - this will help them to practise conversations and asking for help.
  • Play ‘Simon says’ - this will help them to listen and follow instructions.
  • Blow a feather with their nose - this will help them practise blowing their nose.
  • Play the ‘stop’ - ‘go’ game - when walking to places to practise listening skills and following instructions.

​Get Ready for the Big Day

The week before school

  • Label their uniform and anything else that can be taken off and lost.
  • Practise the whole school run, from getting dressed and having breakfast to making the journey to school.
  • Give your child confidence to ask their teacher or teaching assistant for help if they need it.
  • If you co-parent, establish and share information about your arrangements for drop-off and pick-up with your child and their teacher. For more information - One school, two homes: How to co-parent when your child starts school - BBC Bitesize.

The day before school

  • School clothes laid out.
  • Shoes and coat ready by the door.
  • School bag packed.
  • Talk about the exciting day ahead.

The big day​

  • Take a photo, it is their first day after all.
  • Make a packed lunch if your child isn’t having school dinners.
  • Get to school in plenty of time and check what time your child needs to be collected.
  • Talk and compare notes with other parents.
  • When you pick them up take them for a treat, go to the park, ask them
  • general questions ‘What made you smile?’, ‘Who were you kind to?’

The first few weeks​

  • Stay calm, it can take children a few weeks to settle in so don’t worry if your child is still teary and clingy, they will settle.
  • Children might be tired and hungry after school, so let them have some quiet time and a little snack, or drink to restore their energy levels.
  • Keep talking to your child about how they feel, what they enjoyed and what they didn’t enjoy.
  • Establish a friendly relationship with the teacher, finding out the best times and means of communicating with them.
  • If you have any concerns about your child’s needs then speak to the teacher, with your knowledge of your child and the teacher’s knowledge you’ll both be able to agree the best ways forward for your child.

The PDF files below may not be suitable to view for people with disabilities, users of assistive technology or mobile phone devices.

Please download and print 'Getting Ready for School' checklist (PDF, 186KB) and 'Get Ready for the Big Day' checklist (PDF, 192KB)