As the summer term comes to an end, conversations start to heat up about your child starting school and the whole notion about your little one going to “big” school starts to become a reality. You have made the big decision about what school they will attend, and now as you go to school meetings, uniform shopping and finding out who they will be spending their time with, the whole thing seems like a big step for our little people- and for us!
Firstly, I want to let you know I come at this with a personal perspective, being a parent about to step into the school system, I understand the concerns parents face, the pressure to get it right and the desire to start school life in a positive way.
One of my children is about to start Reception class, and as she will be one of the youngest in her year, I am filled with a mix of emotions. My daughter was born 3 weeks early, and when I saw the date of her birth induction- I knew from that moment that school would start early for her and to be honest it made me feel uncomfortable. The question of “will she be ready?” started long before now.
I am not alone in this as a recent survey found that 71% of parents feel anxious about their child starting school, these anxieties are based on worries about making friends and settling into the new routine.
From a professional stand point I have been confident in my work with children that I send them off to school as equipped and ‘ready’ as possible so they face the next challenge.
However, now I can see the bigger picture, I can feel the anxiety and lack of information for parents about what “being ready for school” really means, should I focus on academic, practical or emotional readiness? Should the pressure fall on the child? Is it realistic that the elements of being ready are the same for all considering children develop at different stages? How helpful is it to have a check list that can feel like it leaves some children behind?
So many questions! And big questions! As parents relinquish some control and trust to schools.
What is school readiness?
This term gets used a lot, but how do we prepare our little ones? What are the important skills they need? Do they need to be able to do it all? If they need to be ready, what happens if my child doesn’t tick that box?
In the early years sector most can’t agree how children should prepare for school, so no wonder there is confusion with parents. With this confusion comes genuine concern for their children about how will they cope, what we can do to help be confident in the next challenge in their lives.
The Child’s Readiness for school
So how can we support our child so we feel confident they have the skills to start school in a positive way?
After speaking with a local pre-school teacher, with many years’ experience in transitioning children to school, you maybe surprised to hear that the aspects she felt are important wasn’t necessarily ‘academic’. Her insight was that children need to feel confident and happy, which leads to them to be ready and willing to learn.
With this in mind, I have come up with a few interesting and fun ways to practice some of the skills that would be helpful:
You could use a toilet chart that shows the routine of independent toileting- visual cues are helpful for children to start to think without being told what is next.
Have some fun family meals where your little one could choose what they want from the table and put on their own plate, pour drinks for themselves and others- could pretend they are in a restaurant.
Play ‘fashion show’ with the new uniform so they can dress up, to practice getting dressed.
Read books about being away from each other- “The Invisible String” book is perfect for this!
Encourage asking for help when they need it- by not jumping in to help too quickly- say things like do you need help? And can you tell me how I can help?- this is a great skill to have!
Do little jobs round the house together and get your child to problem solve and think about the task- work as a team instead of instructing…..this really promotes confidence and says you trust them.
In little ways encourage making choices and decisions- like looking at the weather to decide what to wear, or what to pack in a bag on a trip to a friends.
Listening & Understanding:
Play a scavenger hunt game- “Go find a yellow t-shirt” this practices following instructions- make it more complicated the better they get.
When your child gets upset- name the emotion, so they start to understand feeling and how to express themselves.
Encourage being able to be interested in something for 10 minutes- be creative about your child’s interests and really find a way to connect. For example if your child like to be creative but doesn’t enjoy drawing at a table- take it outside with big pieces of paper and paint rollers!......Tap into what they like!
These are just some fun ideas if you are worried your child needs a bit more confidence- the important thing is encouraging them with kindness and support will help to develop these skills.
The Schools Readiness for the child
I was lucky enough to talk in depth with a head teacher from a local primary school to get her perspective on the term “school readiness”. It was a really interesting conversation both as a parent and professional.
The head teacher explained that the school should be ready for every child, that the buck doesn’t just fall at the child’s feet but everyone should work together for the best outcome for the child.
This is an important point as children start at different ages, stages, abilities, social backgrounds and needs. Of course the school has to adapt, work with and support children to be ready to learn. But how realistic is this in a busy classroom?
Coming from an early years background she believes the foundations for learning come from play. Having a play based curriculum that underpins all the learning, children are then able to go at their own pace and the teachers can adapt and extend play to suit the type of approach that works best for the individual child- which leads to more confident, happier and thriving children.
However, for this to work effectively, we both agreed that the teachers and practitioners need to be skilled, passionate and able to adapt to the different stages they find.
“All children, at all ages, are ‘ready to learn’ and have been doing so since birth. Recent research using new techniques in cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology has established that many of our cognitive processes are there and fully functioning at birth, or mature very quickly during the first 4-5 years of life. So, the significant question is not whether a child is ready to learn but what a child is ready to learn and how adults can best support the processes of learning”
Her main point was this: Learning comes from children feeling happy, secure and having trust in the people that are teaching them. Having parents that feel supported, part of the school community promotes that security. If parents trust the school and feel confident, that will filter down to the child.
The Families’ Readiness for school
After getting the perspectives of both someone managing the school and a teacher that gets little ones prepared for school life, they both agreed that working in partnerships with parents will have a positive impact on successful transition.
If parents are able to encourage positive attitudes about school the child will feel more ready, secure and confident in the school. If we are happy and confident our children will take on board that this is a safe place for them to be.
How To Prepare for the first day
How can we as parents make the school sound like an exciting place to be? How do we put aside our anxiety and worry so they feel confident to go? How do we show them that this will be ok?
Over the summer it’s great to prepare for the first day and what school is all about, here are some things to try so your little one feels included in the process and has opportunities to express themselves:
Use books about starting school with favourite characters to read and open up conversations with your little one.
Use play as a tool to talk about school- play schools, or talk whilst doing an activity together about how they feel and any questions they might have- talking whilst playing is a powerful tool and makes the child feel relaxed, rather than direct questioning.
Go shopping to choose a lunch box, bag or shoes- make this a fun trip……try not to overload the shopping trip so it becomes stressful.
Look at school photos of you on your the first day of school and tell funny stories- this helps little ones know its normal and you have been there too.
Look at the school website at the pictures and talk about it with your child.
Take a walk to the school when it is closed and quiet and just talk about the building and what happens.
Arrange a play date with a friend that will attend with your child- familiar faces are always helpful.
By keeping our message about school positive, it will help to promote security, so try not to:
Talk about ‘big’ school all the time! As our anxiety grows we have a tendency to keep bringing it up- try to make conversations positive, light and natural.
“You can’t do that when you go to big school” – how often do you hear this?? From a little ones point of view they may start to worry about what other things they can’t do. Try “That’s a good thing to show your teacher when you get to school”
Talk in front of your little one about the school, with questions, worry or concern- keep everything as smooth as possible so they feel confident you have chosen a place that is safe, secure and positive for them.
There is no doubt that starting school is a big step for us all! Wanting our little ones to be prepared without feeling pressure is a balancing act- but giving support, encouragement and kindness to our school starters will help them find their way.
One thing is for sure it will be a team effort- parents, child and school!
With thanks to Lingfield Primary School taking the time to support me in writing this.
Please share with friends and family who have a school starter! :)