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Preparing your child for school

Looking forward to school

You can help your child look forward to school by removing the fear of the unknown. If they already go to nursery or pre-school the move up to 'big school' should be a bit easier, but in any case, knowing what to expect will help.

Talk about school

Always be positive and enthusiastic about all the fun things that will happen at school, use their teacher's name so it feels familiar and talk about the new friends they'll make. You'll find plenty of books at your local library that bring the school day to life, and if your child likes sticker books and playing schools with their favourite teddies – go for it!

If you’re not sure what they’ll do at school, teachers Amy and Debs told us about a typical day in Reception class at their schools.

Visit the classroom

Go to any taster sessions and welcome meetings that the school offers. When you’ve had a chance to look around your child's classroom together, it's much easier to talk about it at home, reminding them of all the fun toys and outdoor play equipment they’ll get to use and the colourful work you saw on display.

Get to know the school

Find out whether there are any social events at the school that you can go to as a family. Schools with an active PTA often hold a summer fair and sometimes a welcome picnic for new starters. If there’s nothing going on, then just walking or driving past the school often prompts children to start talking about 'my school' before they've even started.

Getting ready for Reception

Equipping your kids with some practical skills that will help them feel happy and confident about starting primary school is far more important than trying to get a head-start on academic performance.

Unless you particularly want to teach your child to read or write before they start school (and they want to learn), concentrate your efforts on getting a few basic skills in place. Encourage them to take an interest in the world around them, and to want to do things for themselves. It won't be long before your child's learning letters, numbers and words at school. There'll be plenty of opportunities to support and praise them then.

Practical skills

At school, there are things children are expected to do for themselves that you may still help them with at home. Encourage them to do these things independently:

  • Get dressed (and undressed)
    Make a game out of putting on their school uniform and changing into their PE kit. Then changing back again. You’ll soon find out which bits they need to practise.

    If your child goes to nursery or pre-school, they’ve probably already mastered putting on their coat. There are some interesting techniques including laying the coat on the floor, putting arms in and flipping it over the head – whatever works for your child. And when it comes to shoes, bring on the Velcro!

  • Go to the toilet, wash and dry their hands
    Make sure your child is happy going to the toilet on their own, their uniform is easy to pull down and up (or up and down), and they feel confident enough to put their hand up and ask to go.

    Don’t worry if they have the odd accident as they’re settling in - it's ok, nobody will be cross with them. It’s something teachers and teaching assistants are used to; and help is at hand when it's needed.

    Talk about how important it is to wash their hands really well after going to the toilet. Try covering their hands with paint (the germs) and getting them to practise washing it all off.

  • Eat with others and use cutlery
    All children in England and Wales are entitled to a free school lunch when they start primary school. If your child will be having a hot lunch, see if you can get hold of a menu so they can choose what they'd like beforehand without feeling the pressure of the dinner queue. If they're having packed lunch, make sure they can open cartons and packets and unwrap a sandwich without help.

    Lunchtime usually lasts around half an hour, so get them used to sitting at the table without getting up and down and using cutlery to eat their food - it will be expected of them at school.

Educational skills

You may want your child to be able to read and write a little before they start school. That’s fine if it’s what you want and your child is keen to get started, but it’s definitely not a requirement. However, there are a few things you can do that will help on a practical level, and encourage your child to enjoy learning:

  • Help them recognise their name
    It’s helpful if your child can recognise their name written down (you can practise this when you’re labelling all their stuff!). But really don’t worry if they can’t, teachers often put a picture or photo by each child’s name on their pegs and trays to make it easier for them.

  • Read to them
    Research tells us that reading to your child is the most important way you can support your child’s early learning. So make time for bedtime stories.

  • Get them used to letters and numbers
    This doesn't need to be anything more than recognising letters of the alphabet and numbers up to 10 or 20. There are loads of really colourful and fun alphabet and counting books available – charity shops are great places to pick these up. Choose a few and you'll soon find a favourite.

Social and emotional skills

Just like physical and educational skills, children develop socially and emotionally at their own pace. Mastering these skills early on will help them get used to school life:

  • Sharing and taking turns
    If your child has brothers or sisters, or they’ve been to nursery or pre-school, they’ll be used to this already. But it’s always good to check they’ve understood that sharing is a two-way process!

  • Listening and sitting still
    In Reception class, at certain times your child will be expected to sit still and listen to basic instructions from their teacher. You can help with this at home by sitting together doing a jigsaw, colouring or looking at books.

  • Get them used to being away from home
    The way children start school varies. They may start with half days for the first few weeks, or the older children in the year might start first, and those with summer birthdays join them a few weeks later. Whatever happens at your child’s school, try and make sure they understand that once they start, they will have to go back every week, Monday to Friday.


If your child hasn’t been to nursery, or pre-school, or been looked after by a friend or family member on a regular basis, have a think about what you can do to make sure they’re ok being away from you. If you’re at all worried, speak to your child’s teacher, or ask the school what support is available for your family.


Reviewed: January 2018

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