I have taught reception children in mainstream primary schools for over five years. I have been there on that ‘first day’ when children have parted from parents with barely a look back and also when they have needed their fingers prying off their mum’s leg as tears roll down their face.
First of all let me assure you. You will always be more nervous than your child is about the first day of school. My son is only two and already I can feel the apprehension of having him grow up all too soon and start school! Your child might cry to begin with, they might hide shyly in the corner but by playtime rest assured they will be having a whale of a time whilst you wait at home and clock watch (that’s if you’re not lingering around the local shops, trying to pass time till you can go and collect your little one).
So, other than trying not to be an emotional wreck as you take your child in for their first day, what can you do to help your child be school ready?
1) Try to make sure your child can dress/undress themselves. A child who can change independently for PE is a godsend. Of course we don’t expect them to manage tricky buttons or tights, but if they can do the majority it will be appreciated and moreover they will gain confidence from this bit of independence.
2) Make sure your child can recognise their own name. Some children will come to school writing their own name, which is great; however don’t panic if your child is not yet able to. Some children, particularly Summer borns who are barely four, haven’t yet developed a strong enough pencil grip for writing. Forcing them to name write before they are ready can actually be detrimental to progress as they might develop poor pencil grip and incorrect formation that is heard to retrain.
3) On that note, give your child plenty of fine motor experiences to support them with pencil control and hand strength. Painting, playdoh, scissors, threading, it all helps.
4) Teach your child to take turns. This is one of the main sticking points for children entering school. They are being thrown from playing independently to sharing with 29 other classmates! Although most children will have had some nursery experience to develop turn taking skills, the adult ratio is generally much higher and greater support is given to achieve this ‘harmony’. If your child knows how to share and take turns and then they will be able to gain much more from their play.
5) Don’t worry too much about reading, writing and math (numeracy). Many parents panic that they need to do more to develop these skills at home. That’s what your child is coming to school for. I would rather have a confident, independent and socially rounded child than one that can write their alphabet!
The main things you can be doing to help your child in these areas are.
Reading. Read stories to your child every day. Encourage them to join in with repeated refrains or guess the final word in rhymes. Discuss the story with them, look at the pictures, talk about the characters and get them to guess what might happen next. Also, regularly emphasise reading in your own daily routine as well. Whether it’s reading the bus timetable, a recipe for a cake or letters in the post, show your child how important reading is in daily life.
Writing. As I’ve already said, some children aren’t yet ready to write so don’t push them. Developing an incorrect pencil grip is a really hard habit to break later on. Watch out for capital letters as well. Lots of children come to me writing all in capitals, this makes teaching letter formation really challenging and causes problems in punctuation later on. If your child is ready to write, stick to lower case. More importantly, show them the purpose of writing. Shopping lists, reminder notes, birthday cards; highlight to your child all the different reasons you write on a day to day basis. Encourage them to join you, (at this stage the might just mark make) but if they are interested in writing your shopping list and ticking it off as you buy things, you are already developing a future love for writing.
Maths. Practise counting aloud with your child and developing 1:1 correspondence. The best example of this is counting the stairs as they climb them. Look for and discuss numbers in the environment, bus numbers, prices, house numbers etc. Use mathematical vocabulary, particularly more and less, as children often struggle either the word less (how often do we say, “would you like less?) Play lots of sorting and matching games with your child and describe things in your environment by shape and colour. E.g. look at that sail boat, it’s like a big blue triangle.
Overall the most important thing you can do is talk to you child, it’s something we do without thinking, but remember how quickly they learnt to talk just from hearing you speak? This process continues as they soak up the information around them like sponges; just take the time to explain the world around them.