Top Tips for School Starters
I am writing this as my eldest daughter (now five years old) comes to the end of her first year of school; in two days time, the Summer Term draws to a close and my little girl will return to school in September as a member of Year One!
The time has gone incredibly quickly, and she has absolutely loved each and every moment of it; so, in a rather reflective mood, I thought I'd share with you what I've learned in my time as a Year R mum, and give you my top tips for ensuring that your little one is ready to start school this September!
Here in the UK, most children start school (on a full-time basis) the September after their fourth birthday; meaning that they’ll turn five during their first year at school, but: I'll start by saying that, in this country, your child does not have to start school until they are five years old; they can start on a part-time basis, part-way through the academic year or the next school year: in Year One. You can also consider home-schooling. Whatever you choose, consider your child and make a decision that feels right for you, and for them.
For my Little Miss, a keen-bean at her nursery setting and someone who has always been eager to learn and excited to socialise, she was emotionally ready for school at four. Despite the national lockdowns enforced courtesy of the Coronavirus pandemic, she was able to continue in her EYFS environment and graduated from nursery excited to go to school. I put this down, in part to her natural sense of adventure, but also to the deliberate efforts my husband and I, along with her nursery, made to help her feel excited by, and ready for, the prospect.
THE SCHOOL DAY
If you don't already have a 'routine' in place, the summer holidays are the ideal time to get your child used to 'a school day' and by that I mean: waking up around 7am, having a mid-morning snack, not taking a nap, having some lunch, and winding down around 5pm, ready for bed at 6 or 7 o'clock, getting a good night's sleep. Now, obviously not every day will follow this framework (when does life with children ever go that smoothly?!) but it's a good template to aim for so that your little one will not then feel completely shell-shocked by what's required of them come September; even if your child currently does a longer day in their pre-school setting, a school day is different and it will take 'more' out of your little person; prepare for them to be very tired in the first few weeks of school!
MY NAME IS
It sounds obvious, but making sure that your child recognises their own name is a really important part of their being school-ready; most children by the age of four will aurally recognise their name being spoken, and be able to say it themselves, but if you can ensure that your little person recognises what their name looks like written down, you'll be making the classroom environment so much more accessible for them.
It goes without saying that as your small person toddles off to school, you will need to label anything and everything that doesn't stay physically on them (and that you'd like to come home with them at the end of the day!) so make sure you show your child their name labels, so they can familiarise themselves with what 'their stuff' looks like; if your child doesn't reliably recognise their name, you can add a picture or graphic to your labels to help them; they might not recognise 'Darren Jones' but be able to remember theirs is the jumper with a football on the label!
One of the things that I found really helped Little Miss get ready for school was dressing up. Now, I have to say that my daughter LOVES dressing up anyway, so 'dressing up' for school was just an extension to her fancy dress antics, really.
One day Little Miss' nursery asked us to send her in with a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and some trainers: they were having 'P.E. practice'; all the school-starters were going to practise getting changed into their makeshift P.E. kits, before doing a small exercise session and then getting changed back into their clothes again. This really helped Little Miss understand the concept of P.E. class and got her used to changing at school, in front of her classmates and without any help.
So, over the summer, make sure your little one has practised getting themselves dressed; they don't have to be able to tie a Windsor Knot in a tie, but being able to take off a t-shirt and pull up a pair of shorts, will prove invaluable to them.
Remember that, unless your child has worn a uniform to nursery, or to a parent-and-child class, the concept will seem completely alien to them, so be patient with them and have regular 'trying on' sessions at home so that they can familiarise themselves with the new outfit.
Include your child in shopping for their school uniform and, where possible, let them have an input in what they wear: if they feel like they've had a say in their clothing they are more likely to feel happy and comfortable in it: if the school allows boys to wear shorts or trousers, ask your son what they'd prefer, let them try both; if girls are allowed to choose a dress, a skirt, or a pair trousers, find out what your daughter's choice would be.
Make sure your child can put their school shoes on by themselves (opt for velcro straps!) and help them identify the left shoe from the right by cutting a sticker in half and sticking the left half in the left shoe and the right half in the right; whilst your child may not recognise their left from their right, they will be able to see when the two halves align to form the 'complete picture' of the sticker.
BONUS TIP FOR THOSE WITH DAUGHTERS STARTING SCHOOL THIS SEPTEMBER:
Unless it is uncharacteristically cold this September, send your little girl off to school wearing socks, as opposed to tights. When Little Miss started Year R she still hadn't quite grasped putting on tights; I found that socks made trips to the loo easier and quicker for her.
On the subject of the loo, making sure your child is toilet-trained is important again - they don't have to be total toilet masters, but being well out of nappies and familiar with using the loo is just so much easier for everyone concerned.
A June baby, and so: young for her academic year, Little Miss started school being fully toilet-trained but found the excitement of the classroom environment and the reality of 'a new loo', made her still prone to having accidents. So, every day I sent her in with a spare pair of pants and a reminder that, when she felt she needed a wee, she had to stop whatever it was she was doing, (no matter how much fun she was having at the Splashy Play Table!) and to go to the toilet! Her Reception teacher was absolutely brilliant at supporting her in conquering this regression and soon Little Miss was confident in using the loo at school.
This summer, give your child the best chance at feeling ready for school toileting; as crazy as it sounds, get them used to using as many different loos as you can! The beneficiary of two national lockdowns, Little Miss was really only used to using the loos at nursery and at home, and I think the novel loo in her Reception class was one unexpected element that threw her!
THE JOURNEY TO SCHOOL
We were very blessed in that the school we chose for Little Miss is plonked right in the centre of the town in which we live, and so she was familiar with the building itself and we were able to recce the route and 'practise' the journey to school.
I'd really recommend doing this with your little one, and doing it exactly the way you will do it in September, not only will this familiarise your child with the process, but it'll also give you an idea of how much time you need to allow and a chance to iron out any creases before school begins.
If you're intending on driving each day, drive the route, park where you're going to and walk up to the school gates; if you're going to walk, walk the journey on foot, with your child, and at their pace; it takes me about six or seven minutes to walk the route from my doorstep to my daughter's school come pick-up time; it takes about twenty to twenty-five minutes in the morning with Little Miss in tow, because she has shorter legs, she walks slowly, and she stops to say hello to bees on the way (!) Factor these things in!
If your child is going to have a packed lunch; 'practise' having this type of lunch at home; make sure your child can open their lunchbox and that they know how to eat its contents (again - it sounds obvious, but there's no pointing in packing an orange for your little one to eat if they can't peel it themselves!)
In the same vein, if your child will be having a 'hot school dinner' (children in UK Government-funded schools receive free school meals whilst attending Reception, Year One and Year Two) make sure they can use a knife and fork to feed themselves.
Regardless of what type of lunch your child will have at school, ALL children need to know how to sit at a table to eat and are expected to have basic table manners.
TALK ABOUT IT
Your child will only feel ready for school if they know what is being asked of them, so talk about it with them: introduce them to the vocabulary of the classroom, show them photos of you at their age, in your school uniform and share your fondest memories with them (DON'T tell them how much you hated Maths, or that you were horrendously bullied - tell them about the friends you made, the fun you had; make it sound exciting!!); play 'schools', read books about going to school and get any older school-aged children your child knows to talk to them about what school is like. Finally, remind your child of how proud you are of them, and how fantastically grown-up they are to be starting school!
So I guess all that's left to say is: "Good Luck!" I have every faith that your little person will LOVE going to school; the first few years of school are such fun and there's so much for your child to learn and explore.
One final word of wisdom for all parents/caregivers: when that first day comes around, don't be surprised if it is YOU and - not your child - that has an emotional wobble and arrives at the playground with tear-stained cheeks, it's a big milestone for both you AND your child and it can feel a bit overwhelming; be kind to yourself and plan a coffee with a friend or a job to get on with after drop-off so that you're not left sitting around wondering what your child is doing!
Did you find this blog helpful? If so, please do leave a comment; come at chat to me over on Instagram (@mummyscrummie) or send it on to a friend!