Are you pondering your child’s school readiness and wondering how to prepare your child for Reception Class? Here are 10 essential tips to make sure the first day of school is a resoundingly positive experience for you both.
Here in the UK, 17th April marks National offer Day. A day when anxious parents will find out where their child has been offered a primary school place. Big school is a big step for these little people. This is a seismic event in your child’s life till now. Luckily children have no idea of the importance of these baby steps and the responsibility is all ours to ensure that there is a happy and smooth transition. With a little preparation this can be an exciting time for the whole family. Here are 10 easy and actionable steps to prepare your child for Reception.
Is my child ready for school?
If your child is showing signs of being curious and excited by the world around them, the answer is yes.
When your child starts reception the range of ability in that class ( phonics, numeracy, social skills and general self confidence) could be vast. This could be predetermined by age (anything up to a whopping 12 month difference), nursery education and parental intervention. I’d get your head around this now.
Children learn in different ways and at different rates. Reception is important but not defining of their entire school life. As we later discuss, bombarding your child with formal learning pre school is not always as savvy as it sounds. A mindful approach will reap larger benefits down the road.
Here are my top tips to enable you to equip your child with the confidence and skills needed to start to learn.
1. Nurture a love of Books
This is number 1 for good reason. According to government statistics children whose parents read with them at home will pull ahead at school despite their starting point and regardless of socio economic background. When your child starts school the focus on learning to read is ultimately to enable reading to learn. However if your child already enjoys the ritual of picking a book and sitting down with you to read – the battle is already half won.
Learning how to hold the book, turn the pages, analyse pictures, pre empt outcomes and follow the rhythm of spoken language are vital confidence building skills. Your child will soon be bringing home books, initially without words, to read each evening – a love of story time will avoid any resistance to doing this.
Make sure you are supplying your child with a flow of new and engaging books. Love Pirates? Dinosaurs? Unicorns? Research titles and invest in a few. Visiting the Library is a wonderful habit. Picking and choosing the books along with the responsibility of having a library card are character building skills that will set good habits for life. Second hand bookshops and charity stores make for a cheaper and sustainable alternative.
I can remember both the pride and bemusement felt when my son bought home a picture of a potato in his second term carefully labelled ‘Bataitoo’. Your child will be told to write what they hear and that means paying close attention to your own speech. Reading clearly with expression and correct intonation will pay off later.
Academic research has highlighted the importance of fathers reading to their children. It suggests that it develops literacy and academic success even more so than a mother. The thinking behind this Harvard research (2016) was that Dads were more enthusiastic and likely to initiate more creative discussion around the stories.
I don’t believe that this is true for all families but the general gist that we each have something new to offer is noteworthy. It is definitely worth scheduling reading time either online or in person with other members of the family or a live away parent.
2. Show Enthusiasm
The first year of school is both daunting and exhilarating. Whatever your own experience of school it is crucial that you talk about it with positivity. This also strongly applies if the said school was not your first choice. Enthusiasm is infectious…as is negativity.
Take time to talk happily to your child about their school, get them excited and comfy in the school uniform and pe kits in advance and simulate the school run. Wear sunglasses at the school gate if you think you may be teary. Make sure they are familiar with their teachers name and if any photos of staff are sent home pin them to the fridge door.
3. Name Recognition
An overlooked but important skill. Your child will be used to hearing his/her name but will s/he be able to recognise it written on the front of workbooks, coat pegs, school bag etc? Also do they identify with their full name and surname? If you use a shortened nickname it might be time to talk to your child about their ‘other’ name.
Many children will start school being able to write their own name…only to forget mid term and then relearn later in the year. Personally, It’s not something I’d get hung up on.
4. Cultivate Independence
I can tell you now I did not do well at this. ‘Managing Self’ is actually something the children get assessed on termly. It is widely acknowledged (or so I have been reassured) that children of SAHM’s fare well below par on this one. Getting dressed, putting shoes on, using cutlery, ability to lift ones sleeve when needed or unzip their own coat….these are all considered to be desirable skills when starting reception. A teacher with only one assistant left to shepherd 30 kids…can you imagine?
My child still comes home with lunch smeared across his face, shoes on the wrong foot and a thick jumper on even though the temperature had climbed to 30 degrees over the course of the day. The reality is that reception teachers have no time to mother your child as you would like. Cultivating independence is also character and confidence building. Your child will feel alot more secure knowing s/he is not at the mercy of his teachers help. Dare I say it …It will also give them less reason to miss you if they are not constantly reminded of their absent PA.
Many of these skills – opening food packaging and lunch boxes, coat zips and fastenings are also a good indicator of where your child’s fine motor skills are at.
Will my child need to be toilet trained before starting school?
An extension of managing self, toilet training is another milestone parents are keen to get in the bag in readiness for school. It can also be the cause for most parental anxiety with many worrying their child will be refused entry if they are still wetting/soiling themselves or dependent on nappies.
The good news for parents is that this practice is actually unlawful. The equality act (2010) states that schools must not discriminate against disability or special educational needs. Incontinence is considered the latter. If you have any concerns about toilet issues (beyond the occassional accident) I would advise you to let the school know and liase to create a collaborative care plan with them. They will be thankful for the heads up and should be able to lay your own concerns to rest.
Whilst most 4 year olds will be a long time out of nappies the vast majority will have a least a couple of accidents in those early weeks (if not years) of school. This is a developing trend as we as a nation are leaving it later to toilet train our children.
As with toilet training itself, remain calm and unfazed if you are confronted with an ominous plastic bag at pick up. Your child could be anything from ambivalent to mortified at having had an accident so just be ready to reassure that it is no big deal. Make sure that the school is replenished with extra clothing in event of another accident. You may also want to look at fastenings on trousers etc to see if there is an easier way to facilitate getting to the toilet on time.
In the lead up to school keep reiterating good toilet habits, self wiping and hand washing. Get them used to different toilets by deliberately using the bathroom when you are out and about. Build confidence with praise and most importantly fret not.
5. Teach yourself phonics
Yes this is the year your child will start to read. But do you remember learning how to read and are you in a good position to help them? For me the answer was no …I consider myself pretty literate and yet I definitely had to learn this stuff. Rest assured, If you are of a certain age (pre 1990) and not a linguistics expert there is good reason.
Government policy has shifted majorly in the last 40 years in favour of a phonics only approach over a combination of reading strategies deployed in ‘our time’. Phonics is the practice of teaching children to decode words as a series of sounds. In reception all children will start by learning to sound out each letter of the alphabet. Sounds simple right? Not so much. Try twisting your tongue round a ‘cks’ for ‘x’ (e-x-ercise) or clipping the ‘l’ sound in ‘l – emon’. its not as innate as you would hope.
Luckily there are some fantastic organisations who have identified the need to equip parents with the skills needed to support the learning process. ‘Learn to Love to read ‘will have you school ready in no time and offer free webinars to parents. They assume nothing and will have you knowing your ‘digraphs’ from your ‘phonemes’ (or whatever demoralising technical jargon your four year old throws at you), in no time.
It may be an idea to contact the school and ask which phonics system they use. Read write Inc and Jolly phonics are two of the main players and it might be worthwhile familiarising yourself with whichever your school uses. Each system uses different ditties, rhymes and songs to help children memorise the sounds that provide the building blocks for words. Many of these can be found on youtube and if your child enjoys these there is no harm watching a few together.
Personally I wouldn’t go far beyond this unless you have a child who has a distinct desire to learn to read. Apply too much pressure now and you could risk exhausting enthusiasm for learning altogether. Additionally by teaching your child to read with a different strategy (ie by sight) you could unknowingly be doing more harm than good. With Children being tested at the end of Year one nationally on their understanding of phonics often with fake words (think ‘voo’, ‘blan’ ‘fape’) an ability to decode phonetically is crucial and bypassing this process could prove problematic.
6. Number Recognition
Much like the above, there is no need to fret about whether your child can count to twenty or even 5. They will systematically learn each number one by one throughout the course of the year. As it happens my son did start the year able to write his numerals to ten only to forget mid year and is currently in the habit of writing them back to front!
However you may want to encourage a love of numbers early on and numeral recognition can be a good starting place. Numbers are everywhere, door numbers, number plates, price tags, watches…it is likely that your child is already picking up on the significance of these ubiquitous symbols. Indulge them. Make numbers part of your everyday chit chat and count wherever you can
7. Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills refers to the small muscles in the hands and wrists that enable us to fulfil intricate yet everyday tasks such as holding a pen, writing, buttoning a shirt and pouring a glass of water.
It is no secret that Fine motor skills in Reception aged children are starting to decline. Media Technology now permeates even the youngest in our society, I am sure I am not alone in resorting to TV and touch screen tablets in order to buy myself precious and often needed time. It is not surprising that our children, so used to sedentary entertainment and the ability to swipe a screen, are starting school without the dexterity and strength in their hands enjoyed by generations past.
Thankfully there are lots of fun and engaging ways to promote your child’s fine motor skills in advance and throughout Reception year. Cutting, sticking, pouring, bead threading, play dough, sand moulding and cooking are just some examples as well as any mark making (painting, drawing, chalks etc).
By balancing the negative effects of technology with time spent crafting and creating with their hands, your child will develop hand eye co-ordination and the ability to manipulate objects, essential for learning to write, play sports, dress and feed themselves and generally problem solve.
8. Nurture Focus, Concentration and Instruction Taking
One of the most defining days of my son’s school year was the day he started putting his hand up when he wanted to speak to me. My son’s overt enthusiasm and commitment to speaking at 100mph to whoever would listen had been tamed. Although it saddened me to lose that childlike impulsiveness I was thankful as it had been a lesson sorely learnt.
With only a montessori like experience behind him, the idea that he had to sit down and be invited to give his opinion at the risk of another being chosen and his voice never being heared was beyond my child’s capability. Like all learning it took time. But I do wish I had forewarned him of such expectations.
Your child’s journey from being a ‘big fish’ to one of 30 may be a similar tough pill to swallow. The ‘noise’ of the herd can prove a real distraction. Nurturing focus and concentration and an ability and willingness to follow instruction can prove beneficial to this process. Simple games like “simon says’ or ‘musical statues’ can promote vital listening skills whereas reading together and board games and puzzles will encourage lengthier periods of concentration.
Implement ‘tidy up time’ at home and encourage your child to help around the home at any opportunity. Needless to say sharing and taking turns are also vital skills to take into the classroom that can be learnt at home.
9. Get Social
Reception class is a good opportunity for both you and your child to make lots of new friends. If at all possible secure play dates with your child’s classmates before school starts. Your child will feel galvanised with a few familiar faces by their side and you will benefit from having an ally parent in the school to share information with. Contact the school to see if there is a class whats app to join and if not why not ask permission to start one yourself?
10. And Finally…
If you do nothing at all, do this. Set a good bedtime routine followed by a good breakfast and calm morning routine. This is easier said than done so use the summer holidays to get practiced. Plan your route to school and leave plenty of time. Establish good communication with the school and don’t hesitate to email your child’s teacher with any concerns you may have.
I hope this post was useful. I’d love to know how you get on! Do reach out in the comments below.