Starting school

4-8 years

You and your child have already achieved many milestones and now they are about to begin their school journey.  Starting school can bring big changes to family life and is an exciting time but it is also natural for you and your child to have worries. 

You may have many questions from ‘how do you apply?’ through to ‘how can I help my child prepare for school?’  You may have noticed that your child’s behaviour is changing which is perfectly normal - they too may have questions about starting school.  There is lots of support available and we are here to help you find it.  

Boy with backpack

We’ve also put together some top tips to make the journey for you and your child as easy as possible.

 Applying for a school place

It can feel confusing if you are unfamiliar with the process of applying for a school place.  Your local authority website will have step by step information on what you need to do.  The GOV.UK site advises on how to apply for primary school.

Visiting the school is important for your child when choosing a school to apply for- how does it feel for them? Advice on what to look for when choosing a school can be found on Parentkind.

If your child attends pre-school or nursery, ask the staff what arrangements they have to support your child’s move to primary school. Your child will probably have an opportunity to attend “moving up” days where they will go to their new school to get familiar with the staff and the surroundings.

Our top tips for supporting your child to start school

There are many things that you are probably already doing, or can begin to do, that will help both you and your child feel more confident as their big day approaches. 

Talking with your child - Spend some time talking to your child to find out how they are feeling about starting school.  Actively listen, giving your child your full attention, getting down to their level if you can, and giving them time to talk.  You may feel daunted that you don’t have all the answers and this is fine.  It is ok to get it wrong but it is always easier to help when you know what your child’s worries are.

Encourage your child to talk about their likes and fears. What was the best part of the day? What would they like to do/eat/play again? Once at school, this time will give your child a space to share what happened at school that day, how they are making friends and anything that is worrying them.

Help your child to recognise their feelings – A good way to start this is by naming their feelings, drawing them and talking about them.  Try to talk in a positive way about starting school. You know your child best so use their likes and interests to explore the type of activities that will happen at school. 

If you are worried about talking to your child there are lots of story books about starting school that you can buy or borrow from your local library that will help with starting conversations.  You can check where your local library is online.

Ask the school for resources -  You could consider using social stories with your child, these help explain what is going to happen and why.  Talk to your school- they may have a template that you can adapt to be specific to your child.  Social stories are helpful for all children, especially for those who are on the autistic spectrum; the National Autistic Society website has great ideas for creating them. 

Parent talking to child

Supporting your child’s independence 

You can do small things at home that will help your child to learn the skills to be independent at school and helpfully, will also make home simpler for you too.

Give your child lots of practice getting themselves dressed and undressed. 

Use lots of encouragement and specific praise for what they have achieved as this will help your child learn these skills and make PE a more fun time.  Also, encouraging your child to have a go at buttons and zips on coats will help them get ready to go out at playtime. Expect for socks, shirts and even pants to be on inside-out when they get home. It really doesn’t matter. This means they have been dressing independently. At least the clothes came home!

Label their belongings

Labelling everything, including pants, shoes, socks and vests, can help them keep track of what is theirs. Is the marking somewhere easy to find? Show your child the labels (including the ones in their shoes) so they can find their own things. Even if they can’t read their name yet, many children will recognise the shape of the letters/words.

Offer your child small choices at home

For example which colour socks they would like to wear and giving them small tasks to complete such as putting their shoes away can support with decision making and independence skills. These will prepare them for life in the classroom.

Get them into a good sleep routine

In the summertime it’s easy to relax sleep routines but if you can get a routine in place, and practice the school run before your child starts school in September, it can make the school morning routine a little easier for everyone.

Help and support your child to be able to use the toilet independently

This includes flushing the toilet and confidently wash their hands.  If you are worried that your child might have an accident talk to the school prior to your child starting- they will be able to reassure you.  If you have any concerns around your child using the toilet we would encourage you to speak to the school as they may involve the school nurse who will be able to offer advice to support you.  Please don’t worry as there is lots of advice and support available.

Help them ask for help

If your child will need support with any of these activities when they first start school you can help them to find a comfortable way to ask for help and discuss who they could ask in school.  All children develop at different times and when they see others completing activities independently, your child will likely be more encouraged to have a go.

School meals or Lunch boxes 

Currently children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are entitled to a free school meal at lunchtime.  You may be worried that your child will not eat a school meal or they will not be able to manage carrying a food tray to their table.  These are perfectly normal concerns and there are things you can do at home to help your child. Eating together as a family can role model to your child how to use their cutlery and will help them learn some social skills such as staying seated at the table until everyone has finished and to carry appropriate things to and from the table.

You may decide that your child would be best to have a lunch box.  Your school will be able to give you advice on what types of food to put in for your child.  To encourage your child to eat the contents of their lunch box you could let them choose the box. Have picnics during the summer holidays where your child can practice opening their lunch box as well as any wrappers and yoghurt pots etc.  Change4Life has some great lunch boxes ideas.

Keep playing 

Your child has already developed a range of skills through play and they will keep on learning!   Climbing, crawling, colouring, painting and threading can all help support brain development and build the smaller muscles that are needed for writing.

Activities such as board games, card games and ball games all have an element of sharing and turn taking and these are great skills for your child to have as it will help when building friendships at school.

Child playing on monkey bars

You may be reading and looking at books with your child. This is a good way to support your child’s understanding of how language works and will help with their concentration. The National Literacy Trust has some great book ideas.

You can also access free storybooks online. The Borrowbox app offers eBooks and eAudiobooks through your local library account. Oxford Owl has free educational eBooks from Oxford University Press for children aged 3-11. These are great for beginning to build reading skills. The International Children’s Digital Library is a collection of outstanding children's books in a variety of languages for ages 3-13. You can read these straight through the website without having to create an account.

Now let’s think about you 

Make the most of visits to school and attend school transition events where possible.  These events are a great way of connecting with people in a similar situation to yourself.  Check the school’s website or any school social media accounts as this is a good way of being up to date with school information.   Where possible get to know your child’s class teacher and any supporting staff who may be useful if you have any questions you wish to raise. 

You might be feeling anxious or sad on your child’s first few days- it’s natural to have different emotions about your child starting school.  Make plans to fill the days – it might be as simple as meeting a friend for coffee or ensuring you are busy at work.   

It is natural to compare our children’s achievements with others, although this is not always healthy for us or our children.  Your child is unique so celebrate their achievements and praise and encourage the areas that are a little harder for them.

When your child comes out of school you will be keen to find out how their day went.  Asking lots of questions is tempting but your child is going to be tired so give them a chance to tell you about their first day in their own time.  If your child seems very anxious, even if they can’t express why, let their teacher know. If they are aware, they can usually help.

Lots more great ideas can be found on the PACEY website including a checklist for the first week of school. 

Video Resources

A couple of websites that offer more information and have some great video clips:

Starting Primary School - BBC 

Starting school experiences - BBC


Five to Thrive - Relax

Starting school is daunting for both you and your child.  Your child may be able to sense your anxiety. It is important that both of you are relaxed to enjoy this new experience. Being confident on the first day will be a huge boost and help children to start with a positive attitude.

When we are stressed our bodies produce chemicals that allow us to deal with whatever is challenging us. The human brain is a social organ so when we are stressed, another person’s breathing slowing down or muscles relaxing helps us to do the same. By helping your child relax and regulate their emotions, they will gradually begin to be able to recognise these feelings and do this for themselves.

Ideas:

• Practice breathing with your child. Breathe in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 6. This is instantly calming

• Chat about what your child is most looking forward to about starting school;

• Share positive stories about things you enjoyed doing at school

• If your child is really anxious, is there something they can have close to them, possibly in their backpack that helps them relax? Remember to tell their teacher about this and also remind your child that what they are experiencing is normal. It is important that they recognise their feelings.