Starting school

4-8 years

Starting school can bring big changes to family life and is an exciting time. It is also natural for you and your child to have worries. 

We’ve put together some tips to make the new adventure of starting school as easy as possible for you and your child.

On this page, we'll cover:

Applying for a school place

adult and child walking into school

Your local authority website will have information on how to apply for a school place. Details can also be found on how to apply for primary school in:

When choosing a school, it is important for your child to visit. How does it feel for both of you? BBC Bitesize shares advice on what to look for when choosing a school.  

If your child attends a childcare setting:

  • The practitioners should support your child’s move to primary school
  • Your child will have an opportunity to attend “moving up” days

Our top tips for starting school

There are many things that you can do, that will help you and your child feel confident as their big day approaches. 

There is more information on our to preparing for school page. 

Talking with your child 

adult and child lying on bed talking

Spend time talking to your child to find out how they are feeling about starting school. Listen - give your child your full attention, at their level if you can, and give them time to talk. You may not 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 the best part of the day, and what they would like to do/eat/play. Also, ask them if anything worries them. Give your child time and a space to share what happened at school that day. Ask them how they are making friends and how they are feeling. 

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 school. Use their likes and interests to explore the type of activities that will happen at school. The British Council feelings flashcards may help with this. 

There are lots of storybooks about starting school. You can buy books or borrow them from your local library. Check where your local library is online:

  • England and Wales  
  • Scotland 
  • Northern Ireland

There are some great books recommendations at BookTrust

Give your child lots of practice getting themselves dressed and undressed

Use lots of encouragement and praise for what they have achieved. This will help your child learn these skills and make Physical Education (PE) more fun. 

Encourage your child to have a go at buttons and zips on coats to help them get ready to go out at playtime. 

Expect socks, shirts and even pants to be on inside-out when they get home. It doesn’t matter. This means they have been dressing themselves. 

For more information, see the Dressing section on the Preparing for school page for pre-schoolers

Label your child's belongings

Label everything, including:

  • Pants
  • Shoes
  • Socks
  • Vests

This will help them keep track of what is theirs. Show your child the labels (including the ones in their shoes), so they can find their own things. Many children will recognise the shape of the letters of their name even if they can’t read yet.

Offer your child small choices at home. Choosing the colour of socks or giving them small tasks to complete e.g., putting their shoes away. This will support decision-making and independence skills. All will prepare them for life in the classroom.

Start a sleep routine

If you can get a bedtime routine in place, and practice the school run before your child starts school. This can make the school morning routine a little easier for everyone.

The sleep routine could consist of:

  • Having a bath
  • Cleaning teeth
  • Changing into night clothes
  • Putting them to bed
  • Reading a bedtime story 
  • Creating a calm atmosphere by dimming the lights in the room.
  • Giving a goodnight kiss and cuddle

For more information, see the Sleep section on the Healthy lifestyles page for 4-8 year olds and the BookTrust's sleep routine booklet

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

This includes flushing the toilet and washing their hands. If you have concerns about your child using the toilet, speak to the school before your child starts. The school will be able to reassure you. 

If your child needs support when they first start school, help them to find a way to ask for help. Discuss who they could ask in school. All children develop at different times. When your child sees others completing activities, your child may be more encouraged to have a go. 

For more information, see the Self-care section on the Preparing for school page for pre-schoolers

Lunch times: school meals or lunch boxes

In England, children from reception to year 2, can have free school meals, if they are in a government funded school. In Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland this may be different.

Across the UK you can apply for free school meals. This may also provide extra funding for your chosen school.

Eating together as a family can role model to your child how to use their cutlery. Help them learn skills:

  • Staying seated at the table until everyone has finished. 
  • Carry appropriate things to and from the table.

​​​You may decide that your child would be best to have a packed lunch box. You could have picnics during the summer holidays. Your child can practice opening their packed lunch box as well as any wrappers and yoghurt pots etc. Change4Life has some great packed lunch box ideas.

Keep playing 

adult pushing child on swing

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. This will help build the smaller muscles that they need for writing.

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

Reading and looking at books with your child is a good way to support your child’s understanding. This will also help with their concentration. The National Literacy Trust has some great book ideas.

Access to 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 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 

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

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 school social media account. 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. This will be useful if you have any questions you wish to raise. 

It is natural to compare our children’s achievements with others. However, this is not always healthy for us or our children. Your child is unique. Celebrate your child's achievements. Praise your child 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 will be tired. 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.

It’s quite common for children’s behaviour at home to change when they first start school. Your child may become more clingy, tired, excitable, or prone to tantrums for a while. Change can be difficult for everyone. Hang in there and seek help from the school if things become too difficult.

Lots more great ideas can be found on the PACEY website including a checklist for the first week of school and a parents' starting school toolkit

Additional resources


PDF download: 10 things to enjoy before your child starts school

PDF download: Starting School - Your First Week Checklist

Five to Thrive - The building blocks of brain development.

PACEY logo

The content of this page has been co-produced in partnership with PACEY.

Last updated on 20 September 2023