When you are thinking about your preschool child starting school it can raise many questions, concerns, and emotions for you and your family. 

Also see our article on starting school for 4-8 year olds.

Some of those thoughts and feelings may cause both worry and excitement about this big milestone ahead.  Some of your questions may be:

  • What does being ready for school actually mean?
  • Will my child be physically & emotionally ready for school when the time comes?
  • What could I do to make sure my child and the family are prepared?
  • What resources will my child need for starting school?
  • How will I cope when my child starts school?
  • How will the school help me and my family to settle and feel included?

Ready for School?

Sometimes parents think that being ready for school involves their child being able to read, or write their own name. In reality your child will learn these things in school. What matters far more are the following skills and abilities that indicate your child will cope well in a school setting. These include:

Can your child separate from you and interact independently?

This is unlikely to be an issue if your child already attends a pre-school or nursery, but if not try looking for opportunities where you can leave your child with other people such as friends, extended family or play dates. You are the centre of your child’s world, their safe base, and your child needs to know that when you leave them you will come back. This way they can relax, have fun and continue learning in your absence.

Can your child communicate their wants and needs?

At this stage your child is learning and developing at an enormous pace. This will lead to some frustrations when they can’t achieve what they want to. You are an expert in reading your child’s behaviour and understanding when they need some support or guidance, but the primary school teacher is not. Having the right language and the confidence to ask for help when they need it will support your child in the classroom and help the staff make sure your child is happy and contented.

Ideas to develop this skill:

Start talking with your child now about how they can ask for help if they need it. Help them find some comfortable words to use if they might need help and encourage them to use them at home, and in other settings.

Can your child dress themselves and put on their own shoes?

Your child will need to change for PE, and be able to put their own coat on for outside play.

Ideas to develop this skill:

You can start practicing these skills now. Even if things are on back to front or inside out, still praise your child for their effort, and use the time to help them understand how things look different. “I wonder why that label is on the outside?” to encourage them to problem solve and learn for themselves.

Shoe laces can be a big issue. Velcro and slip on shoes can solve this problem in the short term, but you can start developing your child’s skills in this area now. It will take lots of patience!

Encourage your child to have a go with buttons and zips – which can also be tricky for little hands.

Can your child sit still and concentrate for a short period of time?

Preschool children learn about the world through discovery and play so this is a skill which may not come naturally to your child.

Ideas to develop this skill:

To develop your child’s ability to focus, find activities they enjoy and then build up the time you spend doing them, or the complexity. Good ideas include building blocks, with bigger challenges each time, or jigsaw puzzles going from a small number of pieces to larger numbers, which require more time and concentration to complete.

Can your child play and share with other children in a safe and positive way?

Parents often worry about how their child will cope in a class full of children.

Ideas to develop this skill:

You may have noticed that your child is engaging more with other children in their play, rather than playing alongside them. You can use these times to praise your child when they play nicely with others and explain to them what they did that was positive. Your child may not understand what “sharing” means so patiently explain this and help them find a way to ask for a turn. Playing board games, card games, or other games where they have to take turns, can help develop these skills. Be prepared for negative reactions when they lose though – this is natural and it is a great opportunity to help them find the words to explain how they are feeling and manage these feelings in a different way.

Is your child curious and happy to explore new activities or environments?

Preschool children learn through exploring their world and you are their first teacher.

Ideas to develop this skill:

You can use everyday activities to encourage their curiosity. Trips out can become treasure hunts, looking for things on the way, or shopping can be a time to explore different foods and let your child ask questions. Your child probably asks a lot of questions, particularly “why?” questions. These may become tiresome at times, but when you answer these questions you are fulfilling their need for knowledge and it encourages them to ask more questions – which is the core of learning.  If you don’t know the answer – and let’s face it you will probably be asked some very random questions – then you can search for the answers with your child in books or on the internet.

Can your child use the toilet independently?

Using school toilets can be a big challenge for little people. Ensuring your child can use the toilet, wipe themselves clean, and wash their hands afterwards will help them to settle easily.

There is lots of advice and resources for supporting your child to learn these skills on Twinkl.com

It’s important to recognise that children conquer this skill at different times, and not to put pressure on your child. If the time comes to start school and they still need some support, you can talk to the classroom teacher, and also help your child find the words they will need to ask for help. Sitting on the toilet and shouting “finished” isn’t going to work! Little accidents are common for children in a new, exciting environment. Pack a spare set of underwear and make sure they know where it is.

Tip: Don’t pack new underwear that they have never seen before – they may deny that the pants belong to them and refuse to put them on!

Classroom skills

Other skills that can help your child in the classroom setting, and that you can start developing now include:

An awareness of the alphabet and the sound that letters make when spoken (this is called phonic sounds)

Ideas to develop this skill:

  • Learn the alphabet song together,
  • Share ABC books and talk together about the sounds of the letters in the objects that begin with that letter
  • Play I-Spy using the sound of the letter

Being able to identify written numbers and being able to count a number of objects

There are endless ways in which you can encourage counting with your child. You can also be on the lookout for house numbers on your walks, or prices in shops.

Being able to identify their own name when written down

This will help your child recognise their coat peg, drawer or their own art work in school

Ideas to develop this skill:

  • Encourage your child to read their name whenever it is written down
  • Make a bedroom door sign together
  • Let your child help with labeling their items for pre-school/school

Being able to hold a pencil and make marks on paper

Pre-school girl colouring in

This doesn’t mean your child is expected to be able to write! Instead can they hold pencils and use them on paper. You can have lots of fun together drawing and creating imaginary worlds. A pencil is quite different from a crayon and requires more hand eye coordination, so practicing now can be really helpful.

Children this age love role play. Try role playing a classroom. You could pretend to arrive at school, go in and hang up a coat, then sit on the carpet ready for register/story. Ask your school how the morning usually unfolds so you can follow a similar pattern during play at home.

Further support:

School readiness leaflet - great advice and ideas

Pacey’s website has some amazing tips and resources

CBeebies - 7 tips to help prepare for primary school

BBC Bitesize - Is my child ready for school?  - Both have some great tips on what you can do over the summer to help your child get ready for school

Now your child is developing the skills to thrive in primary school, your next stage will be looking to apply for schools and thinking about your child actually starting. You can also visit our starting school page to support you on this next exciting stage.