Starting school is an exciting time for you and your child. It is also a time of big change for all the family. A little help from you will prepare and encourage your child to be ready for school. They will enjoy learning and making new friends.
On this page, we'll cover:
- How do I know my child is ready for school?
- Getting your child used to being away from you
- Helping your child share their needs, feelings, and emotions
- Playing, sharing, and taking turns with other children
- Exploring new activities or environments
- Classroom skills
Also, see our article on starting school for 4-8 year olds.
How do I know my child is ready for school?
Being ready for school does not mean your child needs to be able to read or write their own name. Although it’s great if they can!
There are some practical skills that will make life easier for your child when starting school e.g.
- Putting on their coat
- Using the toilet on their own
- Sitting at a table to eat
Your child will learn to read and write in school. Their teacher will help them to progress at their own level. Have fun with your child in the preschool months and years by:
- Sharing stories
- Playing games together
- Singing songs
- Talking together
Getting your child used to being away from you
This is less likely to be an issue if your child already attends a childcare setting, but starting school is a big step. Don’t worry if your child is tearful and clingy for the first few days – it’s quite normal. Although you might feel terrible leaving them, they will most likely be playing quite happily within a few minutes.
If they haven’t spent time away from you, try looking for chances to leave your child with other people such as friends, family or play dates. Your child needs to learn that when you leave them you will come back. This way they can relax, have fun, and continue learning when you are away.
Helping your child share their needs, feelings, and emotions
Your child is learning and developing fast. You can help them have the right words and phrases and the confidence to ask for help. The teachers will support your child in the classroom.
Help your child to ask for help if needed. For example: “What would you say to your teacher if you needed help with going to the toilet/putting on your shoes?” etc.
Remember to encourage the use of “please” and “thank you”. The NHS resource 'Talking to your child about feelings' may be useful to support you with this.
For more, see our page Helping your child learn to talk: speech, language and communication.
Using the toilet
Using school toilets can be a big challenge for little people. Ensuring your child can use the toilet will help them. They need to wipe themselves clean and wash their hands afterwards.
Children learn this skill at different times. If the time comes to start school and they still need some support, talk to the classroom teacher. Help your child to use 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. Do not pack new underwear that your child has never seen before. They may deny that the pants belong to them and refuse to put them on!
See also Twinkl's article: How can I help my child use the toilet on their own?
Teach your child to wash their hands and chat about the importance of good handwashing with soap and water.
A good way to show how germs can linger is to cover your child’s hands with paint, pretending it’s germs, and then try to wash it all off.
Using a tissue
Introduce your child to the routine of “catch it, bin it, kill it”. Help them learn to catch their runny nose or sneeze in a tissue. Then to put the tissue straight in the bin, followed by washing their hands. Play games to practice nose control like blowing a feather with your nose.
Your child will need to change for Physical Education (PE) and be able to put their own coat on for outside play. You can start practising these skills now.
Even if things are on back to front or inside out, still praise your child for their effort. Use the time to help them understand how things look different. Ask things like: “I wonder why that label is on the outside?” will encourage them to problem-solve and learn for themselves.
Shoelaces 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!
Also ensure your child has a go with buttons and zips, which can also be tricky for little hands.
In England, free school meals are available to children from reception to year 2, 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 which may also provide extra funding for your chosen school.
Children need to be able to carry a plate or tray and use a full-sized knife and fork. If your child is taking a lunch box, make sure they can open it as well as any other containers and packets inside.
Encourage your child to tidy up e.g.
- Hang up their coat
- Put toys away
- Clear the table
This will prepare them for doing this at school.
Why not turn tidying up into a game? Many schools use a piece of music or a song to encourage children to tidy up. Try this at home and ask which song your child would like.
Sitting still and concentrating for a short time
Children learn about the world through discovery and play. This is a skill which may not come naturally to your child.
To develop your child’s ability to focus, find activities they enjoy, then build up the time you spend doing them. Good ideas include:
- Building blocks, with bigger challenges each time
- Jigsaw puzzles, starting with a small number of pieces and move towards a larger numbers of pieces
Playing, sharing, and taking turns with other children
Parents often worry about how their child will cope in a class full of children. Your child will start to play and engage more with other children. Praise your child when they play with others well and explain to them what they did that was positive.
Your child may not understand what “sharing” means, so introducing them to phrases like “Can I join in?” or “Do you want to share with me?” may help.
Playing turn-taking games will help develop these skills e.g., board games, card games. You may experience negative reactions when they lose. This is natural and a great opportunity to help them find the words to explain how they are feeling.
Help them manage these feelings in a different way. The NHS resource 'Talking to your child about feelings' may be useful to support you with this.
Exploring new activities or environments
Children learn through exploring their world and you are their first teacher. You can use everyday activities to encourage their curiosity. Trips out can become treasure hunts, looking for things on the way. Shopping can be a time to explore different foods and let your child ask questions.
Your child may ask 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. This will encourage your child to ask more questions, which is the core of learning.
Do not worry if you do not know the answer! Your child will ask some very random questions. Search for the answers with your child in books or on the internet.
Other skills that can help your child in the classroom, and that you can start developing now include:
An awareness of the alphabet and the sound that letters make when spoken
- Learn the alphabet song together
- Share ABC books and talk together about the sounds of the letters
- Play I-Spy using the sound of the letter
Identifying written numbers and being able to count objects
There are endless ways in which you can encourage counting with your child. You can also look out for house numbers on your walks, or prices in shops.
Identifying their own name when written down
This will help your child recognise their coat peg, drawer, or their own artwork in school.
Encourage your child to read their name when written down. You could make a bedroom door sign together. Let your child help with labelling their items for pre-school/school.
Being able to hold a pencil and make marks on paper
This does not mean your child needs 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 so practicing now can be helpful.
Children this age love role play. Try a classroom role play. 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.
PACEY’s website has some amazing tips and resources for preparing your child to start school.
Five to Thrive - The building blocks of brain development.
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 starting. You will need to apply for a school by the deadline, which is the December before the September start.
You can also visit our starting school page to support you on this next exciting stage.
The content of this page has been co-produced in partnership with PACEY.