A blog for parents whose children are starting school in September.
The schools have broken up for the summer holidays, and what a start it’s been! With record- breaking temperatures, chaos on the rail system just as people want to travel for holidays and kids and adults alike seeking out beaches and cooling sea breezes as well as fountains of every shape and size. Youngsters are likely to be looking forward to not having to go to school for the next six weeks – and parents are quite possibly scrabbling around to find ways of occupying them. Probably the last thing on anyone’s mind right now (whether child or adult) is getting ready for school next term. I’m not talking about getting school uniform and new shoes sorted, but other aspects of school readiness.
Last summer, I wrote a blog about ways of keeping your child’s skills up through a real-life activities that incorporate some of the things they will have been learning at school during the past year to avoid the summer holiday erosion of what they have learnt. You can find it by clicking here.
This time, I’d like to focus on school readiness.
Do you have a child starting Nursery or Reception?
Starting at school for the first time can be a very daunting prospect for a young child; meeting new peers, having to manage some things on their own which previously they may have had help with at home, having a ‘timetable’ to stick to, learning their way round the new building and so on. The very fact that we often talk about starting ‘BIG SCHOOL’ can make it seem more scary for a young child, too, a topic that’s been getting much airtime on social media this year.
There are a number of things which can make their entry into the world of school easier and enable them to make more of the opportunities available to them, for example:
Dressing and undressing
Can they manage to undo and take their coat off and put it back on and fasten it unaided? In the early years at school children spend much of their time outside, often in covered areas so that they can still go out when it rains. If they are able to manage their coat without help or, at least, with minimal help they will be better placed to take advantage of this outdoor space.
Similarly, can they get ready for PE and get dressed again afterwards unaided or with minimal adult help? This is more relevant for children going into Reception but if they can dress and undress themselves it also makes the morning and bedtime routines at home easier to handle as well.
Are they good at putting their shoes on the correct feet? If not, it can be useful to get a sheet of A4 card and draw round their usual pair of shoes, marking the two outlines R and L respectively. When they take their shoes off, simply place them on the card on the relevant outline and then, when they come to put their shoes on the next time, they are already in the right position. Shoes with Velcro fastenings are really easy for little ones to manage but if they have shoes with a buckle, get them to practice fastening and unfastening them. Try to avoid shoes with laces until they have the manual dexterity to learn how to tie
Are they toilet trained? Recent press reports have highlighted an increase in the number of children starting school in nappies. Not only is this having an implication for staffing in schools, but it can also make for a difficult and/or embarrassing situation for children. If youngsters are able to use the toilet independently, even if they sometimes need help wiping or reminders to wash their hands, it can make life easier for everyone involved.
Make sure that your child knows whether they can just take themselves off to the toilet or if they have to ask an adult for “permission”. It is likely, certainly in nursery, that they will just be able to take themselves off when they need the toilet. This may well continue into Reception as well but check with the school at the start of term what their regime is. Children will also be prompted to go to the toilet at key points in the day e.g. before playtime and lunch, for example.
Get them ready to manage lunchtime at school; it may be a few weeks after starting their settling-in period in Reception before they stay for school lunch, but it’s best to get them practising some of the skills they will need. For example, if they are to have packed lunch, can they put a straw into a drink carton without getting the liquid all over themselves? Are they able to open a packet of crisps or snacks unaided? Have a discussion with your child about what they might like to have in their packed lunch and the summer holidays and picnicking is a good time to try to expand their repertoire of foods that they will eat.
If they’re going to have school lunch, they may well need to be able to carry a small tray with their food on it or at the very least, a loaded plate without spilling it. Faced with a choice of food, how good will they be at deciding what to have? I know of children who have lacked the confidence to either experiment with their food choices or ask for what they want do end up having the same thing every day! Playing ‘restaurants’ or ‘cafes’ at home with a ‘menu’ they have to choose from, can help them practise making food decisions.
How well can they manage to eat with cutlery and cut their food on their own? Even though there are adults available to help them, it is useful if they can do this for themselves. How long do they take to eat their food? If your child has a very slow eater, you may need to spend some time over the summer holidays trying to speed them up (without causing indigestion, of course!).
Equally, if your child has any food allergies, prepare a card saying clearly what they can, and above all, can’t eat. Make sure a copy of this is with their class teacher, the school office and the lunchtime supervisors by the first time your little one stays for lunch. And talk to them about how best to steer your child in the direction of the food he or she CAN eat.
If your child has known additional needs and uses special cutlery, make sure you’ve got some for school (and a spare set or two) clearly named and be ready to set up a plan with school so that your child and the lunchtime staff know where they are and can help.
Can they recognise their name? Most children start school unable to read but it can be useful if they can recognise their name. This means they will be able to find their peg in the cloakroom and hang their coat up. They will also be able to find their name for registration; in some schools, children post their name through a post box to show that they are there in others they place their name on a sheet or the whiteboard to indicate that they are in school.
Do they know any of their future classmates? If there is an opportunity to get together for a play date with other children who are going to be in the same class before starting at school, that can be quite useful so that at least they recognise some of their peers when they begin at school. In these days of GDPR, schools are not able to give out class lists without everyone’s consent, but the parent grapevine can be a good way of finding other children who will be in the same class and you may well have met other parents and their offspring at an induction meeting before the term ended.
Labelling – everything!
Mark all their clothing with name tapes and all laundry marker pen. It’s amazing how often things will go walkabout and most schools end up with a huge amount of un-named lost property. You can increase the likelihood of your child and his or her clothing and possessions being reunited if you have put their name and things. If sewing isn’t your thing and you don’t want the faff or writing their name repeatedly, take a look at the personalised stamps at https://stamptastic.co.uk.
Just in case
If your child has allergic reactions, whether to food or any other triggers, be ready to make the school aware of the reaction they might see and what action they will need to take. If your child has an EpiPen available at home, get a spare one to be kept at school and make sure the staff know how to use it.
Now’s the time to get ready
The school holidays stretching ahead for the next five weeks or so provide an ideal opportunity to practice or acquire some of these skills and to get your child ready for the opportunities that lie ahead.