Nursery to Primary
As a parent, have you ever wondered whether feeding the ducks should take second fiddle to fluency in Mandarin? Or is your child’s ability to count peas on a plate more important than the peas actually being eaten? Sound familiar, but is it really necessary in order to best prepare your child for school? You might be surprised to learn that a child who starts school knowing their alphabet is not necessarily any better prepared than another with a confident command of the card game ‘snap’. Crucially, the key is not what they have already learnt, but whether they are ‘ready’ to learn.
At Maple Walk School we have years of experience of teaching four-year-olds and we know that first day in Reception class can be fraught. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years nearly half (48%) of parents were more anxious than their child about starting school. But before children embark on this epic first day, there are things parents can do to help them prepare. This means starting at the basics:
Children will be expected to go to the toilet independently and so will also need to know how to wash their hands. It may seem obvious, but being able to dress and undress is a key step. Fiddly coat buttons and zips can be a challenge for small fingers and so the younger children start getting ready, the better. A good tip is to get your child to practise putting school uniform on and praise them for being grown up enough to dress for ‘big’ school. This will also make the morning dash less stressful. As Oscar Wilde famously said: “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
If you can, visit the school beforehand and run through the school day, so that they are familiar with the routine and key events, such as play and lunchtime. It is also best to be honest with your child, as although school can be action-packed and full of fun new activities, they will also get tired, and on occasions have to do things they would rather not do.
Children develop physically at different rates and some children will never conquer the monkey bars, but building strength in big and small ways as they reach school age will help. To encourage finger dexterity, which will assist them to negotiate clothes fastenings and later to master a correct pencil grip, practice as many precise tasks as possible. Threading beads on string, sticking sequins on card can help. Joining dots, tracing shapes, marking circles in the sand with a stick or squirting water from a bottle in a specific pattern will all develop hand/eye co-ordination.
Additionally, encourage your child to share with others and also to tidy up from an early age. Learning to put away their shoes neatly is as important as how they care for their toys and other precious possessions. This is particularly invaluable when 20 children are changing into PE kits in the same room as the Bermuda Triangle of school uniform. On that note, make sure you label everything and show your child where to check for their name, so that they can be reunited with stray socks.
In school, children will be expected to take turns and to listen. To get the best out of school, and for their own safety, they will also need to follow instructions and to understand rules. It is therefore a good idea to discourage your children from interrupting other people’s conversations. Similarly, sitting still does not always come naturally to children and so family mealtimes are a good opportunity to practice many of these skills, including waiting their turn to talk and helping to tidy up afterwards.
Managing extreme emotions, such as frustration and disappointment, can be hard for young children and those that get angry or withdrawn easily may struggle to navigate normal classroom politics. By encouraging your child to talk about their feelings, it will help them to understand, and therefore better manage, their emotions.
If your child has not been to nursery or cared for by others for long periods, it is worth getting in some practice a few months before school starts, perhaps by asking a friend or relative to help out. Be upbeat about this experience, as young children can easily pick up on your anxiety. On the big day don’t linger around the classroom door at drop off, unless the school encourages you to stay put, and say goodbye cheerfully. Even if your child cries, their tears are unlikely to last long and teachers are masters of distraction – finding fun activities for even the most reluctant of pupils.
Going to school is an exciting journey and whilst it can also be nerve-wracking, a little preparation can make the ride smoother for everyone.