Starting primary school is the beginning of an exciting new chapter in your child’s life. It can be pretty daunting for them (and you) but there are some things that you can do over the summer to help them get ready for their new adventure.
By doing a bit of prep in advance, you can make sure that you’re the only one covered in tears and snot on the first day. Here are our tips for getting ready for primary school:
Teachers won’t expect your child to rock up on their first day at primary school with a job and a driving licence, but there are some things they’ll need to be able to do on their own as part of the school day. Making sure that they’re happy and confident to do these before they start can help to ease any anxiety. They include:
- Going to the toilet, wiping their bums correctly and washing their hands
- Getting changed for PE lessons
- Taking their shoes on and off
- Taking their coat on and off
- Using a knife, fork and spoon
- Helping themselves to water when they’re thirsty
If your child is having school dinners, try giving them a tray to practice carrying at home. Make it into a fun game and challenge them to walk around the room balancing things.
Does your child have a comforter or special toy that they’re never without (apart from the three miserable days when they lost the bloody thing and you had to buy another one from eBay for three times the original price)? If so, it’s likely that they won’t be allowed to take it with them to school. Ahead of time, start encouraging them to leave the toy at home so they get used to being out and about without them. If they’re super attached, try with really short trips and slowly work your way up to longer days out.
Offer new foods
If your child is one of the 99.8%* of children who only trust beige food, they may find school dinners a bit overwhelming. Fussy eaters are notoriously stubborn but it can’t hurt to introduce a few new meals to their repertoire in the months before starting primary school to encourage them to try new things. Remember to stay calm as the more you panic, they more they’ll clam up.
The teachers will be on hand to support reception children as they get used to school dinners so don’t stress out too much about this. School dinners these days are far more varied and nutritious than in our day and they may have a few different options to choose from. My daughter had cheese and crackers for dessert the other day. Smashing.
For children who’ll be having a packed lunch, make sure they can open and close their lunchbox and any packets or pots inside.
*no evidence to support this claim whatsoever other than several years of first-hand evidence.
Buy some books about starting primary school
There are lots of lovely books out there about dinosaurs, princesses and everyone in between starting school. Who knew they had primary schools in prehistoric times?
Reading some of these books with your child can be a nice way to introduce the concept of school and address some of the common anxieties they may have. Here are just a few:
- Dinosaur Starts School, Pamela Duncan Edwards
- Going to School (Usborne First Experiences), Anna Civardi
- First Day at Bug School, Sam Lloyd
- I am Too Absolutely Small for School (Charlie and Lola), Lauren Child
- Starting School, Allan Ahlberg
Organise play dates
Try to find other, local families with a child who’ll be in the same class and arrange a few play dates over the summer. Your child will see a reassuring familiar face or two when they start school and you might make a few mum or dad friends yourself. It’s good to have friends who live nearby so you always have someone to go to the pub with.
It’s really important that your child has developed social skills to help them settle happily into school life. This is particularly important if they haven’t been to nursery or preschool. Go to playgroups, organise playdates and encourage them to play games and share with other children. You can encourage them to do roleplay with their toys, where Buzz Lightyear has to take turns with Chase to play with Sarah and Duck. You get the gist.
They won’t be writing a dissertation just yet but even in reception, children will be expected to concentrate on a task in short bursts and to sit and listen in circle time. You can help to prepare them for this by playing lots of games and puzzles with them – basically things that require concentration. You could have your own circle time at home, where you sit round the dinner table and take it in turns to speak.
Children aren’t expected to be able to read and write when starting primary school but it can be a big help if they’ve started on the basics – for example learning to count, cutting out shapes and being able to spell and write their own name.
Get ready for the first day
Buy your child’s school uniform well ahead of time to avoid being caught up in the end of summer panic mob. Label everything to within an inch of your life. Even socks. Yes, socks. And encourage your child to try their new uniform on so they get used to how it feels.
Practice a typical school morning, so your child is used to getting up at the right time, getting dressed, having breakfast and leaving the house bright and early. Do a dummy run of the school run so you know how long it takes to get there and your child gets to know the route. Visit the school if possible and go to any taster sessions or stay and plays if you can.
If your child still naps (we salute you, how the hell did you get away with THAT?) now’s the time to phase out the naps so they get used to the long school days without any shuteye. Sorry, but you had a good run, you really did.
You’re probably feeling a bit emotional about the whole thing and that’s totally natural. But make sure your child doesn’t pick up on your anxieties. Talk about school positively and tell your child about the fun things you remember from your school days. Mention it regularly and encourage them to ask questions but don’t overdo it and make it into a bigger deal than it needs to be.
And don’t oversell it either or they’ll realise they’ve been conned. I mean, it’s not Peppa Pig World. They may be four, but they know the difference.
Do you need to apply for a primary school place for your child soon? Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed? Don’t freak out – instead, read our guides to choosing a primary school and the primary school application process.