If this is your first child heading off to school in September then it can be a nerve-wracking time with all sorts of questions - Will they settle and make friends? Will they be able to keep up with their peers? Will they be able to cope with the change of routine and demands of the school day?
The term 'school readiness' can create further pressure with the suggestion that children need to be prepared in an educational sense for the demands of school, particularly when it comes to literacy and mathematics. However what constitutes 'school readiness' is much more focused on the following factors and with a little additional help 3 and 4 year old children will be well on the way to achieving these already.
One of the key factors in helping your child be prepared for reception year is being able to carry out self care tasks on their own. These include hanging their coat up, going to the toilet and washing and drying their hands. It really helps if your child is able to dress and undress themselves, including putting on shoes and folding & putting away clothes. As parents we generally find it much easier to help our children with these, but at school help won't be so readily available and your child will feel so much more confident and less dependant if they can do these tasks by themselves.
Check with the reception year teacher at settle in days what they will be expected to do. But being able to use a knife, fork and spoon will go a long way to help them manage meals more confidently at school. Doing tasks such as pouring water from a small jug, carrying a tray and clearing their plate will all help with their independence too.
One of the main things that young children can struggle with in reception year is the ability to concentrate on set tasks or activities by themselves. You can develop independent skills at home by giving them small tasks and responsibilities such as laying the table, cutting up vegetables for dinner or feeding the pet. When they do activities at home, such as puzzles or drawings, leave them to concentrate. If they ask for help gently encourage and let them work things out through trial and error. Praise the process rather than the outcome so that children start to understand that working things out and having a go is just as valued.
Personal, social, emotional skills
One of the top concerns of parents when their child starts school is about their child making friends. This can often be the result of our own memories of school. But young children are much better at this than us and naturally form bonds and play with other children very easily. Personal, social and emotional skills take time to master. But if your child has had lots of opportunities to socialise and play with other children or if they have been attending nursery then they will already be developing great social skills.
Supporting social skills
Taking turns, resolving conflict, being able to negotiate, cooperate and empathise all take time and practice. It is a life-long journey(!) so remember there will be bumps along the road. We can support children by calmly talking through an explanation of a situation, possible solutions and resolutions, what we can do if we or someone else is upset. It takes time and lots of role-modelling but children will start to see how to handle social situations effectively.
Play is one of the most important things for children to do at this age and well into their school years. Lots of opportunities to do so will give your child so many life skills. So let time outside of school be filled with this.
Good communication and being able to express themselves effectively help in all areas of life, including school. The more children can vocalise how they are feeling, the more it will help them to be understood by others and for others to know what they need or where they need help.
Validating and verbalising how children might be feeling, such as "worried", "cross", "nervous" helps them understand their emotions and to find the words to express themselves. Verbalising what they don't like also helps children to stand up for themselves. There are some lovely stories that can help children understand emotions, including:
My Many Coloured Days: Dr Seuss
The Great Big Book of Feelings; Mary Hoffman & Ros Asquith
The Magic is Inside You; Cathy Domoney
Have You Filled a Bucket Today?; Carol McCloud
Many parents worry that their child will be expected to know letters in advance of reception year but this is not the case. Some older children may show an interest already but the majority won't and that is just fine. Lots of singing songs and reading stories to develop a good vocabulary and love of books is all children really need.
Be as calm, relaxed and confident as you can be. They will pick up on your worries so relax and reassure yourself that this is a natural step forward for your child. Talk about school and what's going to happen, but don't overdo it or be over enthusiastic about how exciting it's going to be. Just be natural.
Tip: storyboards of what the school day will look like can really help. Just stickmen drawings of the routine (getting dressed/driving or walking to school/sitting down and taking the register/lunchtime/the playground/being collected) Many schools provide a welcome pack to help familiarise their new starters but if not take a few photos of the teacher/classroom/toilets/playground etc to show your child if they are interested over the summer. You can also practice letting them put on and take off their school uniform/PE kit. Children of this age often love role-play so encourage it and join in!
For a great detailed guide about starting school - Follow this link to the Pacey organisation ‘Preparing your child for starting school’.