PARENTS

Starting Primary School: Our Experts Answer Parents' Questions

01/08/2014 12:20 | Updated 22 May 2015

Starting primary school: Our experts answer your frequently asked questionsRex

Starting primary school is one of the most exciting milestones in a child's young life but it can be an anxious time too. We look at the top worries parents have and provide advice to help make the big first day as painless as possible.

What does my son need to know? Does it matter if children can't write their name or recognise any letters yet?

It won't matter at all – reception is where they will pick up these skills and children absolutely do not need to be reading or writing beforehand.

Reception teachers are very used to a wide variety of starting points – whether your child can't yet distinguish 'a' from 'b' or is already reading, they'll have seen it all before and they should be able to tailor learning accordingly.

So definitely don't worry about what he can't do and leave those workbooks firmly on the bookshop shelves for now.

That said, reading books together and playing simple board games such as snakes and ladders will help your child build early literacy and numeracy skills in a fun and relaxed way.

Starting primary school: Our experts answer your frequently asked questionsPA

My daughter can't do her own shoes up or put her coat on without help. Will the teacher do it for her?

These sort of skills are more significant than academic ones because with 30 kids in the class and maybe two adults (assuming the teacher has an assistant), they'll inevitably have fewer grown-ups around to help them than they are probably used to at home or at nursery.

Ideally your daughter should be able to manage to get her coat/ shoes/ uniform back on after PE with minimal adult assistance (most teachers will be forgiving if reception children need help doing up the odd top shirt button or dealing with a stuck zip occasionally). If your child can't do these things already, it's a good idea to encourage them along with it all over the summer.

Making wise choices when buying uniform (provided it's still within the school's regulations) can make changing for PE or loo visits easier for little ones – trousers with elasticated waists, shoes with Velcro rather than laces and clip-on ties rather than proper ones.

It's also important to do all you can to ensure they can go to the toilet independently.

My child can't sit still for more than a few minutes and I don't think they're ready for school. Will they be labelled as naughty?

The whole approach to learning will be very play-based initially, so your child should have fun along their journey towards reading, writing and arithmetic and there will be plenty of opportunity for burning off energy at play times.

Again, teachers will be very used to pupils who seem to have ants in their pants and can't sit still for long, although of course he does need to be able to follow instructions. In the meantime keep encouraging him to sit still for a little longer where possible.

Hopefully you will see a big improvement with his concentration over his reception year as he matures.

My son will be starting at a different school to all his nursery friends and won't know anyone. What can I do to make things easier? He isn't the best at making friends.

Sarah Ebner, author of The Starting School Survival Guide advises: "Firstly you need to be a model for your son. If he sees you talking to other mums and making friends, then he will think that it's the right thing to do. So, be brave yourself and get ready to make some new friends!

"If you know anyone who's going to be at the new school, it would be great if you could contact them before the school year starts and arrange some summer get-togethers. If not, then suggest going to the park after school early in the term, or have a few playdates.

"Don't overdo this, as your child may be tired, but one a week should be fine and will hopefully help your child to cement some friendships early on."

Penny Tassoni of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), says that it's also important to encourage children to behave in a sociable way towards others to help them make friends: "teach your child to say 'please' and 'thank you' as ways of recognising other people's kindness. Model this yourself and prompt if your child forgets. Encourage your child to share things, even if this is just with you and explain when you share, the other person feels included and so are more likely to be friendly. Also play small games with your child and see if he or she child can manage if he does not win."

My child's school has a staggered start so whilst the older ones begin attending in September, my summer-born son has to wait until Easter. How can I help him not be disadvantaged by this?

This sort of staggered start does seem to disadvantage summer-born children who have a double whammy of less time in school and being younger to start with. It can also be awkward socially to join an established class but presumably he won't be the only later joiner.

If you have concerns, do discuss them with the school who should be able to reassure you about how they integrate the later starters. Socially, it might be worth asking the school if they can facilitate the later starters being put in touch with each other, so you can perhaps meet up with the other children over the coming months.

Also try and gently keep on top of those early learning skills with the activities mentioned above such as board games. if your child attends nursery they will actually be working towards the same early learning goals and curriculum anyway.

My little girl doesn't like change and seems quite anxious whenever I mention school. How can I make her feel excited rather than stressed about all this?

Sarah Ebner provides advice on this in her book too and explains, "Some children will feel anxious about starting school, but you need to try and be positive, and make her see that it's an adventure!

"That doesn't mean that you should just dismiss her worries, because they are serious to her. However, there are ways you can help.

"Children can have different types of anxiety, from separation anxiety (they might be fearful that something bad is going to happen to them, or their parents, if they are parted), social anxiety, where they are concerned about doing something stupid or embarrassing, or more generalised anxiety, which could mean anything from falling out with a friend to being told off.

"Whatever the issue, you need to encourage your child to face her fears in a gradual and measured way. Try to help by breaking problems down into small steps (for example, if she was scared about putting her hand up in class, you could discuss a chart whereby she gets a reward each time she does this).

"You can also do practical things such as reading books about school, doing role play about school at home or even taking a walk past the school to have a peek in.

"Most children feel some anxiety about doing new things, but your daughter needs to learn that nothing bad is going to happen at school. You need to be positive about what's to come and perhaps enlist the teacher if this hasn't stopped by the time they are about to start."

I'm used to getting daily feedback from my son's nursery about how he was that day, what he's eaten and what he did but I understand this doesn't happen at school. How will I know he's been okay?

There is indeed quite a difference between the amount of feedback you will get daily from school compared to from a nursery or childminder but if you have any worries, there certainly will be an opportunity to discuss them with the teacher.

Sarah's view is that you can still have strong lines of communication but suggests you need to choose your timing for speaking to the teacher wisely: "Lots of parents worry about the transition from nursery to school, especially as school seems so much more formal. But although the teachers may seem busier, they are available to discuss any concerns with parents.

"Try not to collar them first thing in the morning when they have 30 children to settle, but do have a chat after school about how your child is doing. Don't be shy about this, especially if it will settle your mind. Remember to always be polite and friendly to any teacher you speak to. You want to keep on their right side.

"Another tip is that, although your child may not tell you much about school, his friends might! You can always sneak in a question or two on play dates."

We'd add that there's an element of 'no news is good news' with school age children - if something bad had happened the teacher would normally tell you. Equally remember to let them know if significant events in your child's home life have occurred, such as a bereavement, illness or relationship breakdown. If you need more than a few minutes of time with the teacher to cover any issues, you can always contact the school office to make an appointment.

How come the children don't have desks any more? It all looks very informal.

England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales follow slightly different systems to each other but a common thread is that for at least the first year of school, everything is kept relatively informal.

Most classrooms have plenty of toys and space for playing, plus a carpet area which is the focus for any whole-class learning - the children will typically sit there whilst the teacher reads a story, or introduces phonics sounds for example.

This does indeed mean no rows of desks facing the front and a very practical approach. Think playing shops to learn number skills or singing songs to learn phonics.

In future school years, your child's education will become a little more formal but when this will be depends on which of the UK's countries you are in (this happens later in Wales than England for example) and also varies between schools to a degree.

Check out our guide to the National Curriculum and Early Years Foundation Stage which will explain some of the terms you'll encounter in the coming years.

I'm worried all the mums will know each other and be cliquey. Help!

If you really are the only new family (and even if you're not), keep smiling and saying hello. Organise some play dates when your child starts to make friends and invite the other mums along for coffee!

Getting involved in the parent teacher association (usually referred to as the PTA) is also a great way to get to know others.

Starting primary school: Our experts answer your frequently asked questionsAlamy

I'm sure I'll cry on the first day!! How can I avoid looking silly?

You probably won't be the only one! If you can manage to hold the tears in until you've said goodbye to your child and rounded the corner, all the better, as it might be unsettling or confusing for them to see you cry.

Other than that, stuff your pocket with a tissue, stick to waterproof mascara and remember to take some photos of your freshly-minted schoolboy or girl in that slightly too big uniform!

Sarah Ebner's Starting School Survival Guide is published by White Ladder Press.

Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years published by Prentice Hall Life.

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