If your child is starting school in September, you might be wondering how it will pan out. Children don’t legally have to attend school until the term they turn five, but more parents are sending them full-time from the September before.
This means four-year-olds are learning the ropes of school life a lot earlier. So how should you be preparing your child for school?
We asked the experts how to give them the best start.
John Coe, Information Officer at National Association for Primary Education said parents should remember their children are very young when they start school, and much of learning is through play.
He told HuffPost UK Parents: "Many children will have had some sort of 'before-school' experience in a nursery or playgroup or with a childminder so they will be used to other people.
"Teachers would expect them to be house-trained - toilet trained, know how to do their zips and buttons. But children will vary enormously."
In terms of reading and writing, Coe said Reception class teachers do not look for a level of performance in the children's abilities, but they expect the children will be able to speak and converse with one another, which is the first step to learning to read and write.
He added: "The general expectation is that children would have embarked on a learning journey before school through natural activities of playing and interacting with others.
"They might have been shown how to write their name, but they aren't failures if they can't. All children develop at different rates and teachers adjust teaching for different levels of performance."
Dr Michael Hymans, chartered psychologist agreed and said parents should not worry if their child isn't the only one who can't write their name or tell an A from a Z.
Explaining what is expecting of the four and five-year-olds, he told HuffPost UK Parents: "Reception teachers won't expect children to know letters or numbers, although the child may have some book handling skills (e.g. points to the cover or title of a book, and to the top and bottom of a page) and a basic understanding of early phonic skills such as letter-sound correspondence.
"Ideally, children starting school should be able to hold a pencil correctly, write some letters within their first name, copy shapes, letters and numbers, have some understanding of the language of number, and have counting and sorting skills."
Dr Anne H. Zachry, occupational therapist and child development specialist author of the parenting book ‘Retro Baby’, gave a list of 15 skills that teachers said were important for a child to be successful in the classroom.
1) Adjusts to new situations without a parent’s presence
2) Speaks in complete sentences
3) Listens without interrupting
4) Follows two-step directions
5) Begins to share with others
6) Understands concepts such as “top”, “bottom”, “big”, “little”, “more”, “less”
7) Knows parents’ first and last name
8) Independent with toileting skills
9) Successfully uses fasteners such as buttons, snaps, and zippers
10) Sorts objects that are the same shape, colour, or size
11) Recognises and names at least five colours
12) Recognises letters in own first name
13) Cuts with scissors
14) Draws a line, circle, X and +
15) Counts from 1 to 10 in correct order
So what can parents do to help their children develop these skills and prepare them for that all-important first day of school?
1. Read to them.
Dr. Judy Hutchings, Director at the Centre for Evidence Based Early Intervention said reading books with children is a key parenting activity that you’re no doubt already doing.
You can never start this too early and even picture books help children learn the basis of a story. When reading to your child, they will begin to grasp the idea that letters form words, which form sentences, which form stories.
2. Expose children to language.
Dr. Hutchings said one of the main skills children should grasp before school is the competence of language.
Speaking to HuffPost UK Parents, she said: “This helps them to understand instructions, manage their own behaviour by talking to themselves about what they should do, encouraging their persistence in activities, effectively labelling their own and others emotions and having the social skills required for co-operation.”
Research reveals the more words a child hears at a young age, the more successful he will be when it’s time for school, Dr Zachry told us. She said when reading to children, parents should point out letters, sounds and numbers.
She added: “Teach your child nursery rhymes and songs and sing with her often!”
3. Talk to your child about school.
It may seem like the obvious thing to do - but perhaps so obvious you forget about it. According to Dr. Hutchings, parents should anticipate that their children will enjoy school and talk to them about what it is in a positive light.
Dr Michael Hymans, child psychologist, said parents can begin doing this by getting their child familiar with the general idea of school: “Reading to them storybooks such as Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Starting School, or I am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child are engaging ways to create positive impressions of school.”
Hymans said parents can encourage their child to raise any concerns they might have, such as from “will there be any lunch’” to “how will I find the loo?” And, “will I have to find my own way home?”
He added: “Parents can ask older cousins or friends to chat with their child about fun stuff they do at school. They should be careful not to introduce worries they haven’t considered and should try to not to pass on their own anxieties on.
“They can walk or drive past their child’s prospective school, pointing out any appealing features.”
4. Keep a regular routine at home.
When children go to school, they will fall into a routine of a regular break time, nap time and lunch time.
To prepare them for this, Dr. Zachry said keeping a regular routine at home will benefit the children when they begin the first day of school.
5. Encourage play and playtime rules.
As Coe mentioned, the majority of children’s days with be filled with play when they begin school. Although they might be doing this anyway, Dr. Zachry parents should encourage pretend play among their children.
She explained: “Provide opportunities for the development of social skills (on the playground, in play groups, etc.) and encourage your child to engage in physically active play.
“It will also be helpful for you to teach your child to put away his/her toys!”
On the first day of school:
You can prepare as much as you like, but it all comes down to that first day of school. Dr Michael Hymans gave his three tips on how parents should handle the first day:
1 “Show their child around the classroom, helping them to find something they want to play with and staying only as long as is really necessary, to find their coat peg and anything else that might be theirs, e.g. a name tray, and remind them of where the toilets are.”
2. “Try not to cry in front of their child as this will upset and confuse them. If needed, parents can say goodbye and go and have a good cry outside with a friend!”
3. “Say hello to the other parents and arrange a meet up as soon as possible (maybe straight away for coffee!) All the other parents are in the same boat and are probably also feeling a little unsure, and many will be looking to make friendships too.
“It’s just as important to build solid relationships with the other parents as it is for the children to become friends, after all, parents will probably be together for many years if the class progresses through the school together!”