Preparing your Child for School

Early learning – preparing your child for learning within the school environment

If your child is four or will soon be starting school, this guide will provide some pointers on how to prepare your child for the transition from play to more structured learning. Many schools still adopt a learn-through-play approach for reception classes, moving slowly to a more structured format once children are all ready to progress to the next stage of cognitive development.

Starting school for the first time is a huge step for any child. Many children (and parents) can become a bit anxious in the build up to starting ‘big school’ as the transition from a home or nursery setting can be quite significant. As a parent, you hope for a smooth settling in period, a slow introduction to a new style of learning not to mention the parental concerns around whether or not their child will behave appropriately or not. We know that children who are settled, happy and confident within the school environment are likely to concentrate and engage meaning they’ll succeed and have a good educational grounding.

For some children, the transition is a smooth and exciting one. For others, it can be a little more daunting and anxieties can creep in. It can be helpful if your child has some pre-school or nursery sessions before starting big school. This will help them to socialise and feel more confident in their new environment. If you are able to help your child to make friends or at least mingle with some of the children ahead of the school year, they’ll be able to identify some familiar faces on their first day.

Most schools offer an induction day or some settling in sessions ahead of the official start day. This will help to familiarise you and your child with the school as much as possible in advance. Induction days offer parents and children the opportunity to go along and see their new classroom, meet teachers, find out about the school day and meet other students who will be in their class on their first day. This can be exciting and scary so consider the experience not only from a parent’s perspective but also from your child’s point of view.

Most schools offer an induction day or some settling in sessions ahead of the official start day. This will help to familiarise you and your child with the school as much as possible in advance. Induction days offer parents and children the opportunity to go along and see their new classroom, meet teachers, find out about the school day and meet other students who will be in their class on their first day. This can be exciting and scary so consider the experience not only from a parent’s perspective but also from your child’s point of view.

What's in a day?

When children first start school, many can find it quite difficult to get the concept of being in school all day for five days of the week. This can be tricky particularly for children who have not attended longer nursery or other childcare sessions. They may believe that after the first day, they won’t be going again for a few days. Reassure your child at pick up time that they will see all their new friends and teachers again the following day. Many schools have a phased introduction, meaning a shorter school day initially in the first term and building up to full school days thereafter.

You may wish to engage is some role-play games at home to promote the idea of classroom behaviour and what it may be like at school for a day. You can set up a classroom style activity at home, ask your child to collect all their favourite toys and seat them all together at their desks or on the floor while class begins. You and your child can take turns at being the teacher, discussing things like names, times, activities and what’s coming next.

You can also build in some behaviour based role play to promote good behaviour at school later on. You may also want to consider in-class questions like; do you need the toilet and what to do. What would your child do if they were thirsty or felt unwell? All of these scenarios can help to prepare your child for the tasks of being a responsible little person at big school when the day comes.

To try and avoid any confusion and help your child understand what school will be like, when they’ll have to go and what each day will typically be like, it’s a good idea to have a good chat to them about it. You may need to do this on several occasions, for them to fully or partially grasp the idea.

You may also find that reading books about starting school may help to prepare your child through visual story telling. You may wish to read fictional stories with animal characters or more realistic versions that deal with the real issues children face when starting school. All of this is paving the way for good, early learning. Helping your child to settle early on will give them the confidence to thrive in their new learning environment.

Learning basics and some common issues

Many schools use the phonics system for teaching children about words and how they are made up of single letter sounds. The use of phonics helps to teach children about how words sound making this an effective method for helping young children to learn about words and letters.

Children will be taught about how each letter in the alphabet has it’s own sound and how by stringing some different sounds together, they will make words as they go along. Your child may be taught something along the lines of: you have the sound ‘g’ at the start of ‘gate’ and ‘s’ at the start of ‘snake’. This then moves on to include the grouping of sounds and letters together to form examples such as ‘ch’ as in ‘church’ or ‘sh’ as in ‘shoe’. Children will then build on this, forming bigger and more complex sounds until they have a good understanding of how words are formed.

You can start at home, teaching your child first about mark making, then forming the letters that sound out their own name. They may not yet be able to write their own name when they start school, but it you practice early on, your child should be able to recognise their name if they see it. Another effective activity can be to write out letters using dots. Let your child join the letters together, showing them the flow of each letter and how to join the dots together. You can then move on to letting them do it on their own until they’ve got it.

When your child starts to learn about words, letters and the correct order they are placed in, some children can show early signs of common learning difficulties such as dyslexia (letters) or dyscalculia (numbers). This does not mean necessarily that your child has either of these, it may mean that they simply need to be taught in a different way or may need to spend more time learning and getting to grips with the process. Teachers are very well placed to notice early signs of learning difficulties and in some cases, these issues may have already been identified before starting school and your child will have the necessary help and support available. Talk to your school, your child’s teacher, GP or health visitor if you have any concerns.

Facilitate ongoing learning at home

There are endless projects that you can create with your child to promote early learning. Make a wall poster with the letters of the alphabet and another with numbers up to 10 or 20 and so on. Alphabet charts could have a letter, memorable word and picture next to each letter. Go back to them regularly, each day if you can. The use of magnetic letters and numbers is also an ideal opportunity to involve your child in letter and number activities. Put them on the fridge or wherever you have an easily accessible surface for your child to work on. At meal times, you could spell out words like pizza, potato, carrot etc… to help your child to associate the sound, image and letters with the word.

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