How much should my child know before starting school?
Reception teachers are used to seeing a wide range of abilities in new starters so don’t worry if your child has been struggling at home. Some children will be able to read simple sentences, while others won’t yet recognise the alphabet; teaching will be suitable for all levels, and it’s not an expectation that a child will be able to read or write before starting school. It’s always a good idea to spend time reading books and playing learning games with your child at any age, to help build simple literacy and numeracy skills in a fun way, but there should be no pressure to get your child to a certain level. Let them learn at a pace that suits them at home, and their new teacher will help them improve from there.
How independent should my child be before starting school?
Children will have less adult support at school than they’ll be used to at home, nursery or pre-school, but teachers will always be willing to help as your little ones get used to things. To help your child adjust and make the teacher’s life a little easier too, simple skills such as putting on a coat at play time or recognising their name are useful to have.
Learning to dress independently is a really useful skill to have at this age, but teachers will keep an eye out for anyone who needs help with a zip or a button. A handy trick if you’re worried about your little one getting dressed on their own is to buy Velcro shoes and trousers or skirts with elasticated waists. No more fiddly laces or buttons to contend with!
Teaching your child the basics of using the toilet – how to wipe properly, how to flush and to always wash their hands – will always be appreciated by teachers, but it is common for children to wet themselves at school. Teachers will be used to this, so don’t worry, but packing a spare pair of pants (especially at the start of term) is a great way to prepare for accidents.
My child is very fidgety, will that mean they are branded naughty?
Reception teachers have seen it all, including varying attention spans, and many have plenty of tricks up their sleeve to help keep energetic kids engaged. Not to mention, a lot of the learning will be based on play so you may find your child is moving around and having so much fun that no one will notice that they can get a bit fidgety at times. As long as your child can concentrate long enough to follow instructions then their teacher shouldn’t have a problem and should be able to help their attention span improve quite quickly. It is rare for a child to be branded naughty simply for being fidgety, but if you are concerned then share your worries with your child’s teacher as soon as possible to put your mind at rest.
My child’s school has a staggered start so he/she has to wait until Easter before they can begin. How can I make sure this doesn’t put them at a disadvantage?
This system of staggered starts does seem to work against children born in the summer. Not only do they have less time at school and have to join a class mid-year, but they are also young for their year. Of course, your child won’t be the only one starting at Easter so there will be others in a similar situation. If you are worried you can speak with the school who can explain the steps they will take to make sure late starters are fully integrated. It is also worth asking the school if you can be put in touch with parents of other later joiners; this gives you the chance to meet up before their start date and lets your children meet some of their fellow classmates. It is also worth spending time reading and playing board games with your child (as mentioned above) to help them develop some early learning skills in the time between September and Easter.
How can I make my child feel excited rather than anxious about school?
Children can have different types of anxiety before starting school, in the same way they might before doing anything new. Separation anxiety is common for both children and parents. It might help for you to come into the classroom with them to begin with and to keep your goodbye short. Other anxieties include worries about doing something embarrassing or falling out with friends. Reassure your child that nothing bad is going to happen at school and encourage them to face their fears. You can also help your child by reading books and doing role play about school. You might also want to walk past the school with your child and see what is happening at certain times of the day.
I am used to receiving daily feedback from nursery which won’t happen when he/she starts school. How will I know he/she has been OK?
You will get much less feedback from school, but if you are worried there will always be opportunities to speak with the teacher and your child. If your child is not the talkative type then make sure you don’t bombard them with questions about their day, as this will only make them clam up. Try and encourage them to open up by sharing details about your own day, making it into a game (you both name your three favourite things that happened that day), or speak with other parents to see if they are any more enlightened. If there is a particular issue causing you concern, see if it resolves itself over a few days, as this is often the case. If this doesn’t happen, try and have an informal chat with their teacher at the end of the day. However if you have any serious concerns, including bullying or problems at home, you should always speak to a teacher as soon as possible.
Where have all the desks gone? Isn’t the classroom a bit informal these days?
One thing all schools in the UK have in common is that the first year is kept relatively informal. This means that your memories of classrooms filled with rows of desks won’t resemble your child’s classroom. Instead, the classroom will be stocked with plenty of toys and areas in which children can play. Your child will learn numeracy skills by playing shops or playing with counters, while literacy skills will come through singing songs and reading in the reading corner. There will also typically be a carpeted area which is the focus for any whole-class learning led by the teacher. As your child progresses through school, their learning environment will become more formal and they will start sitting at tables or desks. When this happens depends on the country in which you live (this happens later in Wales than it does in England, for example) and varies slightly from school to school.
What can I do if my child hates school?
Children can often go skipping into school one day only to complain of a tummy ache the next day as soon as school is mentioned. It is common for children to suddenly decide they don’t want to go to school or refuse to enter the classroom. The important thing to remember is not to get impatient and to stay calm (even when you are already running late). Speak with your child and try to find out if this sudden fear of school stems from something that happened the day before; there could have been a minor incident in the playground or something one of their friends said that is playing on their mind. Speak with a teacher if you need to and feel assured that whatever the problem, it will soon work itself out.
What if I cry on the first day?
If you do shed a tear you won’t be the only one. Ideally, you will be able to hold back the tears until after you have said goodbye and are out of view of your child. Seeing you cry may unsettle or confuse them so it is best avoided. You want to help your child feel confident and in control on their first day of school, so you need to act in a normal way and be as supportive as possible. And if you are worried, it might be a good idea to go armed with a pack of tissues and take your camera, it will give you lots of lovely memories (and give you something to hide behind). Once you are home, if the house suddenly feels very empty, try and look on the bright side – you can spend more time with other parents, work more hours or start that hobby you’ve always wanted to.
Do you have any advice for the first day of primary school? Share it with our readers in the comments box below.