Planning for positive School drop offs – for you and your little one.

Planning for positive School drop offs – for you and your little one.

Dropping off your child at the school gates can be an emotional time; you are probably thinking about how your little one might react? How are you going to react? Will they be ok? Will I be OK? After such an extended break and regardless of how many times you have done that drop off before, this year might have you feeling more worried about how it is going to go than normal.  We all want to do everything possible to ensure a positive school drop off experience of course we do.  So let’s explore this further.

Maybe this is your child’s first day/week or year at school or Pre-school, your first ever drop off or perhaps you are sending number 2 or 3 in for the first time.  Whatever your situation you may be experiencing some anxiety, worry or tension.  You might even be feeling it physically with a dull ache at the pit of your stomach, oh and you might be feeling guilty because you and a little bit, excited for what that drop off gives you! We are here to tell you that all these feelings are all perfectly natural and normal and you will likely feel some or all of them over the coming days and weeks. More often than not it’s more difficult for us to deal with drop offs than it is for our children. We can tell you this with confidence, we have first-hand experience both as Reception class teachers who greet those new curious eyes during those first days of school, but also as Mums who have had to drop our own children off and leave them in a new setting surrounded by new faces.

Your child will be experiencing a range of emotions too, but they might struggle to understand exactly what these emotions are and will find it difficult to verbalise them.  Some children will be confident and eager for these early days whereas others will avoid having any conversation about it at all. They are likely to have some fear of the unknown and obviously they are used to having you by their side to remind them that everything is ok. In the vast majority of cases those early drop off jitters are quickly overcome. Reception classes are exciting places, by design, and provide the perfect distraction to help your little one to relax and settle in quickly.  As you both become more familiar with the school’s set up and the routine of the school day it all becomes normal and the fear and worry quickly diminishes for both of you.

Off to school

There are rare cases where this isn’t the case and little ones might need a little longer to settle in.  This is uncommon so if you feel that your little one is taking longer than the others to settle speak to your child’s class teacher, they will be experienced with this and you can work together to develop a plan to support you and your child.

As the big day approaches, we wanted to share some tips so that you can prepare yourself and your little one for positive school drop offs? There are many different tactics that you could employ to promote a positive school drop off.  In fact, the list can become quite overwhelming, so we have selected our top three for you:

1. BE CONSISTENT/ROUTINE– Remember this is just as hard if not harder for you as the parent. Much like a removing a plaster quick is usually better than slow and drawn out.  As teachers we have been there, many a time, in the classroom ready to start the day when some parents are still giving the 20th kiss and one more cuddle! We love kisses and cuddles too but be firm with what your expectations are for saying goodbye and try not to deviate from this.  If we have 10 kisses on Monday these little people will quickly learn they can drag it out to 15 or 20 by the end of the week.  A kiss and a cuddle then off to play with their new friends is perfect.

2. INFORMATION IS KEY– Your little one has an inquisitive mind, talk to them, let them know what you will be doing whilst they are at school? Involve them in the routine, let them know who is picking them up after class? Make sure you share routine of the school day with them so they can understand and take ownership? Remind them of the names of the class teacher and ask them about the names of their peers? Schools have amazing websites that are packed full of information regarding your child’s class, get involved and share this information with your little one. They, more often than not, have a comprehensive staff list that will enable you to tell your child the names of those that will be helping them at lunchtimes and those that will greet them at the classroom door. Knowledge is power – this is a great time to empower your child and help them to begin to learn to be independent even if you aren’t quite ready to let them go.

3. MINDSET– We all know that our children feed from our emotions so if we begin to falter, they will, no doubt, pick up on this too. Try and remain a positive Polly regardless of how pear-shaped the drop off is going and save the tears until those little feet are firmly inside the door. See if you can team up with other mums from your child’s class and do something really lovely after that first drop off- go for a coffee, cake or even a little shop. Anything to take your mind off of the anxiousness and worry. Remember, you will not be the only one feeling whatever emotions you are feeling so share that with others.

 

We really hope that you have found this useful and remember, whether you are excited, teary, anxious or all of the above you are not the only one feeling this and it is totally normal. Good luck for that first week- we do hope you have a really positive school drop off experience – stay strong, you can and will do this.

If you are still nervous and would like a little more support and guidance through the coming days and weeks our positive drop offs mini course is designed to give you and your child the tools to create confidence when separating at the start of the day.

  • Ted our lovable bear provides engaging sessions and fun activities for your and your little one to enjoy together.
  • We also provide you with an adult guide to coach you through preparing for and creating positive drop offs.
  • With 2 videos, a download with 3 activities and a reward chart we set you up for positive drop offs whatever time of year.

Click below for more information and to join us.

 

Vix + Em

Positive Drop Offs Mini Course

Uniquely designed course to involve your child in the process of creating a positive drop off experience.

 

Small Business Buys for September

Small Business Buys for September

Whether you have a child who is starting school or going back to school in September, here are four small businesses that we recommend.

Going back to school in September, or starting for the first time this year is going to be a big deal after so much change and chaos. We know we have to buy the uniform and the shoes and the book bag, which I would always recommend buying early, in fact if you haven’t bought these bits yet then invest now if you can. No-one wants to be stressed out in September trawling online shops and maybe even the high street looking for uniform and shoes in the right size! It’s also really lovely to think about the extra’s that go alongside the uniform to prepare children and us as parents for School. We love supporting fellow small businesses and so here are the things which I’ve bought for Lily so far. I may have to add to the blog before September (don’t tell my husband!)

Tales of Me Books

For school starters, The Tale of Starting School is such a beautiful book and for those going back to school there is a free download version. As soon as I caught sight of the book on an Instagram feed a few months ago I just knew I would love it. All of their designs use gorgeous illustrations packed with bright visuals to help personalise the stories for your child. Written by a Primary School Teacher they are brilliantly thought out and include so much information to support your child in being prepared for school. The Tale of Starting School includes everything you will need to think of from uniform, to teachers names and lunchtime to toilets. They even have space for you to add pieces of work and notes from their first parents evening. 

Lily absolutely loves her book and even before we started adding pictures to it she was asking me to read through it over and over and was explaining to me what she would be doing at school. I know this book will be something we treasure forever and it absolutely had to be number one on the list!

Stamptastic

There are so many ways you can label your child’s uniform; stickers, labels, stamps and pens. I’ve chosen a personalised stamp from Stamptastic because I can’t sew and I know Lily would be determined to peel stickers off! A sharpie works well, that’s what I’ve used for the last four years of labelling nursery clothes but I wanted something special. The stamps are great quality, you choose the lettering style and an image. The image idea is great to help children locate their items quickly. As Reception teachers Vix and I would have been eternally grateful for anything that saved us the stressful 15 minute job at the end of every school day trying to reunite lost clothing with their rightful owners! Lily chose a mermaid and and although she can recognise her name I know this will make it a bit easier for her to see hers amongst up to 59 other cardigans or jumpers! You get an ink pad with the stamp and you can use the stamp on most materials and even some plastics (we tested a picnic box and it’s stayed on despite several runs through the dishwasher already!)

Nannas Manners

 

Being independent with lots of different things is really important for children at school. There are lots of adults to help with doing up zips, putting shoes on the right feet and cutting up their jacket potatoes but if they can do these things themselves then they don’t have to wait. That means more time to play and learn with their friends! I don’t know about you but some table manners rules have slipped over lockdown and the summer in our house so I was keen to find something to encourage her to use her cutlery properly.

Nanas manners stage 3+ independence cutlery is great. It is designed to give children the correct grip and to learn to cut up their food independently. You can get them in 6 different colours, we’ve got a pink set (because everything Lily chooses is pink!) We were having some mealtime battles especially around using a knife and fork which I now think was because she found it tricky. They have really helped her to become more confident with using cutlery and I’m so pleased that she will be able to eat her lunch more independently in September and then get out playing with her buddies!

Peggy Pip

Peggy Pip makes gorgeous peg dolls in a huge number of shapes and styles. I’ve bought Lily a personalised school doll which has blonde curly hair like hers and wears a school uniform just like the one for her school. They are a really lovely idea as a keepsake, or a worry doll idea to support children in feeling safe about starting or returning to school. The compant also do name dolls, families, occupations and more. Sets can be culturally diverse too which I think is fantastic, I’ve ordered Lottie a name set!

The delivery time is long at the moment because they are so popular but I couldn’t not include them. Definitely worth a look as something to look forward to arriving during the first few weeks.

We hope you love this list and have a great time with some online shopping. I really need to curb mine now! We would love to hear what you think or any other recommendations that you have. Drop us a comment to tell us!

Em x

Transition to Reception during a pandemic.

Transition to Reception during a pandemic.

Starting School can be a scary time at the best of times let alone during a global pandemic! We understand that the whole process can seem overwhelming but it can also be really exciting even during the current situation. We’re here to take some of the guessing and stressing away and to give you some ideas about how schools might be planning to support and your child to get ready. Here I am just going to explain the possible processes for those whose children are starting school in September and give some information about what is likely to in the next few months before they start.

By now you should know which school your child has been allocated a place in a Reception class in a Primary School near to you. Hopefully this is a school you are really happy with and was one of your top choices. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. If you haven’t been given the school of your choice or you are unhappy with the decision you will need to contact your Local Authority to find out about their appeals process for admissions.

Schools will have a list of children who are joining them in September and should now be sending out information about start dates and possible transition opportunities. Every school is different and so you will need to wait to find out what will be on offer to you and your child. Bear with schools, things are really manic right now trying to plan how to support children returning to school before the end of term. Of course you could always give them a call if you are impatient like me!

As I have mentioned all schools are different and what they offer to prepare both you and your child for school will differ massively. Below I have listed a few things that might be available this year to replace the ‘normal’ arrangements.

 

1. Dates and times for school in September.

Schools will tell you the first day of term and what time school starts and finished for your child. They will also tell you whether your child starts full time or on a staggered start. Full time means they go for the whole school day right from the get go. Some schools do a staggered start where children may go to school just for mornings in the first week, then for mornings and lunch in week two and build up to full time. As with everything in life people’s preferences for this will differ but staggered starts can be quite difficult for working families. If this will cause you a problem talk to your school as all children are entitled to start school in the September after their fourth birthday and therefore schools will have options for full time if you need it. Equally, if you want a staggered start for any reason and it is not the school policy just give them a call to talk things over.

What’s different?

These dates and times will be subject to change. Schools will probably let you know a plan A but rest assured they will have plans B,C,D,and maybe E ready for any problems with getting children into school. Schools are very good at planning for things to not always go to plan! There may be a more staggered start this year to enable smaller groups of children to be in the space – for distancing measures but also to have a more gentle start as many children are likely to have missed pre-school and nursery time.

2.Transition meetings

Normally schools will arrange and invite you to meetings before you child starts school. These are usually in July and are really useful.

What’s Different?

These meetings may be postponed until September or be delivered in a range of ways. Some schools are offering live broadcast sessions, others recorded videos, presentations or a long letter which may be available on their website or emailed to you.

During these ‘sessions’ or via this correspondence you will get the chance to ‘meet’ or see the teachers and normally the Headteacher too. You will find out really important stuff about uniform, lunches, what your child will learn, after school clubs and more. It is normally a great opportunity to meet the parents’ of all the other children in your child’s class who are all in the same position as you (nervous, petrified, excited, scared…..). The social aspect won’t be available this year so it’s a good idea to search on facebook etc for a parents page. Many schools will have a dedicated page for parents of September starters often set up by a lovely parent! These will be so valuable this year to make links with others, ask questions, find out about second hand uniform etc!

You are likely to be sent tonnes of paperwork from these sessions/ afterwards. You will probably receive this in the post this year. Some will need completing and returning so don’t be tempted to chuck it in the paperwork draw (or similar void like area in your house where paperwork is put and never found again!)

3. Transition sessions

Most schools offer transition or ‘settling’ sessions. These are opportunities for your child to spend some time in school to get to know their classroom, teacher/s and new friends. There are often a few sessions put on which you may be able to choose from. Some schools ask parents to stay but most expect you will leave your child there for the sessions.

What’s Different?

Many schools have postponed these sessions until further notice. Some schools are planning sessions in the first few weeks in September and others are offering ‘virtual’ sessions using platforms like zoom or Seesaw. The teachers may send videos about themselves, the classroom and school in an attempt to give your child an experience of the setting before they start. Hopefully your school will soon be explaining to you what they are offering this year.

If there is a visit, do make sure they have any information about medical needs etc before you leave your child.

4. Home and pre-school visits

Most years schools will offer visits to see your child in a setting where they are already comfortable. If they are in pre-school or nursery then teachers will come and see your child and chat to their key worker before they start school. This is a really useful way for them to gather important information about how your child is getting on, what they like and don’t like and if possible spend some time getting to know your child.

What’s different?

Schools will still have these conversations via phone or skype call, but it is very unlikely that they will visit in person this year. They will also gather information from the nursery or pre-school about your child’s abilities and progress. These are often called transition documents or records and are a bit like a little school report for their new teacher.

Before the current situation lots of schools would also offer home visits which are very unlikely to be offered this year. Teachers like to have an opportunity to meet you and your child in a setting where you are relaxed and give you chance to ask questions or share concerns 1 to 1. These may be done via a skype or Zoom call this year or may be postponed until September. It’s a great way for them to bond with your child so that when they start school the experience isn’t so daunting. If you teacher has seen your cat, your basketball net, had a 1:1 conversation with your child even if it is via Zoom etc, then you know she/he is actually a normal and very lovely person and day 1 of school just seems so much more exciting! With this in mind I really encourage you to book a home visit or call if you can.

5. Others

There might be lots of other events/ information that your school shares with you before September. Some set up buddy systems so your child has a friend in an older class when they start and some will give you booklets of ‘homework’ which your children can bring to school to share with their peers. Whatever is on offer try to get involved and find out as much as you can before the September mayhem begins!

 

Hopefully this has given you some useful information about what might be happening around this time for you and your child as you begin the journey into school life. The current situation can sometimes feel like everything has changed and while the methods of communication will be different, there will still be a huge amount which is the same. In our experience Reception teachers are wonderful humans, they have magical abilities to make children and parents feel welcomed and rest assured they will be doing all they can to make your child’s start to school the very best it can be no matter what.

 

I’ve applied for Primary School, but I don’t think we’re ready!

I’ve applied for Primary School, but I don’t think we’re ready!

If you have a child born between 1st September 2015 – 31st August 2016 then you (hopefully) have applied for their Primary School place. In just 6 short months your precious little baby will be starting their Education journey. If the thought of this in some way terrifies you then you are certainly not alone. For me the fear is mostly because I’m realising how quickly time is flying by and how much my eldest daughter has grown. The leap into starting school for her is exciting but for me marks the end of an era and although I am confident she will love it, I will be needing the tissues and a hug after that first drop off. Part of me is definitely in denial about how close it is!

Despite partly dreading September, and pretending it’s still years away, I feel lucky that I know what school will be like for her. I have worked in and seen lots of Reception classes and I understand how the start of school works; what the routines will be, what the expectations are and what she needs to know. But, I understand that this is not true for most of the population who will be dropping off their little ones in September and I know this sparks very understandable anxiety and worry for many.

Anticipation of the unknown is always difficult to manage. I would love to reassure you that their first day will be fab but to really know, you will have to wait until your little one skips back out of school from their first session and tells you all about it (which actually never happens, they say they have done nothing, but that’s a whole other blog!!) Because I’m a serial organiser, we always have a ‘plan’ in our household and I truly believe that ‘forewarned is forearmed.’ So I have been thinking more about the expectations of school and whether my little one will really be ready for what is expected of her in September.  I’ve also been thinking about what I need to do to get ready. There is so much focus on getting children ready for school that I think parents are often forgotten in the whole process. Parent’s emotions have a sneaky way of flowing over into children’s own feelings and behaviour. We need to feel confident and as positive as possible in order to support our children and to get started on the best foot. 

I think developing confidence often comes when you know what they are going to encounter at school and what the expectations are. Here are the top two elements to think about in the moments that you’re not pretending they’re still tiny toddlers!

Developing Independence:

Think about independence and giving your child opportunities which are similar to school. At school they will be expected to find their way around including finding belongings, make choices about what to play with and be able to do this without an adult and also do things like put their coat on, go to the toilet and eat their lunch independently. 

There is lots of time to practise these things and you can do it in a fun way and reward independence: have dressing races, make treasure hunts for items to find, have picnics

To work on playing independently try to set up play situations which they can find and start by themselves. You could set up a tea party with teddies, lay out part of a train track to be completed or put playdough rolled out with toy animal footprints in to explore.

If children start playing alone they are likely to be able to continue, you can dip in and out and praise them for great independence. Try not to feel guilty about letting them get on alone, fostering their independence and getting used to not always being with them is good for both of you and you might even get an uninterrupted coffee if you’re lucky!

Listening Skills

Think about how well you both can listen and I don’t just mean listen to music or stories. At school, your child will be expected to listen to these things but in a large group which can make concentrating more challenging. They will also be expected to listen to and follow instructions which involve more than one part for example ‘go to the toilet, wash your hands and line up by the door.’ This can be difficult for children and requires some practise for them to remember key parts. Many children will use other strategies when in school to help them, teaching them to ask an adult to repeat the instructions or following others’ lead can be really useful. 

When you give instructions at home try asking them to repeat back to you the things you have asked. Maybe they could count on their fingers and then check at the end if everything has been done. Bedtimes or the dreaded ‘trying to get out of the house’ routines are great for practising these skills and also sending us parents running to the wine rack!

 If your child really finds several instructions difficult try using pictures of the routine, just draw a quick picture of each thing in a line. For example getting up, having breakfast, putting on clothes, brushing teeth. It acts like a map so they can follow what to do next. You could keep key ones to use each day for regular routines.

Your listening skills will be really important when they start school too. These are more about tuning in to your child’s emotions than always listening to their words. Starting school is a hugely overwhelming experience even though it’s an exciting one and often children can’t communicate their feelings with words. They will need you to be in tune to offer hugs, chill out time, physical activity to run off frustrations or a trailer load of after school snacks! 

We are passionate about supporting parents and children with everything relating to school. School readiness is a cause of anxiety and worry for many families and so we are launching some brilliantly fun and cleverly planned classes to dispel the fears and give families a window into a Reception class. Developing Independence and listening skills are a key part of the sessions. ‘’Ready Teddy Go’ classes for parents and children in Exeter focus on getting ready for school and start in April. Check out the website or find us on instagram or facebook for more information.

Em x

Should I teach my child letters before they start school?

Should I teach my child letters before they start school?

One of the most common questions I get asked as a teacher/ Headteacher when talking about children being ready for school is ‘Do they need to know their letters?’ and many parents worry about their child not ‘knowing enough’ before starting their school journey.

I think you will be pleased to hear that I always answer ‘No!’ There is no requirement for children to start school with any specific knowledge of letters, or numbers or anything else actually.  Schools are ready for children to start at all different levels of knowledge and they teach letters to all children even if they come in knowing some already. Phonics (the method for teaching children to read and write by linking sounds to letters) is taught in Reception classes usually daily. It’s a big part of their first learning at school and it’s normal for children to have very limited prior knowledge of letters.

So the short answer is no, your child doesn’t need to know their letters. However, many children are interested in letter shapes and are keen to learn. If this is the case then there’s no reason to hold your child back from finding out about letters but this blog is about some key information to think about before splurging on a load of letter shaped toys. And just to add here, if your child has no interest at all in letters please don’t worry, that’s very normal. Read on to find some ways you can really help them to be ready for school without a letter in sight.

Before children are really ready for letter recognition there is a huge amount of foundation building that parents and carers (including nurseries, childminders etc) can support with. These foundation skills are vital in getting children ready for their formal phonics teaching. I compare it to building a house, you wouldn’t just start with putting the bricks straight onto the mud, you need to dig out and lay some solid foundations. In order for children to be ready for their phonics learning in school, they need lots of playful experience with sounds which acts as these foundations.

We run workshops in Exeter explaining more about these key foundations and giving ideas for games and play at home. In this Blog post I’m going to give a brief explanation of three key areas which will really help to get children ready for phonics including some easy ideas to try at home. If you are interested to find out more check out our instagram and facebook pages for more ideas and info about workshops.

Listening skills are the first key piece in the phonics foundations jigsaw. This learning starts from the moment our precious little ones are born and we are always being told how important talking to our children, playing music and interacting with noises is for their development. Children need to be able to hear sounds and interpret them to later be able to hear words and unpick the individual sounds in them. 

There are loads of fun things to do with listening;

  • play music
  • make animal noises
  • play listening games when you are out and about
  • use household items to make sounds – bash pots and pans, boxes etc
  • make funny noises with your voices or bodies – clap, stomp, gargle, yawn and see if your child can copy you, apparently Alexa can make animal noises if you ask her!

Rhyming is another piece of the foundation puzzle and an important aspect of early phonics learning. Children don’t need to be able to make up rhymes but to be able to recognise when words sound similar or the same sets them up well for reading and writing skills later on. There is a huge selection of children’s rhyming books out there. Some of our favourites include the ‘Oi Cat’ series by Kes Gray and Jim Field, ‘Rhyme Crime’ by Jon Burgerman and anything by Quentin Blake or Julia Donaldson. Getting audio versions is really lovely especially if you can have them on in the car. Pointing out rhyming words to your children will really help them to distinguish rhyming and non-rhyming words even if they can’t hear the rhyme yet.

Some easy rhyming ideas for at home or on the go:

  • make up little rhyming phrases – let’s go to the park in the dark!
  • find objects/ toys which rhyme around the house and make a collection together (cat, hat, mat, rat etc, you can draw pictures if you don’t have all of the objects!)
  • sing nursery rhymes and childrens song’s as loads of these rhyme. See if you can change the words to make them funny while still rhyming. We often try new versions of ‘Twinkle twinkle’ and the current favourite is “twinkle twinkle little giraffe, how I wonder why you wear a scarf!!” There are much easier words to rhyme than giraffe, my tip is don’t choose giraffe!

Hearing Sounds in words is the third area I’m going to give a few tips on. Being able to hear individual sounds in words is key, it’s the most important skill children can grasp to help them be ready for learning letters. In order to read children need to link sounds to letters or groups of letters. Children who can hear the sounds in words and say individual sounds are really well prepared to start seeing how letters link to them. Making the sounds can be a challenge for adults, we often feel like we didn’t learn in this way and that it’s unnatural to us. We’re working on a page with sounds support and will link here when it’s done, watch this space. Until then there’s a little link to a helpful video under these ideas.

Ideas to practise at home:

  • focus on the first sounds in words and see if children can guess the word. Try “can you put on your sssssssss……..’ and see if you child guesses you mean socks.
  • Go on a treasure hunt around the house for items beginning with one sound eg ‘p’ you could find a pan, pen, pig some pasta etc.
  • Play I spy but use just sounds rather than letter names so say “I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘ch’ for chair, ‘mmmmm’ for mummy or ‘ffffff’ for frog etc
  • Make up funny lists of words or names for people… magical, musical Mummy! Lovely, lively Lily!

These are just a few ways to support early phonics learning and to give your child some strong foundations of sounds knowledge. If your child is really keen to learn letters or you feel like they are ready then there are lots of ways to do this too. We would always advise learning letter sounds first rather than letter names as this is how children will learn in school. If you do want to introduce letters here are a few ideas:

  • use letter shapes in play – cookie cutters, magnetic letters, stencils etc
  • recognising the letters in children’s name and others in your family
  • looking at letters, they’re everywhere – books, posters, newspapers, road signs etc
  • cutting and sticking letter shapes from magazines or papers – see if you can find lots of the same letter shape
  • messy play – drawing letter shapes in shaving foam, sand, mud etc

If you are able to get out to playgroups and local classes then these will offer great experiences for listening, communicating and getting ready for more formal phonics in school. We go to a great class specifically designed to support children with early phonics learning. It’s called ‘Sounds Right Phonics’ and they are nationwide, offering sessions for babies right up to aged four. The classes are loads of fun, they cover lots of the foundation skills, early letter recognition and even gross and fine motor development. If you are in Exeter/ Exmouth area check out Jess via the link below.

Check out our instagram and facebook pages for more ideas and tips for early learning with your little ones and let us know if you have any comments or questions! 

Visiting Schools – head vs heart!

Visiting Schools – head vs heart!

So you’re getting organised and thinking about applying for your child’s Primary School place for September and you’re feeling smug about booking in some visits. Well done! But now what? If you’re worried about the impending ‘wander’ around a building full of small people with a professional teacher or Head teacher tour guide who is likely to say ‘have you got any questions?’ fear not, read on!

I’ve separated this post into two sections; Head and Heart. Actually ‘gut’ is probably more relevant than heart but it just doesn’t sound as friendly! This is because I feel that, as with lots of huge decisions we make in life when we’re pretending to be adults, there’s the practical aspects like ‘that’s not a sensible coat for the winter/ car with a baby in tow etc’ and then the deep seated feeling inside that tells you that somehow you must have it! So I’ve tried to sum up the key questions for both your head and heart which you might like to think about when visiting a school.

 

Let’s start with the ‘Head,’ the practical aspects that will affect your life for the next 7 years while your child attends Primary School. 

Location – Do you want to be able to walk to the school? What is the journey like? If you are driving where can you park/ drop off? When you visit try the journey as you would do it in September. Lots of schools have limited parking options so if at all possible being able to walk or cycle will likely make your mornings much less stressful. You may want to consider schools which are near to family members or where you work. You will need to check if the school is likely to have space for children who live out of catchment area if you are considering one further away from your home.

Class organisation and sizes – On average how many children do you have in each year and class? Some schools will have a year group per class and others may have more than this. Larger schools may be 2 or 3 form entry. This means they take 2 or 3 classes each year. Legally class sizes for Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 should not be more than 30 children but in years 3-6 they can be larger. Some schools will also have mixed age classes. This is where children from two or more year groups are in the same class. This can work really well so don’t be put off by it. Do ask about how the lessons work though and whether children are separated into their year groups for certain subjects.

Timings – Do you need ‘wrap around care? This is childcare before or after school hours. Many Primaries offer breakfast and after school club options and if you work or have other commitments during your days, ask about this when you visit. Do children in Reception start full time or is there a staggered start? This is something you may need to consider if you work as you may need to book time off in September if the children do half days or similar for the first few weeks. If you have older or younger siblings think about where they will be going and what times you might need to drop them off and pick them up. If you are looking at Infant schools then there will be a time when they need collecting from different schools. Most Infant and Junior schools work together to plan slightly different times to each other so you don’t have to dash about.

Transition into school – If your child is in nursery or pre-school, ask which settings children come to the school from as it’s nice to know whether friends might be going to the same school. Does the school offer transition sessions before children start? Are there meetings for parents to attend and do teachers visit children in their nursery or at home before they start? If there is a pre-school on site you may want to think about your child spending some sessions there before September to build some friendships.

Food – What is on offer? Children in England can have free school lunches in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 which is amazing for not needing to do packed lunches every day. Ask to see a menu if you are interested in the options. 

Curriculum – This is a bit head and a bit heart actually as there may be parts of the curriculum that are really valuable to you as a family! Ask yourself, is there anything that for you is really key? If sport and being outdoors is important ask about how much time is spent doing sports and in which year groups. Ask about swimming, alternative sports, access to facilities, forest school and general use of outdoors for learning. If you are a techie family (or maybe you are really against too much tech time) then ask about how much time is dedicated to Computing, coding and ICT. Ask about the facilities and how much time children use technology for throughout the week. Schools are really focusing on their curriculum offers more than ever at the moment so it’s a good discussion to have if you can pinpoint subjects which you really want your child to love.

OFSTED – I’ve put this one last because these reports can be helpful or misleading depending on the date of review and any changes that have happened since. I’m not going to say too much about OFSTED reports other than; have a read if you are interested (you will find the latest one on the school’s website) but don’t let it rule your judgement. Go and see the school even if you are unsure about what the report says, you are likely to be pleasantly surprised.

 

The heart side of things is very much about how a setting feels. Here I’m going to ask lots of questions and really it’s about finding somewhere that you feel happy and comfortable sending your child. This will be so different for everyone. I know lots of Mums locally with children who are in nursery but only two of us use the same setting. It’s such a personal choice which will differ from person to person and child to child. Ultimately this is likely to be the part that makes up your mind and you may know instantly which school just feels ‘right’ for you and your child. It’s also the main reason we suggest you go and see at least 3 schools because you can only gauge so much from a website or OFSTED report!

Before you visited what was the communication like? Were the admin team happy and helpful? Did you get given all of the information you needed and did you feel welcome to come and see the school? Have a look at the website and see how much information you can find. School newsletters are interesting as they give you an insight into the weekly and monthly goings on and also the vibe! 

 When you arrive what is the welcome like? Many schools now have oppressive looking railings and fences around their grounds for safeguarding reasons but once inside is it clear how you get into the building and what are your first impressions?  Is there someone in the office to help you? You will be asked to sign in and possibly read some safeguarding information which will be about who to report to if you are concerned about a child while you are visiting the school. Some schools also ask you to turn your phone off.

Who shows you around? This might be the Headteacher, another member of the Leadership team such as a Deputy or Assistant Head, a class teacher or sometimes children lead tours. Do the staff seem happy and friendly as you move around the school? Not all staff will be able to greet you as they may be busy supporting children but you will get feel for the atmosphere of the school. Ask those showing you around what the strengths of the school are and maybe what they are working on improving at the moment. Try asking ‘what do you like best about working here?

 How are the children behaving when you walk around? And here I don’t just mean being polite. Are they busy, happy, focused, engaged? Can you imagine your child here? If it’s appropriate you could ask some children about the school. Try ‘What’s your favourite thing about school’ or ‘Can you tell me what you like best here?’

 If you have your child with you on the tour looking at the way staff and children interact will be really useful. Do people talk to your child? Do they ask questions and are they friendly? After the visit what does your child say about it? Be careful about asking them too much, it’s possibly quite an overwhelming experience for them. Try telling them what you liked best or found interesting first and they are likely to respond with their own ideas.

 This isn’t an exhaustive list of thinking points and I’m sure you will have other things which you question yourself. Hopefully you will enjoy visiting some local schools and will find making a decision relatively easy. Try not to get too stressed about the decision. While it feels like a huge deal and of course it is an important decision to think over and take seriously, ultimately there is time to make changes if you needed to. If for any reason it’s not working out once your child starts there is always the option to move. Remember that it’s best to put three choices down on your application. Good luck – I always believe you should trust your gut. If you get a good feeling about the school then lucky you, you may have found the place where the magic of learning is going to come alive for your child! 

As always, any questions at all just contact us here or on our facebook or instagram pages.