If you have a child born between 1st September 2016 – 31st August 2017 then you (hopefully) have applied for their Primary School place or are planning to do it in the next 7 days, applications close on 15th January. In just 7 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. I was in your position this time last year and for me the fear was mostly because I was realising how quickly time was flying by and how much my eldest daughter had grown. The leap into starting school for is exciting but it marks the end of an era whether you have children at nursery, pre-school or home with you and 2021 is already throwing us a heap of challenges.
When I was thinking about preparing Lily for school I felt lucky that I knew what school would 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. This year we have added worries like the lack of school visits, uncertainty about transition and what this will be like and whether September will be a more ‘normal’ start than we had in 2020.
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!!) I’m a serial organiser, we always have a ‘plan’ in our household and I truly believe that ‘forewarned is forearmed’ and despite the lockdown last year, Lily having significantly less time in nursery and pre-school than we had expected and missing loads of experiences that I had planned for her she was still very ‘ready’ for school.
There is so much focus on getting children ready for school that I think parents are often forgotten in the whole process. We need to feel confident and as positive as possible in order to support our children and to get started on the best foot. And I promise that this can all still happen despite lockdowns, limited social experiences and dealing with the current pandemic. We have created an online community to support parents and families who are preparing for school in the current situation.
Developing confidence often comes when you know what they are going to encounter at school and what the expectations are. That’s what we aim to offer via our facebook group, social media channels and in these blogs. To start us thinking about preparing during the current situation here are the top two elements to think about and try out whatever your current situation, in the moments that you’re not pretending they’re still tiny toddlers!
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 at home. You can do it in a fun way and reward independence: have dressing races, make treasure hunts for items to find or have picnics in dens around your house to practise eating skills.
Lots of parents mention to us that their child finds playing alone a challenge. 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!
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 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 our unique school readiness programme ‘School Ready with Teddy’ is cleverly designed in an online format 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 alongside lots of other school ready skills. Our programme is closed for enrolment at the moment but will launch again soon. Join our friendly facebook community: School Starters Hub for support with last minute applications, tips for preparing you and your child and loads more…
I hope these ideas are reassuring and useful as a starting point for preparation. Vix and I have lots more planned to share in the group and on our social media pages so please do check those out. And get in contact if you have any concerns, we’re always happy to help.