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!