How to help prepare your child if they are starting school in September

Starting school can be daunting - for little ones and parents too - but there are ways you can help get them ready for this important step, writes Jenni Horn.

If you have a child starting school in September, you will have filled in your application form and now you're anxiously waiting to see if you get your first choice.

Millie is starting school in September - and already has some hand-me-down uniform
Millie is starting school in September - and already has some hand-me-down uniform

The deadline to apply for a primary place was last week so you might also now be thinking about how you can prepare your child for what’s to come.

We have just applied for our daughter Millie's place at school. She doesn’t turn four until June and maybe it’s being a summer baby or the effects of lockdowns but she doesn't seem like she will be ready to start school later this year.

Millie is very shy and likes to play on her own. Unlike my son at this age, who loved to ‘play schools’, she has little interest in letters or numbers and she is not very good at listening or sitting still!

So what can I do to help prepare her for school later this year?

Most teachers and nursery practitioners will tell you that being ‘school ready’ has nothing to do with being able to count to 10 or knowing your ABCs.

There are lots of other ways to help your little one - so I have been trying some of them at home with Millie.

Thumbs up for putting your own coat on
Thumbs up for putting your own coat on

Getting dressed

Teaching your child how to get dressed is an important part of teaching them independence. School staff will of course help them but with up to 30 children in a class, it would be ideal if children could put on their coats at playtime and get ready for PE on their own.

Mum blogger and author Daisy Upton - aka The Five Minute Mum - has a few ideas to help little ones with these tasks.

We tried her coat race game. Get your child to stand in front of their coat so the hood is at their feet. Get them to lean forward and put their arms into the arm holes, then stand up and lift the coat over their head. You can do the same and race to see who does it first.

Another game she suggests is dressing a chair. Grab a chair, ask your child to get undressed and put their clothes on the chair, then get them to put their clothes back on again. You can do this with their uniform or PE kit nearer the time.

Verdict: Millie thought this was great fun. She had no trouble getting her coat on - but getting dressed and undressed was a bit more of a challenge. Definitely something we need to practice.

Search on YouTube for a video of how to teach your child to put on their coat.

Learning how to cut food with the help of a plate of Playdoh
Learning how to cut food with the help of a plate of Playdoh

Meal times

The mum and teacher behind the blog My Teacher Mummy and Me suggests another thing to prepare your child for is school lunch.

When her daughter was starting school she wrote “Meal times can be different in every school.

"When Emilia goes, she will have to carry her own dinner tray and cut up her own food. Although staff are always available to help, if they can do it themselves there is no need to sit their waiting while the food gets cold. Why not practise cutting with a knife and fork with play dough as well as at meal times.

"If they are going to be packed lunch teach them to be able to open their own packets and containers.”

Verdict: We practised cutting up Playdoh food and this was a big hit. Millie got stuck in and had a go - and was very pleased with herself when she managed to do it. Then the Playdoh kept her quiet for a bit as she carried on playing with it.

Trying to organise the letters of her name
Trying to organise the letters of her name

Recognising their name

While children don’t have to know the alphabet before starting school, it is important they can recognise their own name so they can find their own peg or work tray.

Education website twinkl suggests writing the letters of your child’s name on pieces of paper or card, then getting your child to arrange them in the right order.

We tried this with card and also by hiding magnetic letters around the playroom which made it more of a game.

You can also write different names on a piece of paper and see if they can recognise theirs.

We did our own version of a Five Minute Mum game - writing Millie’s name on masking tape stuck to the little cars she plays with.

Verdict: Millie could recognise her own name from the list I had written down and loved finding the hidden letters - but putting them in the right order was tricky so I wrote the letters down for her to copy.

An idea based on a Five Minute Mum game
An idea based on a Five Minute Mum game

Introducing them to numbers

There are lots of ways you can do this - from activities at home to counting during your everyday activities like going down steps.

The Five Minute Mum also has lots of games to help introduce numbers to your child.

One idea we liked was playing shops. This is something we do at home anyway - but this time I put prices on her toys and she had to try to recognise the number and count out the pennies.

Playing shops to help with counting and recognising numbers
Playing shops to help with counting and recognising numbers

Oxford Owl, which offers free resources to help children learn at home, suggests getting your child to help set the table, counting out the right number of things.

Verdict: Millie liked being helpful by setting the table and, even though her presentation skills need a bit of work (see picture below), I’ll definitely be getting her to do this more between now and September.

The shop game was a big hit too so we will make that a regular activity at home.

For more ideas, visit The Five Minute Mum website.

Laying the table neatly needs some practice
Laying the table neatly needs some practice

Fine motor skills

Children don’t have to be able to write their own name when they start school - many don’t know how to hold a pen properly at this stage.

But building hand strength, fine motor skills, and hand-eye coordination are all important first steps to help prepare your child for writing.

There are many ways to practice fine motor skills - Lego, Playdoh, using scissors and threading beads onto string.

These are things that we do at home all the time - some more successfully than others.

Verdict: Millie loves Playdoh and Lego - but definitely needs more practice with a pair of scissors.

Millie loved this pasta counting game
Millie loved this pasta counting game

She loved a game I made using an old shoe box and dried pasta (another Five Minute Mum idea). She had to post the right number of pasta pieces through the holes in the shoe box. This can also help with number recognition and counting.

Set simple tasks

If you worry that your child won’t listen to instructions at school, babycentre.co,uk suggests setting simple tasks at home or doing activities where they have to follow what you tell them to do like planting seeds and cooking.

Millie and I bake a lot at home so this time we tried planting some seeds. I made sure that instead of following what her older brother was doing, she was having to listen to my instructions so she knew what to do.

Verdict: Millie followed what I told her perfectly and sat quietly for a while planting the seeds. If only she listened so well all the time!

Planting some cress seeds by following my instructions
Planting some cress seeds by following my instructions

Playing schools

Playing is one way children deal with change. Parent Club suggests getting your child's favourite toys and playing schools together to help them get used to the kinds of things they’ll be doing in class.

You can do things like taking the register, reading stories, counting and colouring in.

We roped Millie’s big brother into playing too - along with Peppa Pig, a Minion and lots of other soft toys.

Verdict: Millie was super excited to play schools and I think it will prepare her for what’s to come.

We’ll continue to do this before September and do different number and letter activities as part of the game.

Playing schools and circle time with her big brother
Playing schools and circle time with her big brother

Speaking and listening skills

While they’re at school, children are expected to listen to what the teacher says without interrupting, and to also answer when spoken to.

The schoolrun.com suggests getting your child ready for circle time – a time when the teacher and class sit together every day to discuss topics – by trying it out at home, so we did this as part of playing schools.

Verdict: Millie definitely needs to learn to sit still a bit more and not to interrupt. We’ll be practising our speaking and listening skills around the dinner table too - taking it in turns to tell each other about our day or what we had for lunch.

Millie at a Boogie Tots class
Millie at a Boogie Tots class

Building confidence

Netmums has a list of 52 activities to help your child get ready for school. Lots of these are about building confidence. Netmum suggests sports clubs, music classes or drama groups.

I have been taking Millie to Boogie Tots classes which incorporate singing, dancing and action songs. The classes run in Medway, Sittingbourne, Minster and Faversham.

Verdict: Millie loves going to these classes each week and she has definitely gained confidence by going which was my aim. I’ve also realised they are good for her listening skills as she has to follow the actions and listen to what the class leader is telling her to do.

Click here to find out more about Boogie Tots or go to the Happity online directory to find similar classes near you.

The deadline to apply for a school place was on January 17 (January 15 in Medway). School offer day is on April 19. Click here to find out more or here if you live in Medway.

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