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Friday 28 June 2024

School readiness – preparing your child for Reception Class

School readiness…its something you’ll probably hear quite a lot if you have a child who is preparing to start Reception Class in September, but what does it actually mean??

school readiness - preparing your child for reception class

How can we, as parents, make sure that we are helping and not hindering when preparing our 4 year olds for big school?

Most of my Teaching career was spent teaching Reception, and so this is something I thought long and hard about when passing on information to Parents. What would I hope, as their Teacher, they could do already? What sort of things would I discuss in the Parents meetings for new starters? Where would my expectations be bearing in mind I don’t yet know the children or what level they are at?

Its not what you might expect….

School readiness – preparing your child for Reception Class. Is your child starting school?

Yes, if your child is ready and interested there are lots of fun activities you can do which link into ideas on maths and literacy, such as noticing and talking about shapes and numbers in your environment, mark making for a purpose when creating a shopping list or writing cards, or counting your steps as you go up and down the stairs…but these are the kind of learning opportunities you’d undertake naturally as a parent anyway. The Early Years Foundation Stage ( the ‘curriculum’ for nursery and Reception) doesn’t start with maths and literacy. It starts with the 3 ‘prime areas’ of learning:

  1. Personal, Social and Emotional Development
  2. Communication and Language
  3. Physical Development

These are the skills that underpin everything else, and without them, the rest will be built on top of rocky foundations. By helping your child with these areas of learning, you will be preparing them for school – making them ‘school ready’ so that their Teacher can continue those building blocks.

Here are some of the things you can practise at home to make sure your child is school ready:

Getting dressed and undressed:

Have a practise with their school uniform. They will need to be able to do this for PE lessons as it wont be possible for their Teacher to dress and undress every child in the class. Demonstrate and talk about the steps they need to take in order to be successful in removing certain items, and when it gets tricky, help them to be resilient and keep trying. Do remind them that they don’t need to take off their underwear for PE at school. Set aside a good amount of time for this activity and ideally, not when they are tired. You’ll need a lot of patience at first if they aren’t familiar with this. Don’t refuse to help if they are really struggling, give them a hand to help themselves and remind them they can have a go themselves next time. Try to make it fun and stress free. We often play games with dressing and undressing such as singing silly songs ‘dancing into their trousers’, or using a sand timer or a stop watch and seeing how quickly they can whip off an item…or putting on a pair of socks before the tickle monster comes or their toes!

Practise putting their clothes in a pile to keep them together so that they don’t get lost….you’ll be grateful for this skill later on!

Shoes on and off:

Another skill needed for PE lessons, outdoor learning if it is wet, or if their setting has a ‘no shoes inside’ policy. Work on understanding which shoe goes on which foot first – you can cut a sticker in half and place each half inside the soul of their shoe to help with this. Try them on the wrong feet and help them to notice how strange or uncomfortable this feels so that they will be able to realise for themselves if they have got this wrong. Shoes with zips or Velcro are much easier for younger children to contend with, although if you do buy shoes with laces then this book by Sally Beattie is a nice fun way to introduce learning how to tie laces.

Putting on their own coat - “through the rabbit holes”:

Here is a helpful video of how to do this, demonstrated by Arthur…

Coats are tricky, but they will need to do this numerous times a day for playtimes or outdoor learning in Reception. Practise really does make perfect, and this method of putting their arms through the rabbit holes is a really quick and easy way for children to be successful at this task themselves! I first used this method when I was working with 18m – 2yr olds in a Nursery in London before becoming a Teacher, so you may find that your child can already successfully put their coat in anyway by age 4. Please talk about hanging coats back up when they take it off – practise with a hook or a peg at home if you can. Coats get lost easily when they are left lying on a floor.

Through the rabbit holes – lay the coat on the floor, open, in an upside down position. Tell your child to put their arms through the rabbit holes by bending over and feeding their hands and arms through the arm holes. Lift arms up and flip the coat over their head – voila! Now to practise zips!!

Using the toilet and wiping their own bottom:

(NB: This one is really about giving them the confidence to know how to have a go, and what amount of toilet roll is appropriate -  as many children are too embarrassed to ask for help from a Teacher and may just pull up and go...)

This is really a plea from one Teacher, to all parents, in the hope it will save any future Teachers from the embarrassment I faced when my Head Teacher walked in to observe my class on the very day I’d had to resort to a whole class lesson on how to wipe their bottoms properly. To be fair, he was lucky to see me teaching – if he’d come in half an hour earlier he would have seen me cleaning poo from the walls and carpets and removing an entire toilet bowl full of loo roll from the toilet.

It IS a tricky task, we know young children struggle with this, and sometimes they will need help and support – that’s okay, but giving them the knowledge and skills to at least have a go themselves is key (you’ll be surprised how many 4 year olds are actually too embarrassed to ask for help and just pull up and go…). Talk about and show them what an appropriate amount of toilet roll is for either a poo or a wee. Explain how they can check to see if they are clean or need to wipe again. Discuss the importance of not touching with their bare hands due to germs, but also not to panic and ‘wipe’ on the nearest surface if this does happen…and this brings me onto the next, but very important skill…

Hand washing:

Proper hand washing is really important in Reception. Your children will be building up their immune system and fighting off enough germs anyway without those on their hands adding to it. Model good hygiene by being overly obvious when washing your hands at home. Talk about what you are doing as you wash, eg, “now I’m rubbing the soap onto the backs of my hands and between my fingers as well” and discuss the importance of properly drying their hands too. Our school nurse used to do a fantastic hand washing lesson where she would spray ‘germs’ ( a UV spray only visible under UV light) onto their hands, ask them to go and wash their hands and then have a look under the UV light to see if there were any germs left.

Nose cleaning – mirrors and tissues:

It’s hard to imagine that we wont be there to wipe their little snotty noses each day, but giving them the skills and tools to do this themselves is really important. Have a practise at home by setting up a nose wiping station, complete with tissues and a mirror to check. Lots of children end up wiping their snot across their cheeks. I usually tell my two to ‘pinch the snot’ from their nose and ‘moustache’ (that’s what they call their upper lip area) and then wipe away any extra bits. Talk about how to blow their nose effectively too…it can be a tricky concept so practise really does make perfect.

Lining up:

They will be doing this a lot at primary school, but unless you’ve been in lots of situations where you’ve needed to ‘line up’, it can actually be an alien concept to small children! Demonstrate and practise with toys or teddies. Talk about the importance of not running or pushing into a line, but walking to stand behind the last person. Help them to understand which way to face in a line, and how to stand sensibly. Use language such as ‘front’ and ‘back’ to help them understand what these words mean in context.

Lunch trays, cutlery, cutting food:

Reception children are entitled to free school meals, which means as well as receiving a nutritionally balanced meal (that you haven’t had to cook yourself – hurrah!) they will be learning the all important skills of eating alongside others. Most schools or local councils have school dinner menus available to view online, so do have a look at these and talk to your child about the kind of choices they may have at lunch time. It is good to be prepared when making food choices and understanding how to make their requests with the lunchtime staff. Most schools now serve the children’s lunch onto lunch trays with compartments. Have a practise at home by collecting a tray and then choosing a knife, fork and spoon from your cutlery tray and carrying it to the table without tipping the tray. If you usually cut the food up for your child, give them the opportunity to have a go themselves. Start with easy to cut items like steamed carrot sticks and hot dog sausages, demonstrating how we stick the fork in the food to hold it still and then use the knife to cut. Again, practise makes perfect! Why not cook some of the foods they will try from the school dinner menu over the summer holidays?

Recognise their own name:

It is likely your child will have a school book bag, or a named tray at school, or a peg with their name on. Being able to recognise their own name is a really important skill and will make their day much easier if they can do this already. Help them by using and showing them their name written down as often as possible. Having stickers or stamps with their name can help make name recognition a fun activity. Hiding their name amongst other words and going on a ‘name hunt’ with a magnifying glass, or involving them in naming their items of clothing ready for school will help them to remember what it looks like.

Name writing:

If they are ready to have a go, and are happy to do some mark making - then starting with their own name is a great way of keeping their interest and will mean that they are able to name and label their own work and creations when they are in Reception.

Make this as fun and interesting as possible by giving them different mediums to try such as chalk, whiteboard pens, crayons, ribbons on sticks, paintbrushes and water. Tape paper underneath a table and let them lie down and write, or get BIG pieces of paper on the floor so they can practise on this.

Not every child will be ready to use their fine motor skills and hold a pen and write. This post gives some ideas of resources and activities for pre-writing and emergent writers. You can help children to understand how to form their name first by using magnetic letters, letter stamps, letter stones, letter cubes, scrabble tiles or gluing down letters which you have written down on paper and cut up into individual letters.

NB: It is really important to model writing their name with a capital letter at the start and lower case throughout the rest of the name.

Being independent

Its an obvious one, but often quite hard to do. We don’t always want to accept that our babies are growing up and often we do more for them than we need to because we want to care for them in that way for as long as possible. You will be surprised at how much they are able to do for themselves if they are given that independence. Setting a culture at home of ‘having a go’ and ‘trying’ even if they fail at first, will build resilience and help them to be ‘school ready’ come September. Before jumping in at every request for help, think first, “could they have a go on their own? Is it safe to do so?” if the answer is yes, then encourage them to give it a go (and offer praise and confirmation of their efforts being enough). If they are really upset about this idea at first, use phrases such as “ let’s do this together”, “I’ll show you first…now you try”. Again, aim for fun in every task and lots of laughter…watching them develop and grow is a joy. X

Speech and Language:

If your child is struggling with their speech and language, listening and attention, understanding or communication, have a read of my post here on developing language in the Early Years.

Confused about the mention of phonics? This parents guide to phonics might help...

And finally - a poem for your first day of school

Is there anything else you would add to this list?

Sarah x 

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