Catrina Linz advises on how to help your child take the leap from nursery to school
The leap from nursery school to primary school can be a big adjustment not just for your child, but for you as well. If your little one feels prepared they will feel more confident, making the transition a lot smoother for both of you. In fact, preparing for school is so much more about their confidence and emotions rather than their academic skills and abilities. Sending a confident, independent and happy child to school is the true goal.
Preparing your child emotionally is one of the most important things you can do to help them. Children’s thoughts about starting school vary, some can hardly wait and others find it stressful. Prepare your child for what it’s going to be like in a positive way, but don’t oversell it as this could lead to disappointment. Discuss realistic expectations such as, “it’s going to be very exciting and busy so you may get a little tired or feel a little scared at times”. If possible, do a school visit, attend an open day or look at the website so the school seems familiar to your child.
Look at photos of other family members or your own school photos while discussing that everyone goes to ‘big school’ and how we all felt a bit nervous at first, which is normal. Organising a play date with someone new will encourage them to make friends, or an outing with someone other than yourself will help them get used to being away from you for a longer period of time than they’re used to.
The practical side of preparing your child goes hand in hand with the emotional side, as the two work together to help your child grow physically and emotionally. If your child is able to do things for themself they will become independent and in turn feel confident. Firstly, if they aren’t already, introduce dressing themselves. This will make life easier, especially since they will be doing school sport and getting dressed and undressed. Make an outing out of going together to buy their school uniform. When you get home, role-play getting dressed for school so they can learn to do it themselves.
Practice the morning routine and run – this will help both of you feel more relaxed and ready! A lovely activity to do together is to create a visual timetable of the routine, this also helps them to understand the concept of a routine and anticipate what comes next.
Toilet training is vital and your child should be capable of going by themselves, as well as washing their hands and blowing their nose. At most independent schools they will be given school lunches and dinners, and so they should be able to eat with a knife and fork and understand healthy eating choices. Introducing your child to road safety is a good skill for them to learn as their walk to school may be longer and they may go on outings.
Create jobs and chores in and around the home over the summer to further independence, responsibility and build self-esteem. Introduce them to hanging up their coat and putting things away so they learn management of their belongings. It also might be advisable to drop their afternoon nap and have an earlier bedtime. Once again, don’t stress if all of these skills haven’t been mastered properly by the time they start.
Preparing your child academically is not to say you need to teach your child everything they should know before they start school, but practicing the basics will help them feel more comfortable and it won’t be something entirely new. Once again, all children learn at different paces, it’s not a race. Chat to your child’s teacher about what they are expected to know – generally, most schools would like your child to be able to count and recognise 1-20, know almost all their alphabetical sounds phonetically and recognise and write their own name, but this is just a guide. There are many ways for your child to learn these skills and if you want to do home learning you need to make it fun and relaxed. It could be as simple as pointing out letters around them, like ‘stop’ signs, and playing I Spy to associate letters and sounds. While shopping, ask them to look at how many apples you need and let them count them out, while at home, baking cakes together allows them to explore weights and measurements. Also give them opportunities to draw and trace to develop their pencil grip in preparation for writing. The summer is long, so you want to keep their interest, knowledge, understanding and spark alive before reception.
Lastly, spend some quiet time with your child doing puzzles, painting and playing games. This will help build concentration and encourage them to be able to sit for long periods of time – boys tend to find this more difficult than girls!
Although bittersweet, take time to enjoy this special transition with your child.