Saturday, 1 February 2014

Ten things to do before your child starts school

I enrolled C at Primary School last week.  He's four and a half.  If we were in England he would already be in Reception Class full time.  As it is, he's attending pre-school five mornings a week.  He still seems quite little, and a bit nervous of what school has in store for him.  

Here's my ten things to do ahead of time to ensure that children get the best start possible, whether they start school the week after they turn four, or as in some countries, nearer to age seven:

  1. Enrol them.  Different places have different systems for how to do this.  In England applications open in the autumn term and close in January, you can download the form from or through your local council and you can apply for up to three primary schools, listed in order of preference.  In Scotland applications open in January for a few weeks and you normally apply to your catchment primary, but can then make a "placing request" if you'd prefer a different school.  In Scotland you take along their Birth Certificate, and it's also important to ensure that you have all medical details and contact information to hand to fill in the form.
  2. Build up their concentration and listening skills.  Encourage them to: sit still to listen to a story, sit at a table for a colouring activity or similar (work up to being able to sit still for at least ten minutes).  Ensure that they make eye contact when they are being spoken to, and can retain a simple set of instructions e.g. "take off your shoes and put them in the cupboard".  Praise progress in all these areas, it will pay dividends in the classroom.
  3. Practice the journey to and from school.  This is particularly important if you plan for your child to make the journey on foot or by bike, not so much for you to practice the route in your car!  We all recognise the importance of spending time outdoors and exercising, and if that can be built into the school day then that's a great start.  Our school journey is a mile down a country track, and then a mile back up-hill at the end of the school day, and I want the children to do it on their bikes.  C has only very slowly been building up confidence riding his bike without stabilisers, and Bug is on a balance bike.  For a few weeks now we've been practising a ride to the school and back at least once each week.  Last week was the first time that we made it all the way to the school, and with only a little bit of help on the way back up to the hill.  I hope that continued practice will mean that by the time C gets to school he'll have built up enough strength and stamina that the journey will be a pleasure and not an ordeal at the end of the day.
  4. Ensure that they can dress and go to the toilet independently.  The class teacher may have up to thirty of the little darlings to attend to, he/she can't be expected to help wipe little Susan's bottom, or to do up thirty pairs of shoes and zip thirty coats.  They are responsible for teaching the children many things, but getting dressed and ready for PE or to play outside, and going to the toilet... those are your job.  Make sure that your child has plenty of practice at getting themselves changed, coats and shoes on, and going to the toilet.  Tempting as it might be to do it ourselves for a quick and easy life, it won't do them any favours when they are still putting their outdoor shoes on as all the other children come back in at the end of playtime.
  5. Establish a morning routine.  Maybe you don't do mornings.  If you're a stay-at-home-mum, and especially if you have a small baby around the place and you're not sleeping at night, you may all still be in your pyjamas at 11am.  In a scenario like this, getting ready for school on time might come as a bit of a shock to the system for both you and your child.  Others have long been used to a clcckwork regime as they get the children up and dressed and in the car to drop off at nursery for breakfast on the way to work.  Either way, you now need to think about what routine you will need in order to get in place once your child is at school, and what parts of that routine can be introduced now.  We all get up and dressed by seven-thirty, then have breakfast and brush teeth by about 8.15am.  Because we don't need to be anywhere until nine-thirty, this means that they then have plenty of time for play, but it also establishes that getting-ready-for-the-day routine.
  6. Talk to them about school.  Find out what they already know.  Tell them what you remember about school, and any fond memories.  Get older cousins or friends to tell them about the fun things that they do at school and encourage them to ask questions.  
  7. Make contact with others who will be in their class.  Maybe they already know some people from nursery and pre-school.  Arrange play-dates, and spend time with other children who they'll be at school with so that they can be confident of having friends when they start school.
  8. Attend any Induction or Transition sessions being run by the school.  An open evening, an invitation to the school fete or fun-run.  All will be a chance for your child to get a handle on what school involves, and how friendly and fun it is, as well as where to find the loos and where the children hang their coats.
  9. Read books about school.  You don't have to make a big thing about it, but the year before they start school you can start looking out for "starting school" books at the library such as "I am too absolutely small for school" by Lauren Child or "Starting School" by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
  10. The most important of all: Spend lots of time with your child.  When you found out you were pregnant you may have had lots of images of doing things with your child before they went to school.  Going on trips, playing at the park, sitting on your knee reading a book, making stuff together.  Of course I'm not saying that once they are at school you are too late for any of that, there will always be time for those things if you make it.  But if there is a nag inside you that you haven't done enough of it.  If you fear that moment when you drop them off to school that you've somehow "missed them growing up", then take action now.  Not only will spending lots and lots of time and love and fun with your child help you to shun these worries, it's undoubtedly going to be good for your child.


  1. When my three children crawl into bed on that last exciting night before starting a new school year, I am planning for them to find an envelope on their pillows. Each envelope will contain a letter in which I have written what I liked, what I loved, and what I will always remember sharing with each of them over this past two months of summer. I am hoping that this will send them to sleep with sweet dreams of the fun we have shared, and help them to remember what a full and joyful time this summer has been for all of us. You can get this free printable to customize for your kids by visiting Simply Fun Families at

  2. That sounds like a great idea! Our first day is next Wednesday, so I've still got time. Thanks for the link, I'll pop by.