Ready, Reception, Go
I am often asked by parents about how to prepare their children for school. The term ‘school readiness’ is used and is one that fills the majority of those working in Early Years with horror! It's a controversial term as it means different things to different people. The Government has one idea, the new school another, you may have an idea of what your child being ready for school actually means and most Early Years practitioners may have something completely different in mind.
I feel the important thing to remember is that your child is still only a few months old (approximately 54-60) and even though they are starting school, Reception is still part of the Early Years Foundation Stage - so for me, school readiness is for when children leave Reception and move to Year One. I prefer to think of our Early Years children getting ready for the transition to school. A colleague said to me recently, the school should be getting ready for the children and I loved that!
Some children may seem to cope very well with the transition to Reception and appear quite confident; there will always be those children who are more than ready for the next step, but there will be those who may have fears and worries that to an adult perhaps seem trivial. In every case, you as parents, know your child the best. Think about how your child has coped with other transitions in their life, the birth of a new sibling, moving house, change in family situation and even, how they coped if they have been to a nursery or preschool. All of this will give you a good indication of how they will manage the step to Reception.
Children are very resilient and I have found, can cope with most situations they have to deal with, provided they are given the right kind of support. It could be that you notice that your child manages better if the build up to a change is not extensive. Too much planning for such children can cause undue anxiety. However, there are children who do need plenty of time to come to terms with such an important step. Again, you as parents are in the best position to know what suits your child best and I think, that information is really useful to share with staff if your child attends preschool or nursery. This also ensures consistency of action regarding the transition to Reception.
It may be helpful to consider developmentally how children of four and upwards manage change:
They have an understanding that changes are happening
Concept of time still developing.
Talking too much about it too far in advance can make children feel very unsettled and even fearful.
Children are individuals – take into account their needs.
Some will have coped well with other transitions and others will need sensitive support.
This age group find it difficult to visualise somewhere different so they need a visit to their new classroom or school and to be introduced to their teachers.
It is also important for them to know who else is going to be in their class with them - this can help with their feelings of anxiety.
As I mentioned earlier, children may have fears and worries that may seem quite trivial to us, but to them, are a very real concern. In my experience some of the questions that children have about starting Reception may be:
Will I make friends?
- Will I know where the toilets are?
What will the teachers be like?
Will someone tell me what to do?
Will I get lost or be left myself?
Will I get into trouble if I can’t do something or don’t understand something?
What will happen if I don’t like the food?
Will there be any food?
When will it be time to go home?
Finding out from the school your child will be joining what their expectations are for those starting in Reception will provide you with the information you will need to support your child with this transition. That may also help you to answer some of those questions.
From an Early Years perspective, these would be the skills recommended for your child to achieve by the time they move to Reception:
Independent in toileting - Encouraging a child to wipe their bottoms, using images to remind a child of the necessary steps when toileting such as, toilet, wipe, flush, wash hands.
Able to dress themselves - Encourage children to take off and put on own jumpers/cardigans, shoes, socks etc. It may be tempting to do this for them as it can be easier and quicker but supporting a child to do it themselves will help them to learn the skills needed to be ready for Reception. It may be easier for your child to have shoes with velcro and elasticated trousers, skirts etc to assist with dressing.
Children should be able to identify themselves by name - hearing it and seeing it written down - age and name family members
Can separate from parents/carers - this may be easier if your child has been to preschool or nursery. If this is the first time they have been separated from you, provided they know what the arrangements are for pick up time, that they will see you again and they have been prepared for the separation, they should settle well.
Be able to eat independently - encouraging your child to use cutlery will enable them to feel confident at lunchtimes. If your child is having a packed lunch, then they should be able to open packets etc.
Can take turns and share - this is still developmentally difficult for some children and they may need support with this skill.
Communication and language skills needed to communicate needs and listen to others - Vocalise their needs such as toileting, thirst, hunger, illness etc - these can be discussed with your child.
Confidence and self-esteem - positive self esteem plays a significant role in children’s cognitive and social development. Confidence and self esteem will enable your child to develop a high sense of self efficacy - the belief that they can control how well they do.
Be curious about the world and a desire to learn - at this wonderful age, most children are excited by life and want to learn, but these are skills that you can encourage at home.
All of these skills may be age related, one child may have only just turned four whereas a classmate is about to turn five - think about your child and their abilities - they will be ready in their own time, all children are unique and will develop at their own pace with your support.
You may well find that you are more upset leaving your child on their first day then they are! Hopefully, your child will be excited and ready for the day ahead. I get asked about dropping them off that first day, what is acceptable behaviour for parents!Teachers will be very used to this day and will understand that this is a big moment not just for your child but for you! You know your child best and so will know the best way to leave your child. One thing I will say is that most children take their cues regarding behaviour from you - if you appear anxious and stressed, your child may well start to feel the same. Children will settle much more easily if you send them in calmly, positively and confidently keeping any tears until you are out of their view!
This is a big step for children and even if your child is used to going to a nursery or a preschool, starting Reception, can cause some anxiety about separating from you. This may occur a few days after their first day as the child realises that they will be going to school every day and the excitement wears off! Your child will need plenty of reassurance - it is important that they know who will be picking them up at the end of the day. It is extremely upsetting to leave your child when they are distressed, but, in my experience, children will settle quickly with the support of their new teachers and it is less stressful for the child if you do not prolong your departure for too long.
This is an exciting time in your child's life and will not happen again for them, so hopefully, together, you can enjoy Reception. Whether this is your first child or not, I am sure you will be feeling anxious and that is perfectly normal. All the staff at your child's new school will be prepared for them and dedicated to making this transition as smooth as possible. We all want these years to be happy and fulfilling for your children and I wish you all the best. Ready, Reception, Go!!