Getting ready to start ‘big’ school is a brand new adventure for young learners and marks a new chapter in their life. It is an exciting time but can sometimes bring about feelings of uncertainty in both parents and children. Our in-house educational expert and early years teacher, Joanne Moore, has laid out a typical first week to help you and your family prepare for it over the summer break.
The first day
The day of the week your child begins school depends on how the school year falls, this year (2016) it is likely to be a Monday with most schools in the UK returning on the 5th of September. Your child will probably be broken into the school routine gradually, beginning with attending mornings only, however this varies from school to school. The reason they begin with mornings is to build up to the lunch time break as this can be overwhelming due to it being a new and busy environment where your child will mix with children from other year groups.
Dropping off your child at school for the first time can be an emotional experience but it is important that you don’t convey negative emotions to your child. In this situation, positivity is key and it is better not to linger once your child is safely inside as this can be unsettling. It can be tough to walk away when your child is upset but from experience I can say that within the first five minutes they will become distracted by a toy or join in with a game. If your child has been upset in the morning you will get a phone call to let you know that they have settled. Some schools allow parents to join in with a short classroom activity such as changing their reading book or a short maths game before they leave to reassure them.
The first activity of the day will be the register. The whole class will gather on the carpet with crossed legs, which can be a new concept for some children. The register will help children become familiar with the other names in the class and the process of answering to their name in a class setting.
After the register has been completed, this is usually followed by a circle time activity. One that I used in my classroom was the name game. Children would roll a ball to another child and say “I’m rolling the ball to Harry”, Harry would then say “thank you Rosie, I’m rolling the ball to Peter”. This helps children get to know everyone’s names and begin working on their social skills.
The majority of the first day will be mostly child initiated play as children will be free to roam through all of the different classroom areas. These usually consist of areas allocated to:
The first week
The first week at school is an opportunity for the class teacher to understand what children already know by observing play and asking questions. This helps them to know what style of activities to plan and where to take them in their next steps. The week will consist of class and group activities and purposeful play as children become familiar with their new surroundings and peers. At this age, making friends is easy for children and they are very open to new relationships. It is often the case that some children in the class have come from the same catchment nursery, but do not worry if your child didn’t attend a preschool or nursery as they’ll soon adapt and make friends very quickly.
A topic that children will likely be focusing on during their first weeks at school is ‘All About Me’. This topic focuses on every day things that they’re used to such as:
- Going to the shops
- Familiar stories
- Places – doctors surgery, dentist etc.
- Their appearance
Within this topic you can usually expect children to be doing activities such as role play, painting self portraits or reading familiar stories.
What differences will you notice in your child?
In the first few weeks children will be extremely tired. They are not used to being so busy and having to concentrate for long periods of time. If your child is tired when they get home allow some down time or a short nap to re-energise them. A good bedtime routine is very important at this chapter in their lives and will help them keep their energy levels up throughout the day.
They may also be hungry as they will be using up a lot of energy at school. Most schools have the free fruit scheme where the children are offered a fruit or vegetable mid-morning. Make sure your child has breakfast before starting school so that they are refuelled and able to take part in physical activities.
How can you prepare?
When your child starts school they will need to complete self-care tasks independently that they may have had help with at home. These include things like going to the toilet, getting dressed, washing their hands, feeding themselves and tidying up. Over the summer break it would benefit your child if you begin to encourage them to complete these tasks on their own. There will be somebody available to help if your child is struggling but with 30 children in a class they may not get the attention they are used to. A star chart is a great way to introduce these tasks and provide an incentive for them to succeed.
It may also help your child to familiarise them with sitting cross legged. In nurseries and pre-schools children often sit on chairs and are not used to sitting on the floor. In their first week at school they will be sat on carpet for long periods of time, so if they are used to sitting that way it will be a lot easier for them.
You can create a positive outlook towards beginning school by having enthusiastic conversations about their journey to school, things they might do at school and the topics they will be learning about. Finding out their teacher’s name means you can mention them in conversations building up a familiarity. Visiting the school with your child for an informal event before they start such as a fete or open day will help you both to visualise it when you are talking about it.
Children are like sponges when they begin school and are ready to take in a lot of information. The reception teacher will support your child in developing new skills ready for Key Stage 1. Social and communication skills are important in reception as the ability to communicate thoughts and feelings will allow your child to form relationships and express themselves. Try teaching your child phrases such as “can I join in?”, “can I play with you?” and “do you want to share?”
Lastly, a few practical tips from teacher to parent:
- Make sure you know what equipment will be needed, a list will be circulated at the new parents evening so make sure to request one if you haven’t received it yet. It will be made up of items such as sweatshirts, t-shirts, socks, PE kit, PE bag, school shoes, book bag, coat.
- Put name labels on absolutely everything! When children start school they all bring in a book bag with a name tag but may not be able to read their name confidently. Attach a recognisable key ring to your child’s book bag, this way they will be able to find it with ease.
- Make sure to provide your child with a water bottle, as it is most schools policy that children can only drink water at school. If your child isn’t used to drinking water try to reduce the amount of squash within their drinks during the summer so that water eventually becomes a familiar concept to them.
- Practise using pencils and scissors over the summer break, this will aid their fine motor skills and help them to improve their grip before beginning school.
- Try not worry, the early years is all about having fun and learning through purposeful play!
Browse the School Readiness page on our website for resources to help give them a head start in areas such as speech, language and communication, self-awareness and confidence, pre-writing skills, numbers and early phonics skills.