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Building confidence and independence

How you can help prepare your child for starting primary school

Written by practising teachers, our Getting ready for school series will help you understand and develop the skills your child will need to thrive at their new primary school.

Ask any Reception teacher about the best way to prepare your child for 'Big School' and they are almost certain to mention the importance of encouraging independence and giving children the belief that they can do things for themselves.

Independence allows a young child to feel that they have some control over their life and gives them a sense of self-esteem; both of which are important for developing a positive attitude towards school life.

By encouraging your child to tackle day-to-day things like putting on their shoes (always a tricky one) you can make sure that when they have to do these things at school they are used to having a go and it won't seem daunting to them. However, there is no need to worry: your child will be fully supported in their transition to the Reception class by the school, and there are lots of things you can do to help too.

What can you do to support your child at home?

Encourage your child to do the following with as much independence and confidence as you can in the months before they start school and this will prepare them really well for the transition into Reception.

Problem solving

You can help your child to think about different ways of resolving any issues that might arise in a school day. Encourage your child to talk about what is not going well, or what they don't understand with you. This may be something as simple as they don't like the orange juice you have given them or that they don't want to share their toys. Help them to think about different ways they can solve these problems for themselves and decide what to do next. You can remind them that if something like this is bothering them at school they can ask an adult for help.

Being able to see things from differing perspectives

Your child will meet lots of different children who have different experiences at home and at preschool. Perhaps here you might read books that present different cultures, or types of families, etc. to help your child to accept and celebrate diversity and difference.

Getting dressed and going to the toilet

This can be a very tricky one: often it is much easier (and quicker!) to do things for your child rather than encouraging them to manage things themselves, but it is SO much better to let your child have a go, and step in only when necessary, as it builds their independence AND confidence. Encourage independent dressing as often as you can in the weeks before school begins.

Over time, they will get quicker (honestly)! If their shoe is on the wrong foot once or twice, never mind – it will be mildly uncomfortable until they realise what they need to do to be more comfy! It is also a good idea to have a few dry runs with the PE Kit too – my own children wanted to play PE lessons and loved doing this in the weeks before they started school, which really helped them get ready for their real PE lessons. (Another tip is NOT TO BUY TIE UP SHOES! The same goes for fiddly buckles and buttons on clothes. Velcro fasteners on shoes are the easiest for young children to manage independently, so your choice of school uniform is important here.)

Try to resist the temptation to pop your child onto the loo and wipe their bottom. It really is better to get your child into the habit of doing this for themselves as soon as you can.

Packing their school bag

This might be the first time your child will be responsible for their own belongings. One way to help them with this might be to use a picture calendar showing days of the week labelled with a picture of the things your child will need for school. For example, Monday might have a picture of their school bag, packed lunch and book bag, Tuesday might show a picture of their packed lunch, school bag and pumps.

It's a really good idea to encourage your child to get into the habit of packing their own bag. You can practise this beforehand by having picnics in the garden or the local park, and leaving out the bits and pieces needed for your child to collect and put into their bag.

Generally, my advice is simple: let your child come to you for support if they need it, rather than anticipating what they need. I know that this really goes against the grain as we try so hard to give our children everything they need, but in this case, it is useful for children to get into the habit of having a go for themselves and asking for help when they need it.

And finally, remember to praise your child when he/she is tackling new challenges; for example, resolving squabbles with their siblings or friends on their own, sharing and taking turns, or following simple instructions. This will help them to see that you value their independent actions and that you have confidence in their ability do things on their own.

Next: First day at school

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