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Skills for starting school

Practical advice to give your child the best start

Starting primary school is an exciting new chapter in your child's life. Schools, and Reception teachers in particular, are well aware of the importance of this big step. They are dedicated to helping children settle in quickly and start enjoying school life.

As a Reception teacher, I understand that it can feel daunting when your child starts 'big school'. But by the time their child reaches the end of Reception, many parents are astonished at how much they have learned and developed in a year! So, here are some helpful tips about the learning behaviours we try to foster in Reception, and some ideas to get your child started in developing these skills.

Social skills

Learning in a classroom is a social activity. Children learn and develop through playing alongside their peers. Having the skills to make friends, empathise, and negotiate are an important part of learning in the Reception classroom. You can support their developing social skills by arranging play dates with children from their new class. For example, you could arrange to go to a local park with some parents and children. Turn-taking games such as snakes and ladders or snap are also brilliant for developing social skills – especially when the adults don't always let the children win!

Listening and communication

In the classroom, a large proportion of learning happens through listening. I regularly talk with my class about being good listeners and communicators both with their friends and the teachers. To help them with their listening skills, you might like to try playing games and singing action songs such as 'Simon Says' or 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes'. In these games, your child has to listen and communicate to be able to join in successfully. Or, build funny and unusual instructions into routine events, like putting your coat away and then coming to sit at the table with your hands on your head. We use lots of activities like these during the school day. They help to sharpen your child's listening skills and raise a smile!

Finally, reading a story and stopping at different points to ask them what has just happened is a good way to hone listening and communication skills: Can they recall what has happened? What do they think might happen next? Acting out the story together is a brilliant way to practice communication skills – especially if you then perform it to an audience.

Concentration

Maintaining concentration throughout the school day can be challenging, and is a major reason children are so tired in their first weeks of school! Building kits like 'Lego' are great for encouraging your child's resilience – especially if they can finish the whole activity in one sitting.

Race-the-clock games are also good for improving concentration. We use minute timers in the classroom to develop focus and concentration by challenging the children to complete activities within a time limit. This can also be helpful when you need to be somewhere on time and you can encourage the children to race to get their socks and shoes on!

Independence

I often say to the parents of new children in my class that independence is one of the most important skills needed for starting primary school. It is vital that children get used to doing things for themselves without their parents there to help them all the time. It is a big transition, but increasing your child's confidence to have a try and getting them used to doing things for themselves will set them up to succeed. Ask your child to help you by giving them routine tasks which are achievable on their own. For example, whilst cooking dinner, ask them to wash vegetables or stack plastic dishes. Make sure that you praise them for doing it all on their own.

When your child asks for help, it's worth giving them another opportunity to have a try themselves. You could try breaking the task down for them (for example, "Why don't you put on one shoe and I'll help with the other?"). In the classroom, I am always amazed at how many children who are asked to have a try themselves don't come back to ask again, as they have been able to achieve what they wanted without help. Often, children just need encouragement from the adults around them to have another go!

On a very practical note, spending time helping your child recognise their written name is extremely helpful! Labelling their school items with them, showing them how you write their name, and seeing if they can find their name in a list of words will help them recognise their cloakroom peg, drawer or belongings.

Throughout the process of your child starting school please remember that your child's teacher will have the same aim in mind: to help your child develop the all-important lifelong learning behaviours that are so helpful for a happy, successful Reception year and beyond!

Next: First day at school

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