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Skills for starting school

Practical advice to give your child the best start

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.

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, and 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 off to a great start in developing these skills.

Social skills

Learning in a classroom is a social activity where 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 arranging to go to a local park with some parents and children.Turn-taking games such as snakes and ladders or snap are brilliant for developing social skills, especially when the adults don't always let the children win!

Listening and communication

A large proportion of learning happens through listening in the classroom and 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 where your child has to listen and communicate to be able to join in successfully. Or, build funny and unusual instructions into routine events, such as: put your coat away and then come and sit at the table with your hands on your head — these all help to sharpen their listening skills and raise a smile. We use lots of these in the school day! 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? And of course – 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 excellent for encouraging your child's resilience – especially if they can finish the whole activity in one sitting.

Race-the-clock games are also effective for improving concentration. We use minute timers in the classroom to challenge the children to complete activities within a time limit to develop focus and concentration.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 initially as children get used to doing things for themselves without you as the parent 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, its worth giving them another opportunity to have a try themselves —perhaps breaking down the task for them (for example, "Why don't you put on one shoe and I'll help with the other?"). I am always amazed in the classroom at how many children who are encouraged to have a try themselves simply don't come back to ask again as they have been able to achieve what they wanted without help; they just needed 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 really help them recognise their cloakroom peg, drawer or belongings independently.

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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