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Lena Engel
Worked as an Ofsted Early Years Inspector for Kensington and Chelsea Borough. Supported teachers in schools to improve outcomes for children’s learning, and written for Nursery World Magazine. She trains, assesses and mentors early years practitioners, and offers advice and guidance to parents.
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Stage 8 – before 5th birthday

Helping your child prepare for starting school

Starting primary or elementary school is a huge milestone in your child’s life. She will need a variety of self-care skills, listening skills and confidence to embark on long school days. There are many ways that you can help her prepare.
In Short
Encourage and practise your child’s self-care skills such as washing hands, going to the toilet and taking off and putting on a coat.

Give your child opportunities to develop independence before she starts school.

Playdates and activities with other children can help her to settle into classroom life as this gives her experience of working in groups and following group instructions.

Develop your child’s independence

Do this by:

  • Ensuring that he is potty trained, and can use the toilet and wipe his bottom on his own. Encourage him to know how to wash and dry his hands as well.
  • Encouraging your child to dress and undress on his own. Make sure that his clothes are loose and have no tricky belts, buttons, bows or zips that mean he has to ask for help.
  • Teaching your child to eat with a spoon and knife and fork (depending on his age).
  • Getting your child into the good habit of participating in tasks such as: tidying up, helping set the table, working in the kitchen, cooking, digging in the garden, and so on.
Develop your children’s communication skills

Engage in meaningful conversations with your child so that he learns to use language to express his thoughts and ideas. Ensure that you are giving your child opportunities to enter a dialogue with you where you take turns to listen and respond. This is crucial to support language acquisition and to develop an interest in participating in meaningful communications.

Teach your child to follow instructions

Help teach your child to follow instructions and carry out simple tasks. He can enjoy following instructions if you give him descriptive praise and value how he does things. You will need to break down instructions so that he hears, listens and understands exactly what he is being expected to do.

Practice doing projects

Encourage your child through excursions to parks and gardens, and walks in his local environment, to learn to respect nature and to observe natural life. Make collections of leaves and take photos of birds and plants that you can check on the internet with him when you get home to name them correctly. This research will help develop his vocabulary and understanding.

Discuss numbers in daily life

Similarly use every opportunity to develop knowledge of mathematical concepts by counting the steps on the stairs, setting the correct number of places for dinner, counting out money when you pay in shops etc. Your child will see that counting, learning about ways to measure and compare, and enjoying practical maths prepares him well for school.

Develop your child’s love of words and books

It is essential that throughout the first years of life your child has frequent opportunities to engage in conversations with you and others. He can develop a love of books and stories by being read to, and by selecting books at the local library. In an age of high levels of technology when screens are used incessantly, it is really important to help children value real books, illustrations and stories that interest them. Also, learn songs and rhymes because they help children enjoy and play with language.

Develop your child’s social skills

You can also prepare your child for school by ensuring that he is used to playing with other children. There are a range of children’s drop-ins that you can start attending when your child is very young. He will not take too much notice of other babies but he will learn to enjoy playing alongside them and having the opportunity to observe and copy them. Do as many playdates as possible.

Develop your support group with other parents

It is also good for parents to be able to talk with other parents at these informal groups and to bolster each other’s self-confidence, by discussing difficulties and achievements.

Prepare them for the classroom environment

When it comes to starting school, try to ensure that you have visited the classroom in advance and that your child has read stories with you about starting school. There are many available and you can use them to discuss his fears and expectations. The point is that it is a very big transition point in your child’s development and by talking about it you can relieve some of the anxiety that he may initially experience.

Speak to your child’s new teacher before term begins

Ensure that you have had time to sit with the teacher before your child starts school. You need to know what your child is expected to learn and how you can support him. You should be asking for an open dialogue with the school so that you can feel reassured that they will work in partnership with you. If the school is prepared to work with you in this way, your behaviour at home with your child can be more consistent with the school and your child will feel more valued and supported.

Reassure them about being separated from you

Ensure that you have allocated time to settle your child at school in the first couple of weeks because he may have initial separation problems and it will make the transition smoother. Also be aware that over this time your child may experience higher levels of anxiety, wet the bed or become more clingy to you. It is not that they are regressing, it is that he is trying to tell you subconsciously that he still needs your love and attention and doesn’t want to stop being your baby. Give him additional love and attention and lots of praise to make him feel good about himself.

Remember starting school is a major stepping stone in life and that we, the adults, have the task of ensuring that it is a joyful and reassuring experience for our children.

If you would like to contact Lena for one-on-one advice for children aged 0 – 19 years, please email her on

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.