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Getting Ready for School - Are You Ready?

It’s that time of year again when children start to prepare for the next step of their journey, starting primary school. Starting school is without a doubt a huge stepping stone in a child’s life and it’s important this is an exciting and rewarding experience for a child, as well as their parents and carers.

But should parents and carers be spending the whole summer coaching their child to hold a pencil correctly? Or is building self-confidence and social skills more important? Should we be alarmed that recent research conducted in primary schools indicates an alarming increase in children starting school in nappies?

Nursery Resources talks to Karen Hornsby, Early Years Manager at Family Action, about what it really means to be ‘school ready’ and how settings and parents can get involved in helping a child survive the classroom.

School Readiness is a term bandied about in the world of childcare and education. But what does it really mean?

To me “school readiness” is centred on being confident and secure in the three prime areas of development. A child who is able to separate from their main carer without causing major distress, who is able to communicate their needs, is reasonably independent, can play with and alongside friends,  and who shows an interest in the world around them is going to find starting school stimulating and a fairly natural next step in their development and learning journey.

How can childcare settings help a child prepare?

Settings should work with parents to ensure children settle well and arrive at the setting happy to be there. For some children this will be a quick process and for others it may take a long time, or need revisiting after absences or events that unsettle the child.

Settings should devote their time to interacting with the children to support and encourage communication and promote good relationships. Regular use of songs, rhymes and stories throughout the day will further enhance this. For children whose verbal communication is not yet well developed, due to age, speech delay or not having English as their first language settings should develop this by using visual clues and picture references.

Settings should encourage independence at every opportunity by involving children in routines, such as setting the table or washing up their own cup. Snacks should be offered that provide a chance to butter their own cracker, chop up a banana or choose ingredients from bowls to make a wrap. Children should be supported in their independence by having clearly labelled places for their coats to hang, lunch boxes to live and toys to be tidied back into. Encouragement and praise from a staff member will really support a reluctant child to use the toilet, wash their hands or to put their own wellies on.

All settings should have a simple set of rules and boundaries that they agree with the children; such as “no kicking my friends”, “no running indoors”, “I must tidy up my toys when I have finished playing” etc. Staff should support children to manage their emotions and reactions to conflict with other children, and provide lots of opportunities for children to practice their sharing skills through group games and activities.

Most importantly, settings need to work in partnership with parents to highlight the importance of ‘school readiness’ for their own child. It will really help a child to be ready to thrive at school if parents can also promote independence, spend time playing with and talking to their child, and be consistent in their approach to any challenging behaviour.

From your experience of working with pre-school children and foundation teachers, what do you class as the essential skills that children need to acquire prior to starting school?

Most teachers tell us that being able to write their own name, or recognise some letters of the alphabet and use mathematical language are helpful skills but not essential. The school will be quickly able to teach these, and many other skills, if the following key skills are in place:

  • Usually able to separate from main carer and enjoy their time at pre-school
  • Able to communicate their needs, ideally using short sentences
  • Able to use a toilet independently
  • Able to put on own coat and shoes and change into PE clothes
  • Able to sit still and focus for a short period of time when required to do so
  • Able to play amicably with other children most of the time
  • Good fine and gross motor skills to support early writing
  • A natural curiosity about the world around them and an interest in exploring new activities or environments

It would also be lovely if a child was able to:

  • Start showing some awareness of phonic sounds
  • Hold a pencil correctly and enjoy making marks
  • Recognise their name when written down
  • Show some awareness of the alphabet and perhaps start to write letters in their name
  • Count objects rather than say a string of numbers in order
  • Use some mathematical language such as “heavy” or “tallest”
  • Recognise some numerals when they are written down

What would your advice be for parents who are worried that their child is not ready for school?

This would depend on the severity of “not being ready”. Most children cope well with the transition to school and I would reassure parents of this. I would advise them to support their child at home with the key skills if possible. If the child was likely to struggle with school due to development delay or additional needs then other professionals may already be involved who would support parents too.

I would advise parents with major concerns to also speak to the school. We have, in the past, offered to keep a child at pre-school for a delayed start at school (up to the age of 5) if everyone involved feels this would be appropriate for the child. This sometimes offers them the extra time needed to catch up their skills, but parents need to be aware that this means a child will either start school mid year and have missed out on friendship groups or, for a summer born child, they will miss the whole of their Foundation year and join at Key Stage 1.

Finally, do you have any tips for parents wanting to help their child prepare for primary school?

It is important to get a balance between making the child aware of the changes ahead and not making too big a deal out of the transition, as this can cause unnecessary anxiety. It is helpful to take the new school up on every opportunity offered to visit, and to attend events such as a summer fete, to familiarise the child with the new building and teachers. Parents could find out about daily routines at the school and talk to their child about things like assembly, lunchtime etc. The school may have a website that shows photographs of the environment and children at play that parents could share with their child.  Most schools ease the children in gently, so some of these routines will be built up gradually. If parents are able to convey a sense of excitement about starting school, rather than project any of their own anxieties, this will help the child to look forward to the event.


Karen Hornsby is an Early Years Manager for Family Action Peterborough. Holding Early Years Professional Status (EYPS), Karen has worked for Family Action for over 12 years and currently  oversees 5 pre-school settings.



This article has been written to give parents and settings just a few ideas to help prepare children for primary school. It’s not an exhaustive list and it is important to remember that all children learn and develop at different rates according to their individual needs.



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