How do I prepare for my child starting school?

Your child going to school for the first time is a big milestone for you and for them. You are bound to have lots of feelings and might be wondering if your child is ready for school.

Here are some things you can do to help you and your child feel ready before they go to school for the first time. If your child is moving into a new year group, you can read our advice about getting ready for a new school term.

Talk to your child about school

While this is an exciting time, it’s normal for children to have worries about starting school as well. You can help to settle their worries by talking to them about what they’re thinking and feeling.

  • Ask them what they think about school – what do they think school will be like? What are they most looking forward to? Is there anything they are worried about?
  • If your child doesn’t find it easy to talk about their worries, you can read our advice on how can I help my child share their worries with me?
  • Talk about the positives of school that they can look forward to – what activities they might do, which friends will be there and opportunities to learn, play and make friends.
  • Your child might have a settling in session in the summer term before they start school, where they get to meet their teacher and learn what to expect. If your child’s school doesn’t do this or if you want to introduce them to the school earlier, you can show them pictures online of the school and the teachers. You could even take them to see the school from the outside or take them to a school event.
  • Read books about going to school. We recommend The Colour Monster Goes to School, Why do I have to go to School? And Starting School Sticker Book.

How to prepare your child for school

Your child doesn’t need to be able to read or write before they start school. If they go to a pre-school or nursery, they might have been working on these skills already, but everyone in the class will be at different stages of learning, so don’t worry about how much they already know or don’t know.

It can help your child to master self-care skills in preparation for school. These skills can include feeding themselves, going to the toilet and washing their hands and getting dressed and undressed by themselves.

  • If your child is having a school meal, they may need to know how to use a knife and a fork to feed themself. Practicing this with your child at home can make them feel more confident about doing this at school but don’t worry if they’re still learning as the school staff will help them to learn this too.
  • If your child is going to be having a lunch box, you can teach them which things they should eat first and build their skills in opening packaging and wrappers.
  • Help build up your child’s confidence when going to the toilet – do they know when they need to go in enough time to avoid accidents? Can they wipe themself properly? Don’t worry if they’re not there yet, especially if they have additional needs. Do tell the teacher if they need help with this still so they can be aware and support them.
  • Practice putting on their school clothes before school starts can help them to learn how to dress themselves and feel more confident with getting dressed. Especially if they need to get changed for PE lessons. Practicing with putting their coat on and off can be good to try including using zips, buttons and putting on their shoes.
  • Help your child to understand when they may need to wash their hands (after the toilet and before eating) and how to wash them using soap and water.

Your own feelings about your child starting school

Your child starting school is a big step for both of you. It’s understandable that you may feel emotional about not having them at home as often and you may miss or worry about them when they are in school. Try to think about the positive experience your child is having, learning, growing and making new friends.

It’s important to be kind to yourself while you get used to this change:

If you find yourself worrying when they first start school, calling the school for an update may help to offer the reassurance you need. Schools know that this is a big step for children and their parents so they should be understanding.

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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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