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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

How to Prepare Preschoolers for Primary School: 7 Tips for Starting School

Starting school can be an extremely emotional time for children {and parents}. It's often the biggest change in routine kids have experienced in their lives and for many it will be the longest time they've spent away from their parents. Understandably children are likely to be anxious about the new environment, new rules and new people they'll meet at school. 

Many parents worry about academically preparing their kids for school and can often overlook other skills they'll need to know. While knowing colours, shapes, the alphabet and numbers to 10 before school is recommended, there are many other important social, emotional and physical skills children will need to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

Most children starting school {whether it's called prep, kindy, reception or foundation} are only 4-5 years old, so it can be a really scary time. However, there are many ways we as parents can help to ease this anxiety for our kids and help them prepare for the transition to school. These are the 7 strategies we implemented to help our daughter when she started prep.

child at school desk


1. Make sure they're familiar with the school.

Before the school year starts take your child to visit the school so they're familiar with the general layout of the buildings and aware of where important areas like the toilets and office are. Most schools will have open days, interviews and orientation days for incoming students in the year prior to them starting school which give ample opportunities for you to explore the grounds as a family. Knowing where their classroom, playground area and toilets are will help reduce first day jitters. 

2. Read books about starting school. 

I've always been a big believer in books helping to explain feelings, experiences and complex ideas to children, so we used picture books to help my daughter with the transition to school when she started prep. Reading picture books about starting school helps children to identify with the characters and understand some of the changes that are coming. It will also give them an opportunity to share their feelings with you and ask any questions they may have. I've put together a list of picture books about starting school here.

Reading books together will also help children to identify important parts of a book like the cover, title, how to turn a page and that books are read from front to back. Reading books by identifying the story from illustrations, then later learning to read words will be a big part of the first year of school. Encouraging a love of reading at home is a great way to prepare kids for reading at school.

3. Do fine motor activities at home.

While children will learn academics once they're in school, it's important that they have good fine motor skills to be able to hold a pencil for writing as that will be a big part of their first year at school. To help develop their fine motor skills at home you can do simple play activities like playdough, threading beads or stickers. 

child making a playdough rainbow

Anything that involves holding and manipulating small objects will help them to develop their pincer grip and hand strength. For more ideas try some of these fine motor activities I've done at home with my girls.

4. Practice Independent self care.

When your child goes to school they'll be expected to be independent with self care tasks such as going to the toilet, washing their hands, tying their shoes and using their lunch box and drink bottles on their own - or with minimal assistance from teach aids. To prepare them for this do lots of practice at home. 

Give them lunch in a lunch box to ensure they can open and close it themselves, if they can't, try different types until you find one they can use on their own. If they can't tie shoe laces yet, use velcro school shoes until they're confident tying laces.

5. Socialise with other children.

At school your child will likely be in a class of 20+ students each day which can be incredibly overwhelming for children who aren't used to being in big groups. To get them used to socialising with different children, if they don't already attend childcare, spend some time going on play dates or visiting public places like parks, playgroups and rhyme time activities at local libraries to give them opportunities to interact with other children in group settings.

6. Implement routines ahead of school starting {where possible}.

For some children starting school will be the first time in their lives they've had to follow a strict routine, especially if they've never gone to childcare. At school they'll be expected to arrive by a certain time, eat, play and work at specified times throughout the day. To help them prepare start to introduce loose routines at home like getting ready in the morning by a certain time each day or eating lunch at the same time.

7. Ensure they get enough sleep.

The first few weeks of school will be emotionally and physically exhausting for kids, so it's important that they get enough rest. Make sure they go to bed at a decent time to ensure they're well rested for the day ahead. If they don't already have a formal bed time, introduce one a few weeks before school starts.

Don't be surprised if the kids are super tired in the afternoons after school. This will sometimes manifest as anger and mood swings as they learn to adapt to school life and their new normal. Lots of children try to hold in all their emotions during the school day, then when they get home it all comes tumbling out and can often be misdirected at us as parents. Just remember they're navigating lots of new things and trying to cope as best as they can. If they don't want to talk about their day don't force them, give them some breathing space to unwind. Eventually it will pass. You've got this!

Also a bonus tip for parents is to prepare for Book Week early {trust me you'll thank me later}. This free printable back to school checklist may come in handy too.

how parents can help prepare preschoolers for starting school

Disclosure - This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience which means I may earn a small commission, at no cost to you, should you make a purchase. If you're worried about your child in any way please seek guidance from their teacher or school staff.

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