Lazy Mum

6 skills for starting school you might have overlooked

Are you anxious about your child starting school? How do you know what skills your child will need?

Fear not! Lazy Mum is here, and as a former teacher I know a bit about school life.

Starting Reception is a big step but there are lots of ways to make it a happy one. Here are 6 helpful ways you can give your child a headstart in preparing for school life.

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Well. It hit home today that my eldest is due to start school in just 2 months.

I have no idea where 4 years have gone!

I’m really happy that he got into the Primary school just up the road. As a naturally shy child, I feel it’s important for his social development that his school friends live close by. But I can’t believe where the time has gone. It doesn’t seem 5 minutes ago he was taking his first steps!

Thinking back to last December when we applied for his Reception place, I had so many misgivings about him going.

What was I afraid of?

I was worried that he’d get stuck changing in and out of his PE kit, that he wouldn’t be able to eat school dinners because he’s so fussy, that he’d be alone in the playground… Or, worst of all, that he’d get stuck on the toilet unable to wipe his own bottom!

Well, what a difference 6 months makes. He’s changed and developed so much in that time. He’s like a sponge, soaking up everything. And he’s grown in confidence too. I can see now that he’s ready and we’re all so excited!

So how can we ensure our children are best prepared for starting Primary school?

Quick note – I appreciate that children with additional needs will have a completely different set of milestones – so please contact your school SENDco for a chat if you need specific advice. The steps I’ve come up with apply to most neuro-typical children.

I thought long and hard about how to prepare my son for Reception. He is bright and picks things up quickly. I could have focused on academic skills and gone down the flash-card/ hot-housing route.

However, I didn’t want to turn home into a classroom and squander these precious days together before he starts his long school career. And there are many reasons why formal learning isn’t ideal at such a young age.

Furthermore, school is set up for academic learning. And if I taught a different approach to reading and writing, my son may have to unlearn it to come into line with their teaching methods. Obviously, I want to avoid that!

My Primary teacher friends tell me that the best we can do as parents is prepare our children in the basics of self-care. So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve focused on developing life skills, and building confidence and independence:

1. Learning through Play

Children learn most through play. It invokes their natural curiosity and helps them make sense of the world around them.

During free play, children learn valuable skills that include social, cognitive and physical development as well as exploring areas that interest them. So feed their imaginations!

My son loves Lego and Playmobil and creates imaginary worlds and stories around them. But children don’t need much to stimulate play. Simple and cheap works just as well – we painted faces on toilet rolls during Lockdown. He gave them names and personalities and they prompted hours of fun!

So if you are worried about academics, don’t be. Your chosen school has programmes for learning academic subjects that start right from the beginning. And many countries don’t even begin formal learning until age 7. So put away the flashcards and let them play!

2. Getting dressed and undressed for PE lessons

My son is pretty good at this. At least on the lower half!

He still struggles a bit with getting t-shirts and jumpers over his head.

The most important reason for him mastering this skill is getting changed for PE (Physical Education). Of course, children develop at different rates, but if a whole class struggle to dress themselves, PE lessons are going to be chaos!

There are quite a few skills involved here – independently getting undressed and into sports kit, tidying up the clothes and shoes that have been taken off (turning inside out clothes the right way and folding), then doing it all again in reverse.

So not only did I need to teach him to independently dress himself, but also to organise his things too. Or he’ll be that child whose clothes get scattered across the classroom and loses his kit in the first week!

3. Using scissors

This is a tricky skill and one that 4 year olds probably won’t perfect for some time. However, it’s an important one, so it’s good to give them plenty of time to practise – time they may not get enough of in school.

Starting scissor practise at home also provides an opportunity to go over safety rules around scissor use – never walk with scissors, and only use them for cutting paper! Parents.com have the best guide I’ve seen for getting started with scissors.

4. Letter and number recognition

Whilst formal, academic learning is not something I go for with my son at this stage (see above), it is important he can recognise his numbers and letters. But we don’t do it by rote learning. In fact, it’s better that it isn’t formal at all. So we make it fun with games and toys that bring these basics to life, and we spot numbers and letters when we are out and about.

Kinaesthetic (learning through touch and movement) learning approaches really help new information to stick, so the more active, the better!

5. Trying new foods

If you’ve read my blog on fussy eating, you’ll know what an ongoing battle we’ve had getting our eldest to expand the range of foods he eats. Honestly, I’ve been pretty worried about this. All Primary children in England get free school meals, and I’ve been imagining him being totally stuck at lunchtime and going hungry every day.

So, I thought about the kinds of staple foods that he can get by with, and we’re doing lots of fun tasting games around those. Things like baked and mashed potatoes, cooked carrots, rice, and plain meats like chicken and ham. It’s slow progress, but now the baby is weaning they can try things together. Maybe he’ll get over it when he sees his school friends eating – we’ll see!

6. Building fine and gross motor skills

Motor skills help us do everything from lifting heavy objects to using a knife and fork. Having good motor control helps children explore the world around them. Jumping, climbing, cycling, throwing and catching are just some of the gross motor skills we have been building at home. Obstacle courses are great fun for this!

We’ve worked on fine motor skills by practising buttons and zips, using scissors of course,  lots of mark-making, play dough modelling and cooking. I found more ideas here if you get stuck.

All children learn at different rates so of course this list is not exhaustive. And it might look completely different for your child! For example, my son learnt his colours and shapes some time ago so I’ve missed that off, but it might not be secure for someone else.

The important thing is to focus on is a few foundation skills that means they can access their school experience as independently as possible.

Good luck to you and your little one in making this big step. Doesn’t time fly!

Do you agree with me? What have I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

See more education blogs here. And give me a shout on social media. I’d love to hear from you!

6 thoughts on “6 skills for starting school you might have overlooked

  1. Brilliant. Well done Lazy Mum!

    There’s some really great ideas there. I especially like the point of not formalising the learning of numbers and letters. Kids can be completely overwhelmed by these concepts. I know I was!

    Looking forward to your next post.

  2. As a teacher and a mom myself I completely agree with you. I don’t want to turn my home into a classroom so I mostly focus on teaching him life skills through games. My son will start school at 3 (it’s the way things are where we live) in autumn so I’m pretty nervous.

  3. Such a good post! Especially the tip about making sure they can easily change clothes themselves. My daughter is 10 now, but I still remember how nervous I was before she started! She did great, they learn so fast. 🙂

    1. Thanks Samantha. Children are far more resilient that we think aren’t they! I’m sure my son is going to love school but it’s a big transition for all of us. Normal to be nervous 🙂

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