How to prepare your child for starting school
If your child starts primary school this year, or has back-school jitters at the start of a new term, it can feel like a daunting prospect – for both of you! Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get everyone ready for the first day.
From when to buy school uniform (and the best way to wash it – loads of parents love Fairy Non Bio which has been voted number 1 for sensitive skin), to setting up playdates with new classmates, our top tips will help get you organised and them relaxed and ready for the first day of school ... and beyond!
*Online panel of 3,327 women among which Fairy Non Bio was voted most often as the #1 detergent & fabric softener for sensitive skin.
Tips for preparing your child for starting school
Help settle nerves and worries, and get your child emotionally ready to transition from nursery or preschool to primary school.
Already started but struggling to settle? These tips work just as well for those back to school jitters at the start of a new term.
1. Communication is key
Communication is key when it comes to preparing your child for starting school.
Talk to them regularly about school and what they might be doing there. This will help them get used to the idea of new routines and they'll know what to expect.
For example, when they're taking their coat off, tell them, 'at school you'll have your own peg to hang your coat up on'.
You could also walk past the school and point it out, look at pictures on the school website and talk about the names of their teachers.
Try to talk about school matter of factly, though. Making it seem like too much of a big deal can make children feel anxious.
2. Read books about starting school
There are loads of great books about starting school that you can read with your child over the summer. Most libraries will have a selection.
Some of our favourites are:
– I Am Absolutely Too Small For School, Lauren Child
– Starting School, Janet and Allan Ahlberg
– Marshall Armstrong Is New To Our School, David Mackintosh
3. Buy your child's school uniform early
It's a good idea to buy your child's school uniform early, and before it sells out.
Hit the shops as soon as you know which school you're child is going to. (Some supermarkets have them on sale at different times throughout the year, like this £1 Asda uniform !)
Try and buy by July or early August and buy a size up to see your child through their first year. See our round-up of the best school uniform buys, here.
Always make sure you wash new clothes before use. Fairy Non Bio Sensitive Skin Dream Team - Fairy Non Bio PODS® and Fairy Fabric Softener - leaves everything super soft.
4. Go to the school settling-in days
Go to all the school settling-in days if you can. They'll help your child get used to the school setting and are a chance to get to know their teacher and new classmates.
Most kids really enjoy the days and come out excited and chatting about all the new things they've done.
It's also a chance for you to meet the teacher and other parents, too.
If you can, attend any summer fetes or activities at the school, too. You'll meet other children and parents and your child can get used to the surroundings.
6. Ask questions
Ask your child questions about school, such as 'What are you most looking forward to?'. This gives them the chance to bring up any worries or concerns they may have.
You can then explain to them how things work and put their mind at rest – they might be worried about going to the toilet for example.
If they do have any big concerns or there are questions you're not sure about, mention them to the teacher on settling-in days or their first day.
7. Have playdates with classmates
If your child knows any other children who are going to be in their class, try and arrange some summer playdates.
Having one or two familiar faces will help them transition into school and make that first day a bit easier.
If you don't know any other kids who are going to the same school, why not join a local Facebook group, or head to the local chat section of our forum ? You'll probably be able to meet parents whose kids are going to the same school, and arrange a playdate over the summer.
8. Involve your child in your school to-do list
You may see your starting school to-do list as stressful, but your child will probably find it fun to know what's on it!
Helping to choose a uniform , shoes and lunchbox could make them feel excited to start. And it gives you a chance to highlight all the positive aspects of starting school, such as as new friends, new shoes, learning loads...
Not sure what you need? Check out our roundup of the top back-to-school essentials .
9. Make their uniform smell familiar
A simple way to make your child feel comfortable is by making their uniform smell familiar.
Wash it before use in your normal detergent. Our Netmums community love Fairy Non Bio . The gentle formulation is kind on skin, but brilliant at shifting stains.
Add a splosh of Fairy Fabric Softener for a fresh smell that will make them feel comfortable (and smelling of home. Aww.)
Plus, from when to buy school uniform to teaching them how to put it on, here's what you need to know about your child's school uniform .
Tips for developing your child's skills ready for school
While your child doesn't need to be able to read or write before they start school, there are some skills they can learn that will help them settle in.
From making friends to opening packed lunch containers, these games to get ready for starting school will help.
10. Make sure your child knows their name
While of course your child knows their name, do they know the name that will be on the register?
They might be called Freddie but their given name is Alfred, for example. If they don't know it yet, make sure they're aware of their surname, too.
11. Help them develop strength and motor skills
These are great ways of helping them develop the hand strength and coordination they'll need to control a pencil at school.
Mark-making is the first stage on the writing journey, so get your child to express themselves with crayons, paints, sticks in sand, or water and paintbrushes on the patio.
Check out our arts and crafts section for loads of fun ideas.
12. Practise recognising letters
Although there's no need to teach your child to read and write, if they're showing interest or nearly able to write their name, there's no harm in practising.
Writing, or at least recognising, the letters in their name will be handy for remembering which peg is theirs in the cloakroom.
Give them a head start with their letters with our free printable alphabet colouring pages .
13. Get 'em counting
Give your child a great start in numeracy by singing number rhymes together. Songs like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Once I Caught a Fish Alive, Five Little Ducks and Ten in the Bed introduce the concepts of counting and order.
Look out for numbers whenever you are out and about and when you spot them in books.
Give numbers meaning by counting everything everywhere, from grapes on a plate to stairs up to bed.
An abacus can help with early counting skills, we like this colourful one that's available at Amazon. See more details here.
15. Get them (fully) toilet trained
Of all the practical skills to practise, going to the toilet is perhaps the most important.
Get your child confident about getting to the loo in time, wiping properly, flushing and washing their hands.
Blowing their nose into a tissue is another useful skill. And a reassuring chat about what to do if they wet themselves, feel poorly or have any other problems will give them added confidence.
16. Practise lunchtime skills
At school, your child will probably be using a metal knife and fork and have to carry their food on a tray. It's a good idea to practise using cutlery, filling up water glasses and maybe visiting a supermarket or garden centre café, where they can carry their own tray.
If your child is taking a packed lunch , make sure they can open any packets or Tupperware and know how to open and close their lunch box.
17. Let your child try their uniform on
Your child is probably desperate to wear their smart new uniform, so when you've bought it, let them practise putting it on, taking it off and folding it neatly in preparation for PE lessons.
If you can, steer clear of fiddly fastenings such as tiny shirt buttons: look for easy-close top buttons that are easier for little fingers.
Always wash new clothes before use, to get rid of any dust (even if you can't see it). Try Fairy's Non Bio Sensitive Skin Dream Team – Fairy Non Bio PODS® and Fairy Fabric Softener – to make everything huggably soft.
18. Teach them tricks for getting dressed
Teach them the tricks of getting dressed, such as putting labels at the back and holding cuffs to stop sleeves riding up.
And if they can't tell which shoe goes on which foot, there's a simple trick you can do.
Just write your child's name on paper, cut it in half (so, AL-EX) and stick AL in the left shoe and EX on the right.
That way when the shoes are laid out correctly, they can tell how to put them on.
Don't forget to buy personalised labels to stick in each shoe and in uniform, too. See more details here.
19. Leave shoe shopping until later
If your child's feet are due a grow, it's worth leaving it as late as possible to get measured and fitted for school shoes.
Don't leave it too last minute though, as you'll want to make sure they wear them in for a week or two.
That way they won't feel too stiff and uncomfortable on that first day at school.
20. Go for ease when it comes to uniform
When sourcing uniform, remember that velcro is easier to do up than laces, and look for scuff-resistant styles to keep shoes looking good all year.
Also, kids get VERY mucky at playtime, so it's well worth stocking up on uniform that's stain-resistant, crease-resistant and doesn't need ironing!
If your child has sensory issues, shops such as Asda and Marks & Spencer sell uniform made from super-soft fabrics with no itchy labels or seams.
Tips for the first day at school
From knowing how long it'll take to get there, to little signs that show you're thinking of them, here's how to survive the first day at the school gates.
21. Get some early nights
After being out of routine for quite some time during the summer – not to mention staying up later and later because it's so light at bedtime – your little one will be pretty exhausted by September!
Factor in some wind-down days in the run-up to starting school; there's no harm in a few chilled TV days and early nights. After all, school will soon tire them out!
212 Do a trial run
If you haven't already done so, do a trial run of the journey to school.
Bear in mind that rush-hour and back-to-school traffic could add extra time on when the roads are busier.
Ask on local groups how long it takes fellow parents to do the route if your school isn't local.
23. Get up early
On the first day, avoid any extra stress by being super organised. Get bags packed the night before, and breakfast eaten in good time, to avoid having to rush.
And don’t worry if your child has been enjoying late nights and lie-ins all summer. This back to school sleep calculator can help get their sleep back on track.
24. Keep school uniform clean
It's a good idea, especially on your child’s first day at school, to give them breakfast while they're still in PJs.
That way, you avoid any stress of them spilling cereal or dropping toast on their new school uniform.
And don't stress if they do get it dirty. Sponge off any marks with Fairy Non Bio Washing Gel , and wash after school if needed with Fairy Non Bio PODS®.
25. Don’t spend too long taking ‘first day’ photos
Taking a ‘first day at school’ photo of your child in their uniform is a parenting rite of passage. In fact, your Facebook feed is bound to be full of other parents doing the same thing.
But try not to spend too long taking photos – you don’t want your child getting bored and teary before you’ve even left the house.
And be wary about posting your snaps on social media ; your child's uniform could give strangers a clue about where they're going to school.
26. Don’t cry (well, not while your child is watching)
Avoid tears at the school gates when you drop your child off for the first time.
We know it’ll be emotional but TRY to wait until your child has gone inside before you cry.
That way, you can avoid upsetting them or making them feel there is something to worry about.
Top tip: take some tissues in your pocket or in the car.
27. Avoid long goodbyes
Try to avoid drawn-out goodbyes. Instead, a cheery, ‘Oh look darling! They’re all going in, off you go', followed by a quick kiss will be easier for your child. And for you.
You can save the emotional hugs for later.
28. Keep clear of the classroom ...
… even if your child is crying.
Yes it’s hard starting school for the first time, but if you hang around the classroom you might make your child even more upset.
Parents may not even be allowed in classrooms for a while, which could actually help kids to settle in without mums and dads being around!
If your child is crying when you leave, try not to let it get you down. Chances are, they'll be all smiles within a few minutes.
29. Give your child a reminder of you
It might be that your child needs some reassurance while they're at school, and especially on the first day.
You could try this genius trick of drawing matching pictures on their hand and yours.
Or, pop a little note in their lunchbox, such as a smiley face, so they know you're thinking of them.
30. Have a big smile at pick up time
Put a smile on your face when you pick up your child. They may not smile back – they might be shattered! – but at least they’ll see how pleased you are to see them.
31. Ask (a few) questions
Ask your child a few specific questions about their school day.
Be aware you might get monosyllabic answers, so don’t push too hard. Your child might find a bombardment of questions a bit overwhelming in the first few days, or weeks, of school.
A specific question like 'what did you eat for lunch?' is more likely to get an answer than something more general like 'what did you do today?'.
Tips to help your child settle in at school
These simple tips should help you child's first few days and weeks at school run smoothly.
32. Encourage your child to talk
If your child does have any worries in the first few days of school, these might come up when they're relaxed, doing something they enjoy like watching TV, colouring or during a bedtime story.
Let them talk, and empathise with them before coming up with suggestions for strategies that might help.
33. Talk to the teacher if there are issues
Avoid rushing in to speak to the teacher in the first week. But if your child is finding it hard to settle after a few weeks, arrange to chat to their teacher. The chances are, they'll have ideas to help.
34. Try a worry doll
If your child is still a little bit anxious about school and all of the concerns it brings, you could get a worry doll for them to confide in.
Traditional worry dolls are hidden under the pillow during the night. And by letting the children 'sleep on it', the doll will take the worries away.
You can use any doll or toy for this.
35. Arrange playdates with classmates
In the first term of school, encourage a park playdate with other children that your child mentions.
It will help your child get to know their classmates better, which can help them settle at school.
It'll help you get to know other parents, too...
36. Meet other parents
Try to make a coffee date for after drop-off with other parents with children starting school.
They're a potential support network for you, and might have advice and support for helping your child settle.
Is your child starting school in September? How are you preparing for the big day? Chat to other parents in our forum below…