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Preparing your child to start school for the first time

17 August 2014

Starting school for the first time is an important and exciting time for your child. Nicola Exley, an Early Years Foundation Stage year group leader at The British International School Abu Dhabi, is often asked by parents “How can I help my child to be ready for starting school?” Here are a few key ways in which you can support your child to prepare for their new venture:

  • Be emotionally ready to leave mum and dad

Being emotionally ready to leave their main carer is the biggest challenge for most young children! Is your child already used to leaving you?

One of the ways in which to help with this is to find regular opportunities to leave your child for short periods of time with other familiar adults. Sharing stories about starting school and talking with your child about what will happen  also helps to prepare them.

Stay positive and optimistic: some children take a little longer to settle into school than others. This is normal and the Early Years practitioners in school will work closely with you to help your child become comfortable in their new setting.

  • An awareness of just what to expect

What does your child know about their new setting?

Talk positively with your child about their new school and what to expect on the first morning. Share as much information as you can (over time) about their new venture -such as, where they are going, the name of their new school, their new teacher and other children they may know. Talk about the fun things that will happen when they are in school and what will happen at the end of the day. In my own experience, children often tend to settle sooner when they are clear about when their parents will return.

  • Establish consistent routines

Is your child already used to consistent routines?

Children thrive on routine and it can help them enormously if you can try to be as consistent as possible in the weeks running up to your child starting school. Establishing a regular bedtime and regular meal times are a good place to start. Often, children settle into school much more quickly when there are consistent routines in place for them to follow at home. Do ensure that they are in bed early and are well rested.

Once your child starts school it will be important to create consistency around the start of day ‘drop-off’ and end of day ‘pick up’ routines. As a parent you can do this by ensuring your child arrives at school regularly and on time. Children quickly become anxious and unsettled if they arrive late and of course the teacher will already be busy teaching and interacting with the rest of the class group. The very same applies to the end of the day routine. Parents who arrive punctually each day and at the designated collection time, create a consistent routine that can help their child settle quickly.

  • Self Reliance

Is your child able to accomplish small tasks independently?

Encourage your child to help with everyday tasks such as opening yoghurt tubes, zipping up their clothing, and putting on their own socks, for instance. When dressing your child for school each day, it will help them if they are wearing jackets, clothes and shoes they can manage themselves. Teachers are always happy to help of course but will expect your child to at least have a go at managing some of these things independently.

  • Toileting

Does your child know how to ask for the toilet?

The vast majority of Early Years school settings require children to be fully toilet trained on entry and able to manage their personal hygiene. There will undoubtedly be the occasional accident in this area and the staff team will be ready to support your child when needed.

  •  Develop social skills

Does your child socialise frequently with other children of their own age?

As parents, you can help your child by organising and setting up play dates with other children of a similar age. The play dates might take place at home, in the park or at the pool or beach. Encourage your child to share and take turns –talking regularly about the importance of these key skills with your child.

  • Develop listening skills

Is your child able to listen to a short story?

If your child is not yet used to a group setting (or has been out of school for the long summer vacation break) then it’s a great idea to practice listening in fun, playful ways such as: listening to different sounds in the environment such as birds, animals, cars, plans etc. “what can you hear?” and listening to short stories with memorable and repetitive phrases your child can join in with. As a family take turns to share and listen to each other in discussions and at the dinner table.

  • Manage emotions

Does your child show awareness of their own feelings?

A good, regular sleeping routine will help your child to be fresh and ready for learning in school.  In the weeks before starting school, encourage your child to use common words to identify how they feel about things i.e. happy, sad, excited, worried, pleased, proud etc and what caused them to feel that way. Children are entitled to feel all kinds of different emotions and you can help them to manage some of the more tricky ones and use them more appropriately.


Lastly, do have faith in the Early Years setting that you have chosen for your child. Remember that the school practitioners will have lots of experience in working with young children and helping them to settle and so do trust them to take good care of your child. Have a happy start to the new school year!