mother preparing child for school

Getting your child ready for ‘Big School’ in 20 steps

Team MyEd Written by Team MyEd

Got a little one making the transition to ‘big school’ in September? Congratulations! It’s one of those moments that make you wonder how they got so big so fast. Getting your child to this point is a major parenting achievement, so do stop and enjoy the moment. Of course, the work doesn’t end here! So while you indulge in a celebratory cup of tea, take a minute to read our advice on what to expect from now and how to prepare your little one to make the transition to school.


The term before they start

Whether your child is at home, with a childminder, or at a nursery or pre-school, you can help them feel excited, rather than apprehensive, about school by doing a few simple things:

  1. Talk about ‘big school’ as an exciting place to play and learn. Show your own excitement, but take account of how they respond. Offer them the opportunity to express their worries, but don’t be surprised if they don’t do this yet. Try to shield them from any anxieties of your own.

  2. Encourage them to be interested in asking and finding out about things. Research has identified a curiosity about the world and a desire to learn as essential elements of being ‘school-ready’, ahead of being able to read or count.

  3. If your child still has a few babyish habits, try not to alarm them by saying they won’t be able to do those things at big school. Instead, talk positively about how they will behave and how proud of them you and their teacher (and granny, aunts and uncles, etc) will be. And don’t worry too much – Reception teachers have seen it all before!

  4. From as early as you can, read books together about characters going to school for the first time. Talk about how the characters must be feeling: the child, their family, the other children starting school and even the teacher! Point out that they’re not the only one who will be nervous and that everyone will find their way.

  5. If they have an older sibling at the school, involve your younger child in the school run, so they get familiar with the routine of drop-offs and pick-ups, as well as where the school is. If you don’t have older children, point out children going to and coming home from school when you see them.

Over the summer

However well you prepare your child, you may notice their behaviour changing in the run-up to school starting. They may have trouble sleeping, want to sleep with you, or wet the bed. They might be irritable or clingy, behave badly, or return to throwing tantrums. They might seem quieter than usual, or completely overexcited all the time. Or… all of these things! Be patient. It’s just their way of dealing with the churn of emotions they’re feeling, and it will settle down, possibly as soon as the day they start.

Now and again, ask how they’re feeling about things. If you’re lucky, they might admit that they’re feeling nervous, even if they’ve never expressed this before. Acknowledge their worries and reassure them that it’s ok to feel that way. Address any specific concerns, but don’t dwell too much – stay positive.

What you can do to help them:

  1. Ensure they’ve got the basics sorted: going to the loo independently, washing hands properly and, when you have them, identifying the labels on their belongings.

  2. If they walk to their new school, do a few practice walks in the weeks before school starts. This will increase their stamina and help them feel less tired in the first weeks.

  3. Take them with you to buy their uniform and any extras, like lunch boxes.

  4. Help them practice putting on and taking off their uniform, ideally at the time they would be getting dressed in the morning. Allow a LONG time for them to master this and stay patient. Top buttons, zips, shoe buckles, elastic ties and coats can all seem a lot trickier when part of a school uniform, even if your child is usually pretty self-sufficient. When they do master the whole thing, give them a small tangible reward to celebrate their achievement – one they can look back on when they meet their next big challenge.

  5. Most schools will ask you to send your child in with a water bottle. If your child isn’t a great fan of plain water, get them used to drinking it now, so they don’t get dehydrated at school.

  6. If you have an older child (cousin, family friend), get them to talk about the worries they had before starting school and how they were resolved.

  7. If possible, take them to an open day at the school and meet the teacher, Head or other staff. Knowing there will be a few friendly, familiar faces around can make the transition a lot less scary.

  8. If your child has been at home full-time, try to arrange some opportunities for them to interact independently with other adults before they start school. This could be doing a sport or class where you’re not in the same space as them, or simply having a few extended play dates at a friend’s house where you drop them off and collect them later.

On the day

Be prepared for it all to go out the window today! Allow a little extra time, because your confident, well-prepared child may suddenly be scared and anxious, forget all the skills they had the day before (especially how to put their uniform on), lose their appetite, refuse to go to school, or cling to you when they get there. Alternatively, they may be up and dressed at 6am – who knows! Whatever happens today, try to take it in your stride. Chances are, it will all be ok once they’re in the door.

Try not to resort to bribes (this can be hard when it’s all going wrong!). Instead, tell them how proud you are of them and how much you love them. Remind them of how far they’ve come already and how everyone in their class is probably feeling just like they are.

What you can do to help them:

  1. Establish a good bedtime routine from at least a week ahead of time, so they’ve got a few good nights’ sleep in them, even if they don’t sleep the night before.

  2. Make sure they’ve had plenty of water and good healthy food, especially the day before (in case they refuse breakfast) and on the morning of school starting.

  3. Lay out everything the night before, so there’s no need to hunt for socks, shoes, school bag, lunch box (etc.) in the morning.

  4. Try to drop them off and collect them yourself today, even if someone else will usually do it.

  5. No matter how the day went, congratulate them on making it through. Today and in general, try to reward your child with praise, rather than treats, so you don’t set an expectation of something you don’t intend to carry on.

The first week

The main thing you’ll notice this week is how utterly exhausted your child is. Whether they start on ½ days or full days, their brain will be so active that they will need extra sleep. Try to keep after school activities to a minimum, or at least warn coaches, piano teachers (etc) that your child is starting school. Your child might seem talkative or withdrawn. They may want to tell you every detail, or seemingly remember nothing at all of their days. They may talk only about play and not mention (or even realise that they are) learning. It’s all normal.

What you can do to help them:

  1. Keep talking to them. Ask lots of open questions (‘What did you play with today?’, ‘Which sounds did you explore?’, ‘What was the best thing that happened?’) and follow up on their answers, but don’t worry if they can’t remember.

  2. Chat to the teacher regularly if you can, especially if you have any concerns, but give your child plenty of time to settle in. It’s a whole new world for them.

The first half-term
(and onwards)

By the end of the first half-term (usually about six weeks in), your child will probably be settled in, or nearly there. If they’re not, keep speaking to their teacher about what you can do to support them. All children are different, and it may just be taking a little longer. Less commonly, there may be an underlying issue, maybe with a peer, with their vision or hearing, or with an undiagnosed learning difficulty. Trust your instincts and treat the school as your partner in sorting things out.

By the end of their first year, your child’s confidence and skills will have grown hugely, and they will have matured so much that they may seem like a different person. Congratulate them on all the progress they’ve made and make sure you celebrate your part in this, too! Well done, both of you.


For some further reading, check out this excellent PACEY guide.

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Team MyEd
Team MyEd

MyEd Ltd is a technology business working to transform the experience of learning. We create SaaS solutions that help councils, schools, colleges and nurseries to deliver their services to pupils and families more efficiently and effectively.

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