9 easy ways to help get your child ready for 'big school'


The transition from nursery to ‘big school’ or Reception can seem huge – both to you as a parent and to your child!

But with the right preparation, your pre-schooler will be just as able to meet the challenge as the little mouse who took on the Gruffalo. 

Read on to find out how you can help him or her do this and how to say goodbye on that first day so it’s a happier first day both for your little one and you!

gruffalo and little mouse.jpg

Toon a Ville: Flickr

It’s always a big step for a child to have to move from the comfort of their pre-school days to Reception. Especially when they realise that they have to go all day, and not just for a few hours at a time...

And it’s a huge one for you. It’s your baby and now they’ve reached the end of their toddler days so it’s a kind of letting go. But remember, you’ve not lost him or her (much as it’ll feel like that on that emotional milestone first day!)

You’ve just set him or her off into their future and they’ll go on needing you just as much as today. So try to sound excited about the start of ‘big school’ when you talk about it with your child and keep smiling (and there are more tips for this below!).

Recognise that the first day at school for your child is an emotional milestone for you too. It’s a kind of ‘letting go’ and the chances are you might feel teary too.

Four telling signs

So how do you know your child is ready? Ideally, he or she will:

  • have developed basic social skills

  • be able to cope emotionally being separated from you

  • be relatively independent in his or her personal care

  • have a curiosity about the world and a desire to learn

School readiness has nothing to do with being able to read or write, know colours or count. All these skills will be taught in Reception.

It’s about your child having the kind of emotional and social maturity that will allow him or her to take on and enjoy the new challenge of Reception – and not ‘just cope’.

child painting in nursery at sompting abbotts

How to prepare your child for Reception

So how can you, as a parent, help your child get ready for ‘big school’? Here are our suggestions:

  1. Read books together about starting school. We love: I Am Too Absolutely Small For School (Charlie and Lola) by Lauren Child and Starting School by Allan Ahlberg

  2. Let your child practise putting on their school clothes, taking them off and folding them neatly in preparation for PE lessons. Teach your child tricks such as putting labels at the back, holding cuffs to stop sleeves riding up, and wrinkling tights to put toes in first. Ideally, your child will be able to dress him or herself and blow their own nose.

  3. Try to be really consistent about the bedtime routine so your child is less tired. This is especially important if your child still tends to have a nap.

  4. Make use of your local library’s story time sessions. Group time and group reading is part of the school day. It will help with concentration if your child has already had practice sitting calmly and attentively in a story time situation.

  5. Teach your child how to share attention. Don’t let your child demand your attention immediately if you’re doing something else. They’re soon going to be in a class with other children and having to wait their turn. Playing board games too is a good way of reinforcing the concept of taking turns.

  6. Encourage your child to become confident about getting to the toilet in time and wiping properly. Talk about the importance of good hand washing with soap and water.

  7. Let your child know they need to be responsible for their own belongings at home – to put away their pyjamas and their toys in the box. Your child will be expected to tidy up at school so it’s a good idea to reinforce this expectation at home.

  8. Get your child used to coping without their favourite security toy or blanket during the day. (And if that's too hard, talk to the teacher about having it left for 'just-in-case' in a bag on their peg. Most children won’t want to use it when they see the other children don’t but they'll feel better knowing it's there).

  9. Finally, just relax. If you’re positive and excited about the transition to Reception, your child most likely will be too!

children in sompting abbotts nursery

PS A last word of (important) advice for you on that big first day ...

Recognise that the first day at school for your child is a hugely emotional milestone for you too. It's definitely a 'letting go' and the chances are you’ll feel teary too. So when you both arrive, try and take a lead and not show any hesitation or negativity.

if your child clings or refuses to get involved in the class, try not to get upset (or at least not show it!). This will unsettle your child more.

You might feel tempted 'just to disappear out the door' when he or she's not looking but please don't do that. Make it clear, instead, it's time for you to go, because leaving without saying goodbye can make your child feel abandoned. 

The teachers will be totally ready for the emotions your departure will prompt. So follow their lead. Make your usual loving goodbye to your child. Don't overdo it with a long farewell. That will make him or her feel they're going to a 'bad place'. Just keep sounding bright and positive and once you do leave, steel yourself and leave purposefully.

Step outside and now wipe your tears (they’re normal). Then, get on with your day!

nursery children sompting abbotts

Post author

Joanna Carrington, Head of Pre-Prep at Sompting Abbotts (Early Years)

Early Years at Sompting Abbotts

Early Years education is carefully structured to build your child’s confidence, understanding and independence. So when the first big Reception school day arrives, it’s not daunting and happens naturally.

The Early Years teachers in our Nursery use a blend of teacher-led and child-led play. Learning through physical and social play allows your child to become more aware and in control of his or her physical and mental activities. He or she will gradually reduce reliance on adult support and become more intellectually and emotionally independent and prepared for the move to Reception.

Mixing with other children too is a big part of this. It helps your child develop the social skills he or she’s going to need in Reception. At this age, just knowing how to say ‘Can I join in?’ or ‘Can I share?’ is powerful stuff!

Confidence-boosting activities

In the Nursery, we help develop the powers of concentration children are going to need through ‘brain–gym’ carpet activities which we extend as the year goes on. These could be circle games, making number lines or matching cards with sets of objects.

All this is good for developing vocabulary too. We then move onto simple phonic activities by helping children learn to recognise if an object has the sound we are working on.

The children in our Nursery range from age two to four years. We encourage the older children to sit for this kind of activity. But the younger ones are allowed to build up to it. When you’re only two or three, even five minutes of focused activity can seem long!

When you’re only two or three, even five minutes of focused activity can seem long!

Boosting listening skills

Following instructions is going to be important in Reception. So we work on these skills with simple tasks, such as colour-matching objects, and then move onto paper worksheets. Doing this is a big step for a child.

Once they’re mature (and can sit still long enough!), we introduce your child to our twice-weekly class assemblies with the older children in the Pre-Prep. Children, we find, are especially receptive to learning from and copying their older peers.

For that reason, the Nursery children share their weekly singing lesson with the Reception class taken by our Head of Music. We also encourage them to take part in other school events such as our Harvest Festival and Christmas Carol Service.

nativity play children at sompting abbotts

Follow the leader

We also encourage the sense of responsibility they're going to need. Each day, one Nursery child is a designated 'leader' each day for when we walk out to play, to lunch or to our weekly Forest School-style excursion into the woods. Children love being the special 'leader'!

We also ask our children to try and put out activities and tidy up after themselves. The older children soon tend to naturally help the younger ones find things or get their shoes on etc. We also ask them to help to clear the communal table at lunchtimes.

Afternoons in the Nursery at Sompting Abbotts tend to be more relaxed as the children are tired. We go for a nature walk in the woods and grounds or if it's too cold or damp, we encourage indoor child-led free play.

We know that children count on rituals and routines to offer comfort and security throughout the day. So we always mark the end of each Nursery day with a story and familiar songs.