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


The transition from nursery to ‘big school’ or Reception can seem huge – 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.

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.

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

Confidence-boosting activities

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

At Sompting Abbotts Prep School, our Early Years teachers 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.

Can I share please?

It’s important to remember that school readiness has nothing to do with being able to read or write, know colours or count. All these skills will be taught at school. Real school readiness is 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’.

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, knowing how to say ‘Can I join in?’ or ‘Can I share?’ is powerful stuff.

At West Sussex prep school Sompting Abbotts, 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 move onto simple phonic activities by helping children learn to recognise if an object has the sound we are working on.


We encourage the older children in our two-year group 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!

Boosting listening skills

Following instructions is also 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 a 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.

Follow the leader

We also encourage the sense of responsibility they're going to need. 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. 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 might go for a walk or encourage child-led free play. We always finish each session with a story and singing.


Post author

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

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