Supporting School Readiness
Starting school is one of the most significant milestones in a child’s life. A mixture of emotions ranging from joy and excitement to anxiety, fear and sadness will be felt not only by the children but by their parents and families too.
This year, these feelings and emotions will be amplified by the uncertainty of what school life will look like after the coronavirus lockdown and how children will adapt to school life after spending weeks in their safety bubble at home.
As childcare providers, we have an important role to play in supporting children and families with this significant change and can help in a variety of ways…
1. Talk about it
Chat regularly with children about the idea of starting school. Encourage them to express their feelings and ideas. What are they looking forward to the most? Is there anything that is worrying them? Talk about what is exciting about school and offer reassurance for any anxieties. Read stories or television programmes about starting school, chat about positive memories you have of school or ask any older children to share their experiences. ‘What is your favourite thing about school?’
Ensure you take the time to talk with parents too. Ask about how they are feeling and reassure them of ways you can work together to best support and prepare their child for school.
2. Visit the school
Taking away the fear of the unknown will do wonders to help reduce feelings of anxiety. All schools have their own induction programs and the majority will offer organised visits for children and parents to let them get to know the school and meet teachers before the start of term. If parents are struggling with work commitments to attend all visits, consider whether it is possible for you to take the child along. Perhaps you know other childminders with children who are about to start school that you arrange a joint visit with. With the approval of parents, contact the school to see if you can arrange a short tour or some time to play and explore the playground.
If you care for older children, it is likely that you will already visit the school several times a week for drop offs and collections. Use these opportunities to talk to pre-school children about the school and point out interesting or fun things. Lots of schools will also hold sports days or summer fairs near the end of term so why not take everyone along for a look and to join in with the fun.
Whilst the normal induction procedures may not be possible at this time, most schools are trying their best to offer some sort of transition support. Ask parents whether their school has been in touch regarding current transition procedures and consider if you can support with this in any way.
3. Promote Independence and Self-Care Skills
All schools will have to follow new protective measures to limit the transmission of coronavirus. Whilst physical distancing will not be expected when working with young children, and teachers will continue to support little ones with intimate care needs where required, the more children can do for themselves the better!
Being able to do certain things for themselves will not only boost children’s self-confidence in preparation for starting ‘big school’ but will also be an enormous help for teachers too. Dressing an entire class of children before and after a gym lesson must be a workout in itself!
Allow children time and encourage them to try things for themselves, such as putting on and taking off their shoes and coat. Play games that involve dressing up that will help children with their dressing and undressing skills. Provide items with various types of fastenings and show them how to use them or if possible, allow children to play schools and dress up with some old school uniforms. Check to see if your local charity shops have any items you can use or ask parents of older children if they have anything they might be able to donate to your setting.
Many children will stay at school for lunch so it is also important that they are able to feed themselves with little or no help. Can they use cutlery, open lunch boxes, packets or cartons? Provide lots of opportunities for them to try!
Most significantly, before starting school it is desirable that children are able to go to the toilet independently, wipe their nose and know how to wash and dry their hands properly.
If a child still needs a lot of support with toileting, talk with parents on how you can work together on this before the start of term. Suggest new techniques to offer encouragement such as sticker or reward charts. Ensure children are praised for their efforts and try not to make a fuss when accidents happen.
At the same time remind parents not to worry if their child is really struggling. Children will sense if parents are frustrated which may delay progress further. It is normal for children still to have accidents at this age, particularly as they are settling in to new surroundings and a new routine. Teachers will be very used to this and will handle the situation sensitively.
4. Work on Social Skills and Separation
Being cared for regularly by a childminder or within another care setting will mean that children are already very used to being away from their parents – a great advantage when preparing for school. However, we must also consider how children will feel when their usual routine changes and they are separated from you (their main childcare provider) and other children that they are used to spending time with. Children may feel very sad about leaving your setting so think of ways that you can help them with this. Help them to make a scrapbook with lots of photos and memories of times you have shared together to take home with them on their last day and, if possible, ask the parents to allow them to visit every now and again. If you are to maintain an after school or holiday care arrangement then perfect, but make sure that the child understands what is happening to avoid unnecessary worry or confusion. Remind them that they will still get to see you and any familiar faces regularly.
In addition to preparing for the change in their routine, it is important to also support children with social skills and interacting in larger groups. Regularly attending play groups, visiting busy parks or play centres will provide opportunities to meet and socialise with others. Keep a look out for activities that are happening in your local area or arrange to meet up as a larger group with other childcare providers. Involve children in games and projects that will require them to work with others, developing listening and negotiation skills and encouraging sharing and taking turns. Sitting together at meal and snack times will also promote socialising and interaction.
Due to the pandemic, it will not have been taking children along to play groups or other larger group activities. Whilst this is normally encouraged to help children build on social skills and confidence, if children have been attending your setting during the lockdown, then they will still have had the opportunity to interact with others and be used to being away from their parents. Perhaps you are due to welcome more families back as the lockdown eases further which will encourage further interaction or even the opportunity to meet new faces… something that there will be lots of when children start school.
Further ways to support children might include talking about meeting new people and new friends, emotions they might feel and the types of questions they might want to ask their new classmates.
With new protective measures in place, it will also be important that children understand what social distancing is and why it is important right now.
5. Support Reading, Writing and Listening Skills
Whilst children are not expected to be able to recite the alphabet or write words before they start school, we can help to support them with some basic skills. Regularly reading stories with children will help them with their listening and attention skills whilst also encouraging an interest in books. Support their vocabulary skills further through songs and rhymes and if they show an interest in writing and the formation of letters, begin to introduce phonics playing games and activities that will support children in recognising individual letters and their sounds. Go on a letter hunt to see if you can find all of the letters from the alphabet, play eye spy games or use flash cards. Make letter recognition personal to the child by beginning with learning the letters from their own name. Being able to recognise and perhaps even write their own name before starting school will boost their confidence and also give a sense of belonging when they see their coat peg or work tray labelled in the classroom.
Developing fine motor and mark making skills will also be beneficial to children who are about to start school. Allow children to experiment using a variety of materials and mark making tools. Assist them with holding pens and pencils correctly and develop control with dot to dot or follow the line activities. Help them to trace over their name or various lines and shapes or, if they are ready, try writing or copying letters or shapes. Make mark making fun by using sand, water, chalk, foam, etc and try other techniques to support fine manipulative skills such as threading beads or shaping dough.
6. Build on Number Recognition and Counting
Being able to recognise numbers up to 10 and count up to 20 is a great start for children who are about to start school. There are lots of fun ways we can support learning through games, activities and every day routines. Sing number songs and rhymes, look at number books, play games that involve numbers and counting, draw or trace over numbers, challenge children to find different numbers of certain items, count out snack items, cutlery pieces, count steps as you climb them out loud, count red cars, buses, bikes, blocks or anything as you go about your day. Why not go on a number hunt walk in your local area to see what numbers you can find.
It is also useful for children to have a basic understanding of time and routines. Look at clocks and talk about the order of a day, e.g. waking up, getting dressed, lunch time, tea time, etc. You could also chat about days of the week as well as months and seasons of the year.
Playing shops, making shopping lists or looking at the costs of items will also allow children to explore further with counting whilst also introducing and recognising money.
Always keep learning fun and in keeping with children’s interests.
7. Look at Colours, Shapes, Sizes and Quantities
Children are drawn to colourful things and many will communicate that they have a favourite colour by the time they start school. By the age of five most children will recognise primary and secondary colours i.e. the colours of the rainbow along with black, white and grey. Include talking about colours in daily conversation and test colour recognition through colour by number activities, play colour eye spy or ask children to collect or match different coloured objects.
Being able to recognise and name some basic two-dimensional shapes will also be beneficial to children as they start school. Look at books, make use of resources or play games that focus learning about shapes. Point out shapes during everyday routines or go on a shape hunt to see how many circles, squares, rectangles or triangles you can find.
As well as shapes, you can also look at patterns and begin to talk about similarities and differences. Children should be developing a better understanding of size and quantity and concepts of bigger, smaller, taller, shorter, longer, more than, less than, etc. Using a collection of items, challenge children to put them in order from smallest to largest, etc. or ask children to bring you the biggest box or the shortest pencil, etc.
8. Share Information
Communicating effectively and sharing important information with the school and teachers will also help to ensure a smooth transition. If you have been caring for a child for some time then you will have a good understanding of a child’s abilities, likes and dislikes and whether they have any health or special requirements. Passing this information on will help to ensure that the child’s needs are met and will also give teachers a starting point with regards to their development. In addition, if teachers are made aware that a child is a little shy, struggle with certain things or perhaps enjoy certain types of activities then this will equip them in doing what they can to help make the child feel welcome and at ease.
Most schools will usually ask parents to complete forms that will ask for much of this information but you should chat with parents to see if they would like you to provide anything extra. Our Communication Passport & Transition Summary and our Learning & Development (Profile) Summary are useful documents to complete and share in preparation for a child moving onto school or a new setting.
If you are to be continuing to provide care for a child before or after school then it is important that the school is to be made aware of this, particularly if you are to be dropping off or collecting the child from school. Ensure you are clear with parents as to whether they have provided your contact details to the school and have been made aware of regular dropping off and collection arrangements. You may also wish to remind parents that in accordance with your illness policy , you would not be able to provide care for their child if they should ever become unwell at school and require to be collected early. For this reason, it is often best for family members and friends to be used as emergency contacts.
In a continued care arrangement you should also discuss with parents any ongoing communication or involvement they would like you to have with the school. This may be particularly important when a child has any special educational needs or health requirements to ensure everyone works together in the best interests of the child.
Remember to respect the confidentiality of the child and family at all times, no matter the reason for sharing information. Always request permission to share information unless there is a legal requirement or if there are concerns for the welfare and safety of a child.