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School readiness - a whole child approach

As September looms, it can be a difficult time for those parents whose children will be starting ‘Big School’ aka Reception Class in a few short months. 

Parents and carers are often filled with mixed emotions – some know that their child is probably ready for the next step; some are equally sad that their little one is taking this big step and some are confused about the words ‘school readiness’ which we see and hear everywhere.  Parents often need support to understand that school readiness is about a lot more than just their child’s reading and writing skills and childcare professionals can help during this daunting time. 

So what does ‘school readiness’ really mean for parents and those Early Years Professionals supporting both the children and the parents during this journey? 

Parents and carers will have heard that children are ‘tested’ when they start school and often focus more upon the more academic development of their child prior to starting school.

However, in his report State of the Nation Social Mobility and Child Poverty in Great Britain - London: Social Mobility & Child Poverty Child Commission (2014) ,  Frank Field highlighted the essential skills that some children lack by the time they join the reception year:

  • To sit still and listen;
  • To be aware of other children;
  • To understand the word no and the borders it sets for behaviour;
  • To understand the word stop and that such a phrase might be used to prevent danger;
  • To be potty trained and able to go to the toilet;
  • To recognise their own name;
  • To speak to an adult to ask for needs;
  • To be able to take off their coat and put on shoes;
  • To talk in sentences;
  • To open and enjoy a book.

What this really means is that, as far as possible, children should develop good social and emotional skills appropriate to their age.  Having these skills will help the children entering Reception be ‘ready to learn’ and to be comfortable in their surroundings.

All children attending any kind of Early Years setting will be supported in their development of these skills.  It is important that the parents and carers are clear that these skills are as vital as reading and writing skills for their child prior to starting school and that they can make a huge impact on how their children develop these skills.

Many libraries will have books and resources around starting school to support parents and carers.  Essex Library Services have a ‘Starting School Bag’ - each book bag contains four specially chosen story and information books exploring what it's like to go to 'big' school.

The bag also has a survival guide for parents to help make a child's transition from pre-school to primary school stress-free and fun.  Not all libraries will have specific bags but many will have ‘starting school’ booklists and other resources to support families which  you could use  with the children in your setting or signpost the parents/carers to the library.

Having good language skills when entering Reception Class is very important, as is having confidence to interact with adults and children in the new setting.  Children need to be able to communicate their thoughts and feelings to those around them.

"A good quality home learning environment contributes more to children’s intellectual and social development than parental occupation, education or income. Providing an enriched home learning environment enables children to build up important relationships with their parents, builds confidence and gives them the necessary building blocks for doing well in life. This is especially important when preparing children to start school ready to learn."(Department of Education, Sylva, K, The Effective Provision of pre-school (EPPE) project: findings from pre-school to end of KS1, 2004)

Your role as a childcare provider is vital in establishing strong relationships with parents and carers and to work in partnership with them to develop a strong home literacy environment equipping children with appropriate skills to start their school journey.

Encouraging families to read every day – even for 10 minutes – can also be vital in preparing children for school.  Oxford University Press’s “Books Beyond Bedtime” report (2013) states:

“Just 10 minutes of reading with your child each day is one of the best ways you can support your child’s education.”

Reading aloud together  can help a child grow into a confident learner and help them develop their language skills.  Bedtime is the perfect time to catch 10 minutes of reading and whilst adults may groan at reading the same book ‘again and again’, doing so helps preschool children learn words which may be new to their vocabulary and consolidates their understanding of the words. 

The Booktrust website has some great information on sharing books at bedtime.

But, remember, sharing books can take place anywhere! 

Starting school can provide challenges for everyone – children; parents/carers and EY professionals.  Partnership working with  families to support  them in learning more about the range of  skills their children need to make the transition to school easier , can help this process.  Most importantly, it can help children become confident in their own skills and help them enjoy those first days in Big School!

About the author

Book Trust is the largest reading charity in the UK. We work to inspire a love of reading in children because we know that reading can transform lives. We give out over 2 million carefully chosen books to children throughout the UK; every parent receives a Book Trust book in the baby’s first six months. Our books, guidance and resources are delivered via health, library, schools and early years practitioners, and are supported with advice and resources to encourage the reading habit. Reading for pleasure has a dramatic impact on educational outcomes and well-being and social mobility, and is also a huge pleasure in itself. We are committed to starting children on their reading journey and supporting them throughout.

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