This is a big week for thousands of families with pre-school children across England and Wales, who’ll find out on Thursday 16 April whether they’ve got the primary school place they want. As a headteacher I know that things usually work out OK even if families are disappointed – but also that getting a place can make the prospect of starting school very real for families around now. Everyone who works in early years, including our own team at Flakefleet, will be aware that families have lots of questions about getting ready to start big school. At the moment, though, families don’t have the support from nursery, childminders or school that they would usually expect.
That’s one of the reasons I’m working with BBC Bitesize’s Starting Primary School campaign, a free toolkit of expert advice for families with children starting school. The BBC has heard from parents who feel they need more support for both the emotional and practical elements of the transition, and the BBC Bitesize campaign addresses all of those needs and concerns.
The advice parents can find on the site chimes really closely with what we usually do at our school, from age 2 up. Our motto is ‘Dare to Dream’ and it’s taken us to some pretty crazy places, including the choir’s appearance on Britain’s Got Talent, where we earned David Walliams’ Golden Buzzer and made it to the final with a little bit of razzle dazzle and a lot of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. I won’t pretend there weren’t happy tears (or a child waving from inside a bin!), because you can see it all online, but we had an absolute blast.
Being ready to have a go, and not being afraid of failure, are just some of the skills pre-school children will really benefit from as they move through to big school – and we know that families can worry about a wide range of other things, too. BBC Bitesize Starting Primary School has support for parents with a wide range of concerns, from day-to-day independence skills like toileting and good sleep patterns, to spotting SEND and supporting children’s emotional and mental wellbeing – I always recommend a good dance to lift the mood, and it doesn’t always have to be on a shiny stage! And because children are never too young to benefit from the idea of the growth mindset, there’s an easy guide to what it means for parents of pre-schoolers.
The advice on the site comes either from expert practitioners or peer-to-peer from parents. I’ve made some short films and written about how to support learning at home (everyone loves story time and number-hunting!) and help with the move towards transition when schools, childminders and nurseries aren’t open to the majority of families.
There are also lots of videos and games that are perfect for use with pre-schoolers in Early Years settings, including a game called “My First Day at School”, where the child can create their own character and experience a day at school. Plus a numeracy game, called “Bud’s Number Garden” – both have been designed with the support of Early Years consultants. There are films from children who take the viewer on a school tour and tell other kids all about the school day and what there is to look forward to.
Don’t miss, too, the free resources for nursery and childminding practitioners to use – including the downloadable “All About Me” poster. With guidance for use by EY practitioners or parents and carers, it links to Development Matters and celebrates where a child is right now in their early years journey, as well as developing some of that independence that parents hope to see in their school starters.
We all want our preschoolers to feel confident and happy about the challenges ahead, as well as celebrating how far they’ve come. It is still possible, even in uncertain times, and I hope you’ll join me in letting families know how much support and advice is available free from the BBC Bitesize Starting Primary School campaign.