Starting School: A brand new series for June
A 5 part email series
I know how it feels - your little one is about to start school for the first time and it seems like a momentous step, doesn’t it? Suddenly, you’re grappling with a whirlwind of emotions and questions. Will my child cope? Are they ready? Did we practise enough phonics, counting, or writing? I understand your worries and I’m here to reassure you - starting school is about so much more than just academic skills.
I have three children aged between 5 and 14. All have had unique experiences of starting school. All three have been ‘ready’ for school in different ways. I will share stories of our own experience throughout this set of emails.
That’s why, when reading through this series of emails, I want you to think about how you can apply the knowledge I’m sharing with you to your own child. I don’t believe that there is a ‘one-size fits all’ method that works for starting school. For example, some children are academically ready, whereas others are more physically capable. It’s important not to compare your child to their peers - although this is sometimes easier said than done.
I want to be clear right from the start of this series that your child doesn’t have to be perfect in these areas to begin school. After all, the first few years of school should be about learning what it is to be a human - and no human is perfect.
If, when reading through these emails, you realise you haven’t focussed on a particular area, then it’s not too late to start now. There are action steps and journal prompts throughout this series to help you pinpoint areas of focus. And remember, if your child is struggling, communicate with your child’s current educators or paediatrician.
School start dates are different depending on where you live in the world. In Britain (where I am from and where I taught for many years), children start school at four whereas other countries start formal schooling at five. Therefore, this series focuses on skills that are helpful for children to have by the time they turn 5.
‘Starting School’ is very much a holistic guide to being ready for school. This is about:
social & emotional readiness,
basic academic skills - what is handy to know and how to incorporate playfully
and your preparation as the parent or carer in your child’s life - including what you can do so that your child has the best start possible
Contrary to popular belief, drilling your child on the abcs and 123s isn’t really what getting ready for school is about. Or at least, the academic side of things is just a tiny part of the picture!
In fact, being ready for school can be quite tricky to quantify and depending on who you ask and what you read online, you might end up with contradictory answers
I’ve seen many long, long lists online along with bootcamp style online courses, but to be perfectly honest with you, those lists are enough to have parents (including me) have nightmares.
Those lists are also likely to put your child off school and learning for life, as they involve a mountain of worksheets and constant drilling of information.
The reality is children, just like us adults, all have different strengths and different areas that can be improved upon. They are little individuals, so uniform lists are unhelpful.
For example, child A might be excellent at getting dressed independently and has been out of nappies for a while, but they have shown no interest in the academic side of things.
Child B, might count and recognise numbers really well but doesn’t know how to put their own clothes on yet.
Does this mean that either child shouldn’t go to school? Of course not! Because everyone (including us) learn at different paces.
We also forget that children are brilliant at learning from one another, as well as from adults. Quite often seeing another child perform a task that they are struggling with can be a great motivator. There’s no reason why child A can’t learn from child B and vice versa!
Here’s what I believe:
When we treat the early years as merely a ‘preparation stage’ for school, the real importance of the early years is neglected. The early years should first and foremost be about social and emotional skills, building independence and exploring the world through play. It should not be about worksheets and drilling a child until they can recite the alphabet and count to 100.
This guide does not include worksheets and there is a simple reason why: children learn best through hands-on opportunities and real life experiences.
Here’s what we categorically do not want to do: put your child off learning for life. Trying to encourage a four-year-old to write by forcing their hand would be a miserable experience - particularly since bones in the hand do not fully develop until 7.
Much of this toolkit is dedicated to the practical elements of getting ready for school: independence, social and emotional skills, creating a daily rhythm that promotes independent play. This is exactly the process I have taken my three children on as they took the leap into ‘big school.’
A note on age....
In the UK, children typically start school the September after they turn 4. This is called ‘Reception Class’ and it is still part of the early years curriculum. Whilst the majority should be play-based still, there are also academic expectations such as phonics, HFW (high frequency words) and learning to read.
There are plenty of arguments over whether this is too early. Other countries start formal schooling in August/September after your child turns 5 (northern hemisphere) and the January/February after your child turns 5 in Southern hemisphere countries like Australia.
This series does not focus on selecting a school, home-schooling or deferring placements, but I will address these issues in future emails so if your child isn’t starting school this coming academic year, whitelist my address in your inbox so that you don’t miss out.
A whole-child Approach
This is a holistic guide with activities and recommendations that build upon one another. In this series, the recommendations and activities featured are generally suitable from the age of 3 onwards.
This comes with an important BUT. Age recommendations are helpful BUT children develop at different rates. You as the parent or carer - also known as ‘the first teacher’ know your child best. So use your knowledge as the main guide.
What’s the official line on school readiness?
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