What Children Really Need When Starting School

It’s almost time to start school again in Australia.  If you have a child just about to start school it can be an anxious time for children and parents. I remember Mr. J starting school so vividly and he will be going into his last year of primary school this year.  As a teacher, who has settled lots of parents on their child’s first day of school I felt like I should be all calm and in control.  Obviously, I wasn’t and the feeling of letting go – does fill you with that juxtaposition feeling of elated that your child has reached this milestone but oh, so sad that they are leaving you to join the big wide world.  Two children later and we will be going into years 2, 3 and 6 this year.

Starting school and indeed starting each year can bring with it anxieties.  Hopefully, children have had a summer of being care free, full of fun activities and family time to recharge their batteries for either the start of another year or their school life to begin.If your child will be starting school this February, you might have read the numerous articles on the web of lists your child should attain in school readiness in order for them to have a successful beginning – Don’t take the academics too seriously at 5.  If your child is happy within themselves, the academics will follow.

School should not be seen as a conveyor belt to success. If your child can write their name, knows their sounds and letters and can count, obviously, academically that is great. However, starting school is about more than the ticks your child can achieve on a progress report.  In order for your child to flourish at school, the main thing your child needs is to be socially and emotionally ready.   Being socially and emotionally ready will help all the academics to fall into place.

School systems around the world have got a lot of bad press recently.  For the most part, the teachers on the front line care a great deal about their work and the children they teach.  The teacher is there to help and good communication with them throughout the school year is vital.

School readiness, really is more than academics.  Here is a list to help you gauge your child’s social and emotional readiness and tips to help you gain a positive first day, week, term and year.  If the answer to any of these questions is no, it is not the end of the world. We are all not the finished article and we all grow and change at different rates.

As the parent/ carer you know your child best and it is you in control each and every day and you that can instil in your child a growth mindset of – I can’t do …… yet – I will be able to do it soon!  This idea that we can change our thinking was discovered by Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, a leading researcher and pioneer of growth mindset.  For more on growth mindset and kids click on the link here.

More links for growth mindset




The first term of school is about settling you into the school community as a family.  So anything your child struggles with can be practised as your child enters school and discussed along the way.

  Here are 10 questions to ask about your child’s readiness for school.


Beginning of year positive thoughts paperchain

Does your child separate well?

If not, talk with your child about all the wonderful things they are going to do at school. If you have been on a transition program at your chosen school or are privileged enough to be at the school preschool, pick out some of the positives that you and your child can talk about.  When Mr. J started school we made a paper chain that consisted of about 10 links each with something good that we thought would happen that year. We now do this each year as a positive message we are sending at the beginning of the year.  For example, meeting new friends, playing new sports, finding out new things and doing activities different to home.

Can your child follow 2/3 instructions?

If not, start by assessing how many instructions your child can handle.  Start with 1 instruction for example, Please get me the butter out of the fridge?  And work up from there. Following instructions is many skills in itself.  First the child has to listen to all the words said, so try to say as few words as possible .  Second, the child has to think about the words said (process them).  If you have said over 6-8 words to a child younger than 6 there is a chance that your child only heard the first couple of words and then end couple of words and all the middle words sounded like (blah).  Thirdly, your child has to respond (go do the instruction)

If your child can’t follow 1 instruction practising frequently at home with little tasks you ask you child to do will aid skill development. Building up to 2 and 3 instructions as progress is made can take time, it is good not to rush.  Communicate any of your worries to the teacher as they are there to help and want the best for your child too.  If the teacher knows your child cannot follow instructions well they will limit instructions given to your child and help your child to understand and follow instructions.  

Does your child show an interest in other children and did they have friends in their preschool or day care setting?

Hopefully, your child did have friends at preschool or day care and you had a mother’s group that you could depend on for help and support.  If your child struggles to make friends, hopefully you discussed this in preschool, if not, please make it your first discussion with the class teacher as they will want your child to settle as quickly as possible.  The teacher will help form bonds between children and she/he will initiate discussion topics and might lead conversations to help more timid children.

At home you can model good questions to ask to start a conversation. For example,
I like your back pack?
What do you have for lunch today?
What did you do at the weekend?
My favourite book/toy/ place to go is… Where do you like to go?

If your child is quiet, explain to your child that not everyone has to be loud all the time and great things can come from quiet people.    Of our 3 children, Mr O is the quietest, however, he has the loudest brain and is always sharing great incite into how his brain works with the best questions and comments.    His latest is … you should never call your child Bye – as if you said hello –  Bye they might always get upset as they might think you were already leaving!  

Do they recognise when they are sad or in need and may have to ask for help?

A child starts life only recognising 3 emotions, happy, sad and mad.  A child might not even realise the difference between these 3 emotions and it is up to their caregivers to help.  Emotions are tricky and as adults we get them all mixed up at times too.  Discussing feelings and what each feeling might feel like and drawing pictures to represent them can help.  My previous post about finger painting could help too.  If my kids, are ever very upset drawing about it or painting it can be very effective as kids can sometimes struggle to find the right words.

Emotions are a work in progress.  There are lots of resources on the web, sometimes the web can be all time consuming and exhausting.  See my emotions pinterest page for helpful resources we have used in the past.  

Can they recognise when they may need to ask for help from a grown up?

Even if your child is going to school in the same building as preschool it can still be a daunting experience.  Chat with your child about circumstances when your child might need help.  If they feel lonely, upset, have had an accident or made a mistake, these are all circumstances that you’re child’s teacher will want to help.

My children have an awesome art teacher who introduced us to the saying “happy accidents.”  Explain to your child that everyone makes mistakes and mistakes are proof we are learning and trying.  This will ease the burden that most children feel for perfection.  We all need to ask for help at times and we all need a hug and words of encouragement.
If your child struggles to unfasten buttons, bags, zips etc – practising at home will help their skill development. 

Can they concentrate on a task for 5-10 minutes?

To begin with school will be very much like preschool as children and teachers settle into their new classes.  All schools have different transition timelines.  Some will have all the kids at once, others half days or a day off mid week.

All schools will do a baseline assessment of some kind on all children as they enter school.  This is to access not only their academic abilities but how they fit into their class and readiness for school.   If your child can concentrate and sit peacefully doing a jigsaw, reading a book or colouring then that is great. One out of three of my children could do this before they started school.  The other two would concentrate if they loved the activity – if not no chance!    If your child finds it difficult to concentrate rest assured you will not be alone. Try extending the time your child can concentrate at home on activities your child likes first. Setting out little invitations to play like some pom poms to sort into colours or beads to thread onto pipe cleaners with numbers or picture cards that you and your child could play games with like matching pairs or snap can all help concentration.

How do they deal with their own frustrations?

Everybody gets frustrated.  It is not the getting frustrated that is the problem.  It is how we deal with it.  As a parent I am getting better at being the calm in the storm and not taking my children’s storm as a personal insult on my abilities.   If like me you have little whirlwinds of energy, it can be hard to calm a child down if they are very frustrated.  After all, when was the last time you calmed down because somebody asked you to? 

To calm down we use the same strategies all the time as it helps the kids to know that maybe they are getting over excited or even frustrated.   Click on the link here to find a printable list of strategies – 5-ways-to-calm-down-anywhere.

Can they go to the toilet by themselves and will they ask?

Going to the toilet can be hard especially for young children. Sometimes, the game can be flowing and before they know it 
they are either hurtling towards the toilet or an accident has happened.  There are plenty of accidents that happen the first year of school and as children settle into their new routine.   Generally speaking, the start of school can be the first time children have had to ask to go to the toilet.  In most preschools as they are small and sometimes a one room affair, children can come and go at their own free will. Teaching children to go to the toilet and clean themselves is an essential life skill, as is as washing their hands with soap afterwards.

If your child does have difficulty in this area, talk with your child’s teacher and make a plan.  The teacher will want as few accidents as possible as it will aid a smooth transition through the first term.

Do they have ideas that they will talk about?

Sometimes, we all have lots of ideas that we can’t verbalise other times we have no ideas to talk about at all.  Before school, chat with your children about what areas of interest they like best and help your children form small sentences. Role playing can help. Click on the link for a free first-day-of-school-printable that you can do together before school starts.  

The printable will help your child think about themselves and what they like. It can also act a memory keeper for parents.  We do this every year as a memory box item.

Can they introduce themselves to the new little friends that they will meet?

If your children are going to school with some known kids in the short run this can help them to settle.  If on the other hand, your child is going to a school where they will know no one practising how to introduce yourself and ask the other person’s name,  is a skill worth knowing.   Either way, lots of children worry about making friends and we need to give them skills to independently get to know each other.  

On the day if you or your child is feeling particularly anxious reminding them and yourselves of all the positives to starting school and looking at your school paper chain will help settle your nerves, over breakfast together.

Get to school early so you can settle your child in and help them find their classroom, a friend to play with and space for their bag and belongings.

I hope your little one settles well into school life and they have plenty to tell you on their first day.  ( I am sure they will)  It is a lovely journey embrace it..


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