Do you have a little one who started school this September?
How do you feel the first half of the term went?
Are you or your little one feeling overwhelmed with things at school?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions, then we very much hope to help with this article. We share some information which will be able to answer your questions and also offer you some reassurance too!
We feel it is important to add at this time that what may be happening in your child’s school may be slightly different from what is written here. That doesn’t mean that your school is wrong, but perhaps that they have a different schedule of teaching things.
Introducing Lucy & Katie
Before we get to work with answering your questions, we felt it would be useful to introduce ourselves as the authors of this guide.
Lucy (founder of NEST) is a Norland Nanny and Maternity Practitioner with over 10 years of experience working with families and their children both privately and in the NHS. NEST was founded in 2018 after Lucy felt passionate about creating a service which offered bespoke support and advice to families predominately with children 0-5 years. NEST: nurture, educate, support – together.
Katie (founder of Kindling Education) spent seven years as a class teacher, with most of that time teaching in Reception at a leading independent primary school, Thomas’s Kensington, before creating Kindling Education in 2021. Katie has seen first-hand how emotional wellbeing is the essential ingredient for academic success. Her ultimate goal is to empower parents with the knowledge they need to support their children in the best possible way – now and in the future. Transitions can be daunting but are vital to development; every challenge is an opportunity to grow as a person.
The start of school can be an exciting yet daunting time for everyone. I think it’s safe to say you never really know how a child’s transition will go– even the most confident, “social butterflies” can struggle to settle into life in Reception. As parents, it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed when your child starts school. Whether that’s related to an overload of information or concerns about how your little one will manage their day. That’s why I firmly believe equipping parents with practical advice, at the right time is key. By empowering parents, we are empowering children for a positive school start. One way to do this is to lay out the expectations for your child’s time during the first half of term.
What’s the first half of term all about?
These first few weeks are all about quality of relationships – between teachers, children and parents, acquiring key practical skills and a growing level of independence. A big focus of the start of the year is also understanding their new routine and behaviour expectations. Schools can have a very different ‘feel’ to a previous early years setting. So it’s important that teachers are clear and consistent with boundaries or ‘class rules’ from the offset. This is done through plenty of talking, playful practising, modelling, and using visual reminders of what is expected of them, as well as lots of positive reinforcements.
Reception classrooms are designed to develop independence. For example you should find all resources clearly labelled and often within a child’s reach. As they settle into their new classroom, routine and adapt to the changes, it can be common for their behaviour to change at home as they reach new levels of tiredness or even suffer from After School Restraint Collapse – fairly common for young children managing masses of change. Reminding ourselves of how much change is happening all at once for our little ones to manage is important. Their ‘safe and secure’ world has been interrupted and replaced by a new complex environment. The biggest change being the adult to child ratio. Most Reception classes will have 30 children and two adults. Allowing plenty of downtime, playtime, and time to connect will really support your child during this process.
How teachers provide support
As teachers, one of our most important roles is to facilitate children mixing by providing opportunities for quality interactions. This is because social and emotional wellbeing is such a big part of the curriculum. Teachers will support your children with their social skills so that they feel more confident to build and sustain relationships, whilst ensuring your child is developing a secure attachment to them.
Play is an excellent vehicle which allows children to connect, whatever level of interpersonal skills they have. Typically, Reception aged children will choose to play by themselves or play with the same toys side by side, as opposed to a more traditional sense of playing. You should see children start to share the same activities and play the same games towards the end of the term. If your child seems to be struggling with this, please don’t hesitate to speak with the teacher. Relationships form such a large part of your child’s day and can be a big factor in how they are managing their transition.
What’s also worth mentioning is that during the start of Reception, it’s normal for friendships to change a lot as they get to know everyone. In fact it can take a while to form ‘solid’ relationships.
Mastering key practical skills
There is a huge emphasis on their independent skills, particularly self care and the ability to dress and undress themselves. Mastering these key practical skills first will not only boost their confidence and self-esteem as they learn to navigate the realities of a busy classroom, but it will provide a better platform for independent learning and problem-solving skills. It’s vital that children can organise themselves and take responsibility of their belongings.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of these practical skills. Perhaps you assume they must be fine if you haven’t heard anything or talk of phonics and reading homework creep in and your priorities shift. But those children who struggle with independent skills can become an obstacle with their day-to-day learning. As teachers we hope children are fully competent with certain self-care elements. However, this isn’t to say that your child won’t get the help and support they need if they are able to do this independently yet. Although there is a certain level of independence expected, we appreciate all children developing at their own pace, so all we can ask for at home is continued practise, praise, and communication of how they are getting along.
What to expect from your first parent teacher settling-in meetings
Lots of schools offer a ‘settling in’ meeting during the first half of term. This is a chance for you to hear more about how your child is getting on, and to share a few more personal facts about your child with the teachers. Teachers will still be getting to know your child well so please don’t worry if they haven’t picked up certain aspects of their character or personality traits. Sometimes it’s as simple as your child might still be a little shy in a group activity or class discussions. This is the time to discuss anything that’s on your mind or is causing concern for your child – from separation anxiety to lunch times worries, or even how they are during playtime.
This is a two-way conversation, but time is limited so having discussion points ready will help you know what you can do at home to support them. Good starting points are often their independence, making friends, and listening and attention. Please note that if there was a concern, most teachers will have tried to contact you already regarding the issue. So expect these upcoming meetings to focus mainly on your child’s transition.
Some schools will host these meetings during the Lent term which means it can be hard to know how your child is getting on in the meantime. While it’s reassuring to know that teachers will get in touch with you if there is an issue, every parent has a right to feel informed about their child’s setting in the process. So, if you feel as though you aren’t receiving enough information about your child, it’s worth getting in touch with the teacher and asking for a meeting. Especially if you’ve noticed a change in behaviour or attitude towards attending school.
Supporting your child with early stages of reading:
It’s likely your child has been sent home some reading material recently. This can take many forms – ranging from phonics games, wordless books, initial sound books to books with short sentences. Even though it might feel incredibly painful ‘reading’ a wordless book time after time, they form the stepping stones needed to build confident readers. Knowing how to support your child with the early stages of reading can be difficult, particularly since the world of phonics can seem overwhelming as most parents were taught a different way to read. I like to refer to it as ‘cracking a code’ as children learn to apply their reading skills to decipher a code made up of abstract symbols.
Learning to read can be great fun, but equally for others it can be a long, difficult, and frustrating process. I urge parents to remain positive, calm, and relaxed when reading with your child, as difficult as this can be at times. It is helpful if reading at home remains a fun and enjoyable experience for you both. A supportive adult who is understanding can positively impact their child’s motivation to read, whatever their reading level or progress rate is. The best thing you can do is read and share books alongside this process and have fun with sounds and letters. Exploring initial sounds and using anything personalised will help!
Learning to read isn’t just about decoding skills. A huge part of it is comprehension, prediction, and inference skills. Teaching children how to retell stories, make up rhymes or use expressions is just as important. Understanding key terms can really help, and there is a lot of support out there for parents. Although it’s not always easy to know if it’s a credible source or not, so please do your research. If you are lacking confidence with your phonics knowledge, then don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s teacher – especially if English isn’t your mother tongue. Most teachers would be delighted to give some pointers as they are aware how difficult this process can be for everyone. All children learn to read when they are ready. I promise you that one magical day it will suddenly just “click” – but most importantly I like to remind parents that you can only learn to read once!
What is the Reception Baseline Assessment?
As we come to the end of the first six weeks, it’s worth mentioning if your child attends a state school then they will have participated in the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA). This new way of measuring children’s progress has caused a bit of a stir with practitioners and parents as it involves a formal 1:1 assessment. This covers communication and language, early literacy, and early maths. It’s been carefully designed so that children don’t have too many activities they are likely to be unsuccessful at and should last no longer than 20 minutes.
Although this assessment sounds a little daunting, please know teachers are really good at disguising activities like this to make it fun and engaging. So much so that children end up desperate to have their turn with the teacher! The other thing to note is that your child can’t pass or fail, and all data is confidential. Your teacher won’t share the results with anyone. This really is just one of the ways teachers will understand an individual’s starting point. They will use lots of other informal ways to gain knowledge of your child’s abilities, needs and interests to inform their practice and topics taught.
What does teaching and learning look like in Reception?
All Reception classrooms will differ, as will school’s ethos and individual’s teaching styles. While there is no one way to do it, you should find that all Reception learning is fun and creative. School topics and themes will also vary, but the curriculum is split into seven areas of learning and is taught in a practical, interactive and ‘hands on’ style.
Although Reception will have a more ‘formal’ feel to it, it is a continuation of their previous Early Years curriculum. This means it’s still heavily play based and resource heavy – often children don’t realise they are learning and will come home saying ‘they’ve got to play all day!’ Activities are carefully planned around interests and needs of the children. Ultimately practitioners strive to provide opportunities which promote a love of learning and ignite curiosity so children grow up to understand how to think, not what to think.
In terms of academic skills, this can be a slightly controversial topic of discussion. Some parents are keen for the school to “push” their child. While others might feel Reception should be play based and less formal. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, it’s important to note that all teachers will naturally be supporting your child through their learning journey by meeting your child at their developmental level. They will know exactly how to support and stretch your child appropriately.
In my opinion there is nothing wrong with more formal preparation at home IF your child is showing interest, and they are ready. The advice I always give parents is please don’t rush ahead and to make sure you meet them at their level. Otherwise even with the best intentions, it can often lead to demotivation or gaps in their knowledge. This can cause difficulties later in their learning journey. If you’re unsure of what aspects of learning to practise at home then please check with your child’s teacher – they will have ongoing target areas for every child in their class.
Expectation for next term
This a very brief overview of what children will be working on during the lent term. It’s key to note that expectations for children varies depending on learning needs and what level they entered Reception, so please note this is ‘typical’ but doesn’t necessarily mean it is normal.
The lent term is all about children knowing their routine and timetable, and increased level of independence, focus and maturity. Children might be able to follow two or three part instructions. They will now understand what’s expected of them and will therefore have some degree of responsibility. For example, on Fridays we need to remember a toy for Show and Tell, or Thursdays is PE day so we need to remember our PE kit. We might expect children to know how to organise themselves when they come into school, putting away their coat, handing in their reading folder or placing their water bottles on the correct tray. Or perhaps how to dress and undress for PE ensuring they know how to keep their belongings tidy.
Children might have more confidence working in a team, and feel more confident getting along with others, not just with their friends. They might feel happier communicating in class, especially during activities such as Show and Tell or speaking in smaller groups. You can expect to see some more solid friendship groups forming, as well as showing interest in different types of play. It might be that children being to solve peer disagreements independently.
Fine motor skills
In terms of more formal learning, children will improve their fine motor skills. This means they can more confidently take part in ‘writing activities’ and be able to sit at table for extended periods of time during a focused adult led activity (perhaps aiming for 15 minutes). Children will begin to link their learning and make connections across topics. They might show their understanding by asking more questions, or might be able to answer questions using more detail and apply more ‘abstract’ knowledge.
Asking for help
In my experience I often find children are better at asking for help. They often know what is holding them back from starting an activity or have learnt to say, “please can you remind me of what I need to do?” Children should have a better awareness of what they need in order to complete an activity. They should know where resources are that could help before going to an adult for help.
Reading and writing
We would expect most children to show an interest in a range of books, and have grasped the early stages of reading, as well as an interest in ‘mark making’ and the early stages of writing. Children might have a better understanding of our number system, repeating patterns, and might be able to simply solve addition and subtraction sums using resources. Children will explore the concept of money, measurement and shape and position. All these topics will have a huge emphasis on language skills and vocabulary. Such a large part of early maths skills is based on communication skills, so being able to explain their thinking is key.
Parents will hopefully receive a chance for a parent meeting or some form of report by the end of the term. It’s common that there are areas your child is working towards or in fact they still need quite a bit of adult support with – this is completely fine. When to seek help or advice is if you notice that there hasn’t been any improvement within this area. Children find different aspects of school difficult. For some children, organising themselves is tricky. Whereas for others, they are finding making friends harder, or it might seem they are struggling to link sound and symbol relationship in reading. Please try to focus on your child’s strengths and remind them that we are all good at different things. We all have different areas we are working on and that’s why we go to school. That’s what makes everyone unique and so special!
How you can help at home
Aside from regular reading and showing an active interest in your child’s learning, the best way parents can help is to ignite a love for learning early on. By encouraging your child to follow their interests, ask lots of questions and engage in open-ended play, you will be setting your child up for success. Children are naturally curious and learn best when they are engaged in play. It’s during this safe, stress-free environment that they learn to take greater risks and think creatively.
Ultimately by using their hobbies, interests, and playful activities, it doesn’t only capture their imagination, but it will create more meaningful experiences. It’s in these moments where they continually consolidate learning, think critically or naturally extend their understanding. By providing this space for children we are unlocking children’s drive, determination, and mindset for future learning experiences, where they can practise key skills such as leadership, flexibility and problem solving.
It’s important to have an awareness that children’s early learning is deeply dependent on human and social interaction. Having variety in play and activities is crucial for their development. This does not mean we need to be media free. It’s okay for children to use technology for learning, leisure, and socialising – if it’s in moderation and not a replacement for spending time in nature and being active. Technology can be used to enhance learning, but we just need to remember it has a time and place!
Finally, it’s predicted that two thirds of children today will work in jobs that don’t currently exist. It feels more important than ever to provide an environment at home and at school where they can practise these key skills. This will help them to manage the natural twists and turns of our ever-changing world. What’s incredibly powerful to remember is that parents still spend the majority of time with their children. This means they have the greatest influence over their lives, which is why parents are children’s first and most important teachers!
Whether it takes a whole month or a whole year to settle, we know children will do things in their own time. As difficult as it is at times, we must avoid comparing our children with their peers, with their siblings or how you were when you were little. Instead try to stand back, be present, trust the school, teacher and process and keep communicating. Whilst we cannot ‘speed’ up this process for them, we can do everything in our power to manage the change, the unknowns and the what-ifs to help create a positive start to school.