Things Your Child Should Be Able To Do Before They Start Primary School, Including Activity Ideas & What To Do If Your Child Is Struggling

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Do you have a little one due to start primary school this September? Or maybe it is a while away yet, but you would like to feel prepared?

Starting school is an exciting milestone for both children and parents alike. As your little one embarks on this new adventure, there are a few essential skills that can make the transition smoother. 

Contrary to what many people believe, children do not need to be fluent readers or count to a million before school starts – far from it! There are, however, a few basic skills I have been practicing with Arlo which I know will get him ready for school and I wanted to share them with you – so you can get your child ready, too!

Here we’ll explore five important things your child should know before their first day of school. Plus, we’ll provide three fun activity ideas for each skill and offer tips for supporting your child if they’re facing challenges along the way.

Zipping up Their Coat and Putting on Shoes Independently

Mastering the art of getting dressed is a valuable skill for school-age children. Here are three activities to help your child become a pro at zipping up their coat and putting on their shoes:

a) Practice Makes Perfect: Set up a dress-up station at home with various coats and shoes. Encourage your child to practice zipping up the coats (first of all, while they are NOT wearing them as this will be easier, then progress to while wearing them) and putting on different types of shoes independently. Use positive reinforcement and praise their efforts to boost their confidence.

b) Sensory Fun: Fill a box or bag with different types of fasteners, such as zippers, buttons, and Velcro. Have your child identify and manipulate the different closures while blindfolded. This activity helps them develop fine motor skills and tactile awareness and it is super fun! 

c) Storytime Dress-Up: Choose a favourite book that features characters getting dressed, like “Froggy Gets Dressed” by Jonathan London. Encourage your child to act out the story by independently zipping up their coat and putting on their shoes, just like the characters in the book. Alternatively, you could use baby clothes to dress up dolls and teddy bears instead!

If Your Child is Struggling: Break the tasks down into smaller steps and practice each one separately. Offer support and guidance while gradually encouraging independence. Celebrate their progress, no matter how small, to build their confidence.

Recognising Their Own Name

Being able to recognize their name is an important skill that helps children navigate their new school environment. 

Don’t forget, we have a whole bunch of activities inside The Little Learning Hub designed to help your child recognise different letters and their own name. If you aren’t a member, click here for a week’s free trial

Here are three activities to help your child become familiar with their own name:

a) Name Tracing Fun: Write your child’s name on a large piece of paper and have them trace over the letters using different coloured markers or crayons. Make it engaging by turning it into a rainbow-writing activity.

b) Name Recognition Game: Create flashcards with your child’s name and mix them with other words or names. Play a game of “Find Your Name” by encouraging your child to pick out their name card from the stack. This activity promotes name recognition and concentration. Instead of flashcards, you could also write the letters on magnetic tiles or Duplo blocks. 

c) Personalised Artwork: Help your child create a name collage! Give your child a ton of old letters, magazines or newspapers. They can cut the letters out themselves (or you could do it for them) and ask them to glue the letters in the correct order to spell their name and decorate the collage with drawings or stickers. 

If Your Child is Struggling: Use visual aids, like personalised name tags on their belongings, to help them recognise their name. Incorporate their name into everyday activities, such as writing it on their lunchbox or labelling their artwork, to provide consistent exposure.

Speaking in Full Sentences

Effective communication skills play a vital role in school interactions and learning. Here are three activities to encourage your child to speak in full sentences:

a) Storytelling Fun: Choose a favourite picture book with detailed illustrations. Encourage your child to describe the pictures using complete sentences. Ask open-ended questions to prompt their storytelling and expand their vocabulary.

b) Puppet Showtime: Set up a puppet theatre using simple hand puppets or even homemade sock puppets. Engage your child in imaginative play by having the puppets engage in conversations. Encourage them to express their thoughts and ideas using full sentences.

c) Conversation Starters: During family mealtime or while traveling in the car, introduce conversation starters like “Tell me about your favourite part of the day.” This helps your child practice expressing their experiences and thoughts in complete sentences. If everyone  is taking turns, it will feel less dauting for your child while also allowing them to hear modelled examples of how to respond in full sentences. I have also been encouraging Arlo to use please and thank you as much as possible so his kind manners are ingrained from an early age. 

If Your Child is Struggling: Be a good role model by speaking in full sentences yourself and providing opportunities for conversation. Encourage your child to express themselves, and offer support and prompts when needed. Celebrate their efforts and provide positive feedback.

Using a Knife and Fork Independently and Drinking from an Open Cup

Developing self-help skills like using utensils and drinking from a cup promotes independence and enhances social interactions during mealtime. Here are three activities to support your child in mastering these skills:

a) Teddy Bear Tea Party: Invite your child to a special tea party with their favourite stuffed animals. Provide child-sized utensils and cups. Encourage them to serve their guests and practice using a knife and fork independently and drinking from a cup without spills.

b) Sensory Food Play: Introduce finger foods like sliced fruits or veggies during snack time. Encourage your child to use a child-safe knife to cut soft foods into smaller pieces independently. Provide a cup with a small amount of water for them to practice drinking without a lid.

c) Role-Play Restaurant: Set up a pretend restaurant at home. Your child can take turns being the waiter and the customer. They can practice using utensils to serve food and drink from an open cup while role-playing different scenarios.

If Your Child is Struggling: Start with child-friendly utensils that are easier to handle and gradually transition to regular utensils. Provide gentle guidance and demonstrate the proper techniques. Allow them to practice in a supportive environment without rushing their progress. 

An important note here – I am sure you have heard me talk of my ‘pinch and flip’ pencil grip (if not, drop me a message on Instagram and I will certainly help you!). The reason I mention this is because knives and forks also need to be help correctly and in the correct hands depending on if your child is left or right handed. This is so important because a child cannot possibly use their utensils correctly with the correct grip, so make sure you model this with them from day one! If you aren’t sure, look at how you hold your cutlery and model this with your child. 

Using the Toilet Independently

Toilet independence is a significant milestone for school readiness. Here are three activities to support your child in mastering this skill:

a) Potty Palace: Create an atmosphere where your child will want to use the toilet independently. Arlo was always reluctant to use our downstairs toilet because it can be quite dark in the kitchen during winter months and late evenings. To combat this, I installed a simple pull cord light switch which is at Arlo’s height. This means he can always turn the light on completely independently. Other things to consider could be putting nice pictures of their favourite characters or family members nearby, having something nicely scented and ensuring they can access everything at child height. This will definitely help them to go to the toilet independently.

b) Visual Schedule: Create a visual schedule with pictures showing the steps of using the toilet independently, from pulling down pants to flushing and washing hands. Hang the schedule in the bathroom to serve as a visual reminder and guide for your child. This is particularly useful if you notice your child misses steps, such as forgetting to flush! 

c) Storytime and Songs: Read books or sing songs about potty training, such as “Potty” by Leslie Patricelli or popular potty training songs on YouTube. These resources can help normalize the process and make it more enjoyable for your child. Also, make sure to speak to your child’s pre-school or nursery to see what the general routine is there as this can help you set a good foundation at home. 

If Your Child is Struggling: Be patient and supportive throughout the toilet training journey. Offer gentle reminders and establish a consistent routine. Provide positive reinforcement and rewards for successful attempts, and avoid punishments or pressure that may create anxiety. Your child should be able to toilet train at their own pace so make sure your child feels comfortable. If this is something they are truly finding difficult, make sure to speak to your child’s school before September as accommodations can be made and they definitely won’t be the only one! 

There you have it! 5 things your child should know before starting school! Preparing your child for school involves nurturing their independence and acquiring essential skills. By focusing on these five key areas—zipping up their coat and putting on shoes independently, recognizing their own name, speaking in full sentences, using a knife and fork independently and drinking from an open cup, and using the toilet independently—you can set your child up for success by giving them the skills your child needs to have the best first year of school!

Remember, each child develops at their own pace, so be patient, supportive, and celebrate their progress along the way. With your guidance and these fun activities, your child will be well-equipped and excited to embark on their school journey.

Don’t forget, you can grab a week’s free trial to The Little Learning Hub if your child is confident at these 5 things and you are ready to move them on! 

Let me know in the comments how your child is getting on with these 5 skills! 

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