Many parents and children are enjoying the holidays but others will be spending the summer preparing for their child’s first day at school. It’s a huge milestone and some children and parents will be looking forward to it more than others. Handing your child over to a new teacher isn’t easy but there are lots of activities that you can do at home to prepare your child for their first school year.
As well as colouring and drawing, fastening buttons and zips, using scissors and threading beads to develop fine motor skills there are many fun activities that will help develop literacy and numeracy skills. These are not activities that need any special equipment, you probably have most things at home.
- Read to your child. Reading and sharing picture books is an important bonding process for a child and an adult. If possible read at different times of the day, not just bedtime. Take your time reading and encourage your child to talk about what is happening in the pictures, ask them what they think will happen next and ask questions to ensure that they have understood what you have read. Read stories about school and talk about what the children are doing in the pictures, picture book recommendations for children starting school can be found here and here and here.
- Read in front of your child. It is important that your child also sees you read as this will emphasise your enjoyment of the activity. Choose different areas to read in, outside or in. I once taught a child who liked to read in the bath because he saw his Daddy doing it!
- Visit the library. Choosing unfamiliar books in a classroom book corner is a similar experience to visiting the library. If a child finds a book in school that they have at home or have borrowed from the library it will help link the school environment to the home environment. Attend library storytime sessions so your child becomes familiar with sitting still and listening to stories as part of a group.
- Make a storysack. Storysacks help a child explore different elements of a story. Twinkl, Storysacks and Child’s Play have a variety of storysacks or we make our own using an old pillowcase. Either make one for your child and invite them to guess which book you have chosen, make one together or the child can collect items that relate to their favourite book. The whole process can stimulate a lot of discussion about the book you have chosen and gives a child the opportunity to really think about characters and important elements in the story,
- Do a book quiz. Book quizzes are a fun activity that encourage children to think about, find and talk about books. Start with a general book quiz.
- Do a puppet show. Doing a puppet show develops speaking skills as well as imaginative thinking. Re-enact a familiar story or make up your own. Make puppets using paper bags or lollipop sticks if you don’t have any at home.
- Dress up. Dressing up and becoming a different character uses speaking and listening skills and provides lots of scope for imaginative play. You don’t need special dressing up clothes, give your child a basket of old clothes, shoes and hats and see what they come up with.
- Play games. Memory or matching games are great for developing vocabulary and speaking skills. ‘I Spy’ and ‘I Went Shopping and bought…’ help to develop observation and memory skills.
- Sing songs and rhymes. Singing nursery rhymes and other songs will help children develop rhyming and language skills. Small children love to rhyme and you can play a rhyming version of I Spy. ‘I Spy with my little eye something that rhymes with hair (chair)’.
- Do jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles help children develop hand eye co-ordination skills and problem solving skills in order to put puzzles together in the correct way. Doing puzzles is also an important pre-reading skill. Children need to identify puzzle shapes in order to complete a puzzle, when they learn their alphabet they are also learning a series of different shapes. You can read more about jigsaw puzzles and learning here.
- Go on a scavenger hunt. Walk around your local area and look for letters. Give your child an alphabet template and ask them to colour the letters as they see them. You can also give them a colour hunt activity sheet and ask them to draw a picture for each colour on the sheet. Both of these activities can also be done at home.
- Colour. Colouring is a great activity for developing spatial awareness and understanding of area. Using a pencil or crayon also helps a child to practise fine motor skills.
- Count. Count steps, count cars, count trees along a street and if your child is confident counting forwards they can try counting backwards too!
- Sort. Sort lego bricks into sets of different colours, sort buttons or counters, sort different pasta shapes. Help with the washing by sorting clothes into piles according to colour or style, count the buttons on garments and match socks.
- Play games. Dice games help with number recognition, counting skills and learning to take turns. Dominoes is a great game for counting and matching the correct number of spots (use black and white dominoes rather than dominoes with coloured spots to ensure that the child matches the number of spots and not the colours). Playing cards can be used for number recognition and for ordering the numbers one to ten.
- Make repeating patterns. You can make repeating patterns with anything! Lego bricks, stickers, coloured counters, different cereal shapes, nuts and raisins, smarties, pasta shapes, flowers or coloured pencils. Start a pattern for your child, e.g. red brick, blue brick, red brick, blue brick then they can carry on repeating the pattern. Once they understand the concept encourage them to create their own patterns.
- Bake. Baking is a great activity for developing both literacy and numeracy skills. The child sees you reading a recipe and once you have finished baking you can talk about the sequence in which you did each task. Baking involves weighing and measuring, maybe counting muffin cases or uncooked biscuits, talking about the temperature of the oven and how long something will take to cook.
- Sing counting songs and nursery rhymes. Counting rhymes and songs will help a child order numbers. Examples include; Ten Green Bottles / One Man Went to Mow / Five Currant Buns / Five Little Speckled Frogs / Five Little Ducks / Five Little Monkeys / Ten Fat Sausages / Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon / One, Two, Buckle Your Shoe (we’d love you to leave your suggestions in the comments). Your child can draw a picture from a song to consolidate learning.
- Go on a shape walk. Walk around your local area and look for different shapes. Give your child a shape walk activity sheet and ask them to colour the shapes in as they see them. This activity can also be done at home.
Starting school involves lots of learning (not just academic learning) and during the first few weeks a teacher will concentrate on helping children deal with the whole experience of school. Children need to learn where they can find things in a classroom, how the daily routine works, eat lunch in an often noisy dining hall, get changed for PE and make new friends. You may feel that a teacher is covering topics that your child already knows, e.g. colours or counting but it’s important for the teacher to get to know your child’s abilities before building the foundations for your child’s whole school career, not just academically but socially and emotionally too.
The first day of school can be very emotional for the parent as well as the child. As a teacher I can honestly say that tears are often for the parents’ benefit and in most cases a child will stop once a parent has left. As a parent I know that walking away from a crying child is hard so make a date to have a coffee with a friend or relative to distract you from thinking too much about what is happening at school and to make your child’s first day at school special for you too.
How did you prepare your child for their first day at school? We’d love to hear your experiences in the comments. Click on the image below to read about our favourite starting school picture books.