Ready, Steady... School! Preparing for the First Day

How you can help your child be ready - mentally and physically - for the "small" step to "big" school in September... Early Years Editor Jenny Mollon speaks to nurseries and schools to find out.
Ready, Steady... School! Preparing for the First Day
By David Westley
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As we approach the end of this academic year, many parents of 3- and 4-year-olds will be looking ahead to their child joining “big” school in September.  Will they be ready?  How will the cope with the new learning environment, the larger setting and colliding with giant 8 years olds in the corridor? 

What is certain is that the transition needs to be handled sensitively and that some sort of gentle preparation, whether at home or nursery, is important.  Here we look at how nurseries can contribute to your child’s readiness for school. 


Confidence is key

Research studies worldwide have shown that the quality of attachments (relationships) a child forms in their formative years is of paramount importance to building resilience and self-assuredness, essential characteristics for a smooth transition to school.   So whilst well-meaning parents may be looking for academic indicators in a nursery, thinking ahead to school they would do better to focus on how well a setting will foster their child’s personal, social and emotional (PSE) development. 

Nurseries can support PSE development in many ways.  A focus on continuity in the staff caring for your child is essential, in order to build those vital warm and reciprocal relationships.  Ask your nursery how they support transitions within their setting.  Will your child automatically move “up” a class when they hit a certain age, or when their teacher feels they are ready?  How are they prepared for these early transitions – are they gradual or “all in one go”?  How does the nursery manage the all- important early settling in process? 


What else can nurseries do?

So your child is confident and outgoing and able to separate from you with reasonable ease.  So far so good.  What else can your nursery do to ensure school readiness?


Communication and Language – essential skills

The early days at school are so much easier for children able to fluently communicate and express themselves with ease.  Your child’s nursery should have been tracking their progress in this area from an early age, and highlighting any areas of concern without delay.  Many children with speech delay or other communication issues can go on to function perfectly well at school having had the benefit of early intervention and relevant treatment.  Ask your child’s nursery for regular updates on your child’s progress here and work with them and other professionals should an issue or problem be identified, however minor.


Physical Development- a partnership between home and nursery

Children who are ready for school are those with the physical competence to carry out three particular aspects of self care, these being:

  • Toileting
  • Self Feeding
  • Drinking from a cup

Whilst these are all skills that most children will acquire primarily at home, nursery can be a great help.  The gentle peer pressure of watching their friends and peers accomplish these tasks is often enough to kick a slow starter into gear.  More than that, the wide variety of developmentally appropriate physical activities planned with your child in mind will not only aid and improve your child’s development, they will highlight any early issues requiring extra support.

The Kids Kingdom nurseries (branches in IMPZ and Jumeirah Lakes Towers) offer regular soccer skills sessions.  Modified for different age groups, these sessions offer a fun way for children to improve their flexibility and improve core strength.  Joanne Butcher, Nursery Manager of the IMPZ branch enthused about these sessions saying:

“The children can’t wait for Soccer Stars and they absolutely love their instructor.  We see so many changes in the children during their time here, and Soccer Stars supports their physical progression in a way in which is fun and exciting.  We see how strong and flexible they are and how good there coordination is.  It also allows us to closely observe the children and highlight where any extra support might be needed”.


Life in UAE schools – how nursery can prepare your child for Arabic lessons and more

It may come as a surprise for parents new to the UAE, but Arabic lessons will be compulsory throughout your child’s school career.  What better way to prepare them for this than to embed Arabic into their Early Years Education?  Juliana Bokelman, CEO of Orange Tree Children’s Nursery in Al Jafiliya tells us that:

“Arabic is central to life in our bilingual nursery.  We offer playful, varied Arabic lessons from an early age.  Children are encouraged to sing, count and create artwork in Arabic, something which we hope prepares them for a bilingual school life and gives children a love of languages from an early age.  We hope that the children in our nursery are able to facilitate interactions in Arabic throughout their lives”.


School assessment – just how early does your child need to be ready for school?

One fairly unique aspect of education in the UAE is the very early (often age 2.5 -3.5) school assessments which determine whether your child will be accepted into your chosen school.  These can cause an undue amount of stress and worry for parents. 

We asked Ms Paula Ryan, Head of Foundation Stage at Safa British School for her top tips for parents and the inside information on what schools are looking for during at these assessments.  Ms Ryan said

“I thoroughly dislike the word ‘assessment’ when thinking about very young children starting out on their school journey. It can create a high level of anxiety for both parents and children and has bad connotations, especially when we link this to our children. We start to imagine children as young as 3 sitting at desks in ‘test’ conditions. In reality this should not be the case!

"Starting school should be an exciting time for both young children and their parents and yet it has become a daunting process with parents over preparing their children. I have seen children as young as two and a half come into school like mini robots singing their ‘ABC’ as they walk through the front gates.

"However, the best (and most effective) approach is to simply relax and let your children’s unique personalities shine through, enabling them to behave as naturally as possible. Children start school with a wide mix of abilities and teachers are highly skilled in helping children progress at their own level. Every child doesn’t need to be able to read, write, perform Math tasks or quote their learning objectives before they start school."


 My top tips for this process are;

  • Let your children be themselves - do not be afraid to let your child’s personality shine through and avoid ‘rehearsal’ 
  • Develop children’s independence - give your child some responsibilities as they get closer to starting school. For example, feeding a pet or helping to put the shopping away 
  • Organise ‘play dates’ - building your child’s social skill 
  • Build upon communication skills - good communication (in a variety of ways, including speaking, drawing, painting, playing alone or with others) is important for learning, it is the foundation for learning key skills and also vital for children’s personal, social and emotional development 
  • Relax! - It is important for YOU, the parent, to stay calm during this time. Your worries about ‘Will they pass the assessment?’ can pass on to your children and create negative responses to ‘first encounters. Remember that we are here for you; so ask questions, explore alongside your child and be confident that all will be well

At we thoroughly endorse this relaxed and child centred approach.  A child confident to be themselves in school is one who is taking advantage of all of the learning opportunities available to him or her.

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