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Getting ready for school

This is an exciting adventure for a parent/carer and their child, but it can feel daunting and can be hard to know if your child is truly ready for this next step. For most it will be the first really big change they have to face. As a parent it is important that you talk about starting school in positive terms, as something exciting and enjoyable, even if your school days weren’t exactly the best of your life. PACEY – Being School Ready have a range of resources, videos and advice for parents. Also see the useful links for tips on how to get ready for starting school during “lockdown” from

There is further information at the end of this page about health services you can access before your child starts school, to ensure they are healthy, developing well and ready to learn.

Buckinghamshire Healthcare’s Children and Young People’s Service, including the School Readiness team, is able to help prepare your child to start school so that they (and you) can look forward to a healthy, happy school life right from the first day.

Please ensure you are familiar with your child’s school’s policy for Coronavirus management as the processes may vary in each school. All information and advice within these pages should be interpreted in accordance with HM Government Social Distancing Alert Level.


The information in our “Encouraging” sections will hopefully give you some tips and advice from our highly skilled team.



Washing hands and wiping noses are two of the best ways to stop germs spreading in a school setting. Some children will readily wash or clean themselves, others may not.

By making washing hands and nose wiping a fun activity, for example, through songs, children may be more likely to remember to do it.

Watch the video below with your child on how to wash their hands


Encouraging your child to dress and undress themselves supports their independence and can build their confidence. Remember to start small and allow plenty of time.

Bedtime is a good time to practice putting their pyjamas on themselves as it’s usually a quieter time. You can practice putting their school uniform on at any time of the day.

You could try putting on some music while they dress or undress. As they become more confident they may be able to dress and undress within one song (about 3 minutes).

Remember, making it fun is key. Give plenty of praise.

Ideally your child will be able to put on and take off their:

  • school uniform and PE kit
  • socks and shoes
  • coat.

Going to the toilet

Supporting your child to use the toilet by themselves is an exciting new stage in getting ready for school and is key for their independence.

Ideally your child will be able to:

  • go to the toilet by themselves
  • wipe themselves and flush the toilet
  • wash and dry their hands.

Meal times

For many families, school, work schedules and extracurricular activities can make it difficult to find time to eat together. Family meals are important and should be considered part of your daily routine.

Children who eat family meals tend to eat a wider variety of nutritious foods and become less fussy eaters. This can be very important if your child will be having school dinners for the first time.

If your child will be having school dinners, you could practice carrying a tray at home, make this a fun game to play. Before walking with food, start by carrying smaller things on the tray like a notepad or a teddy. When your child feels confident, see if they can carry their lunch from the kitchen to where they eat, using their tray.

Ideally your child will be able to:

  • walk with a tray
  • use a knife and fork
  • pour a drink
  • open packaging.

Teeth cleaning

A regular teeth cleaning routine is essential for good dental health. Children between age 3 and 6 years old should:

  • brush at least twice daily for about 2 minutes
  • brush last thing at night before bed and at least on 1 other occasion
  • use children’s fluoride toothpaste containing no less than 1,000ppm of fluoride (check label) or family toothpaste containing between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm fluoride
  • use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste
  • spit out after brushing and don’t rinse as the fluoride won’t work as well.

You should supervise your child while they brush their teeth.

Find out more about taking care of your children’s teeth

Make brushing fun with the Brush DJ app on your mobile device



Getting enough sleep is essential for our physical, emotional and mental well-being. Sleep deprivation can affect our attention, concentration, memory, behaviour and makes us feel anxious, irritable, overactive, aggressive and depressed. Looking after a child who has a sleep problem can be exhausting and have a significant impact on them and the whole family.

Get more healthy sleep tips for children


It’s important to establish family routines that ensure good eating and sleeping habits. Plenty of good sleep and a healthy balanced diet are very important to your child’s health and brain development.

Routines also help children to become independent. They like to know what is going to happen and when, because it makes them feel that they have some sense of control. Children also learn healthy coping skills through structure and routine.

A good bedtime routine means they’re not tired ahead of a busy and exciting day.

Family meals

Benefits include:

  • opportunities for family members to come together, strengthen connections and build better relationships
  • building a sense of belonging which leads to better self esteem
  • parents can role model and set examples of healthy eating and polite table manners
  • obesity prevention. Research shows that people tend to eat less during family meals because they eat more slowly and talk more.

Tips for eating more meals together:

  • start with small steps – increase the number of family meals by one each week
  • plan a menu for the week as a family and make a grocery list
  • get the children involved – let them help prepare the food or set the table
  • work as a family to clean up afterwards
  • turn off the TV and set rules for no screens or devices at the table or meal times.

Feeling confident

Most schools will arrange a play session that your child can attend before starting school. You can also attend any Christmas or summer fayres before they start to help familiarise your child with the school facilities and associate it as a fun place to be.

To help your child settle into to school ideally they will be able to:

  • say goodbye to their parent/carer with confidence
  • take turns and share when playing with others
  • be happy to help and tidy their belongings

Parenting courses

Parenting courses in Buckinghamshire cover a variety of topics from useful tips and coping strategies to dealing with challenging behaviours and building your confidence. Courses run for parents of children of all ages. Some specialise in Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

You can also get advice and support from Buckinghamshire Family Information Service.

Find out more about family learning courses for parents and carers


Speaking, reading and writing

Reading with your child is the best way to help them develop a love of learning and support their speech and language skills. Bedtime stories are a lovely way to sit and calmly read with your child and have their full attention.

Think outside the box too. Show your child road signs and food packaging which helps them to see words in everyday places. You could also place letters around a room which your child has to find and spell the word ‘cat’ or ‘dog.

Ideally, by the time your child starts school they’ll be able to:

  • show an interest in listening to stories
  • look at picture books and make stories from them
  • show an interest in recognising their own name
  • talk about themselves and their needs.

Pre-writing skills

Get creative with supporting your child’s pre-writing skills. Use a paintbrush with water outside or chalks, follow lines underneath tracing paper and play dot-to-dot games.

They’re all are fun ways to practice holding a pencil. Ideally your child will show an interest in holding a pencil and creating marks.

Core skills

A child’s strength to hold their pencil comes from their core. You can help your child develop their core muscles by providing them with plenty of outdoor play including:

  • running
  • hopping
  • skipping
  • jumping
  • throwing and catching a ball.

Listening and understanding

Sometimes at school your child will need to listen and sit still. You can help by encouraging activities at home that allow them to practise doing this.

By finding time to talk with your child and listen to them, they’ll learn that there’ll be an opportunity for them to speak. By emphasising the importance of listening, and showing your child they can take turns to talk and learn, they’ll gradually develop skills that will take them through school and beyond.

Ideally your child will be able to:

  • sit still and listen for a short while
  • follow simple 2 step instructions
  • understand why we need to follow instructions.

Counting skills

Counting can be fun and there are many fun counting games that you can do with your child. You can also teach them to count on a daily basis, for example counting toys, items of food such as carrot sticks. Ask your child to count out plates and lay the table.

Ideally by the time your child starts school they will be able to:

  • count objects
  • recite number rhymes, for example, “1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish alive”
  • recognise numbers when they’re written down.

Useful resources

View our speech and language therapy communication skills resources for activity ideas and guidance

Advice for parents of bilingual children

Strategies, information and checking your child’s communication progress


School day nerves

When your child starts school, it may be the first time they have been away from you and it can be a stressful time for both of you. Alternatively, your child may have already experienced a childcare setting.

Helping your child cope with changes by making transitions as smooth as possible will help build their resilience to changes. Your child may experience some level of anxiety at being separated from you. Reception class school staff will be familiar with supporting children who find the start of the school day upsetting.

Adjusting to school and what you can do

Every child is different and some may need more time adjusting to the new routine. Especially when they realise that they need to go back everyday. With some patience, your child will get into a routine with school, and drop-off will become less dramatic.

Keep in contact with your child’s teacher

Most children who cry at drop-off stop crying after saying goodbye. To make sure, keep in contact with the class teacher. This could be at the classroom door, email or a phone call, but it may not always be appropriate to talk in front of your child.

Stick to the routines

Hungry, tired children are often clingy and more emotional.

Get excited about the school day

On the way to school, talk about what your child might do and who they might play with. Stay upbeat and do not overload them with questions. If you sense the conversation makes them more worried, change the subject to something non-school related.

Don’t compare your child’s behaviour to another who might not have been upset. Don’t create a drama about previous experiences at drop-off.

Get them busy

Settle them in before you leave. The class teacher will have activities ready and your child will soon know what to do when they arrive. You could ask them to show you their most recent collage or favourite book if they’re reluctant to play with others.

Do not give your child the impression that you’ll stay long. If you have trouble with your exit strategy, ask the teacher if they can step in so you can leave. Schools will gradually discourage the parent/carer accompanying the child into school over the first half term or so.

Stay positive

Don’t let on that you’re worried or waiting for trouble at the drop-off. Instead, appear confident that your child will separate easily. Say goodbye cheerfully and matter-of-factly. Then walk out without a backward glance.

Make sure not to disappear suddenly as your child may  feel worried and unsure after you leave.

Young children who worry

It can be empowering to educate young people around why we worry. It’s a healthy emotion and it helps to keep us safe.

Young minds are reactive and as parents or carers we can help young children to manage that feeling. You can help to explain that worrying is normal, it’s a sign to slow down and breathe, and that it’s a temporary feeling.

Encourage learning from natural consequences

A natural consequence is anything that happens naturally, with no adult interference, for example when you stand in the rain, you get wet. When you don’t eat, you get hungry.

It’s important not to lecture your child with “I told you so.” Try to show empathy, for example, “you must have been cold with no coat” and offer a comforting solution without rescuing. This could be suggesting that they have a shower  to warm up instead of “next time I’ll bring your coat if you forget.”

Validate the child’s feelings too with “you must have felt really uncomfortable”, instead of “weren’t you silly for forgetting it.”

Actively talk about emotions and feelings

Share your feelings and validate theirs. When they feel scared, anxious or worried, you may say things like,”What questions do you have? What are you wondering about?” or “This is really hard right now, but I know we can deal with this and we can get through this together.”

Get more advice on how to talk to your child about feelings

Practice relaxation techniques together

A relaxed child can think more constructively and positively. They have the space to reflect on issues. Their behaviour may improve because they feel calmer.

As a parent and a carer, it’s also important to recognise your own needs and care for your emotional wellbeing. Looking after children and starting a new school  routine can be stressful and your child may pick up and react to your behaviours.

7 techniques for helping your child to stay calm

Recognise positive choices and accept mistakes

Learning from mistakes allows children to face and grow from failures. and recognise where they went wrong.

This helps minor inconveniences to not lead to temper tantrums or misbehaviour. Instead, your child learns how to spring back into action.

Facing failure makes children less prone to feelings of anxiety.

How can I help my child?

Stick to routines, be consistent, have together-time and involve the family so that everyone takes the same approach.

Be clear, be calm, discipline in a fair way, be positive about good behaviour and champion successes.

If you feel you would benefit from them, find out about local parenting advice or courses. They can help build confidence, learn ways of coping and provide opportunities to meet other parents.

Be kind to yourself and take care of your own wellbeing. Talk to others.

When emotions run high, remember that you’re the adult in the situation, and you’re in charge of your small child, not the other way around!

Get advice if your concerns continue over a period of weeks. Contact the School Nursing Service, your GP or your child’s school.

When any aspect of your child’s daily routine (sleep, eating, toilet training, tantrums) becomes an overwhelming problem, continues for too long or significantly affects their life or your family life, it’s worth considering possible reasons or underlying difficulties.

Discuss with your child’s class teacher, your GP or make a self referral to the School Nursing Service.


School readiness team support

Parents/Carers can access the School Readiness Checklist , it may help to focus on where you can encourage your child’s school readiness. If you feel you need some further guidance, you or your child’s class teacher or other professional can refer your child directly to us.

Download our school readiness checklist it may help to focus on where you can encourage your child’s school readiness.

Is your child ready to start reception class in September?

Follow the check points on our colourful poster below to understand if your child is ready for reception class

School readiness milestones poster

School readiness poster to help review child development milestones ahead of starting school

Click the image to view or click here to download a copy.