Getting ready for Reception is child’s play
In the fifth of our blog series investigating what makes Salisbury Cathedral School special, our Head of Pre-Prep, Linda Cunningham-Brown, asks parents to relax about their children starting school. By all means enjoy the excitement of this major milestone in your child’s life, but don’t worry about reading and writing before they even begin.
Starting school is a big deal. Even children who have been in nursery full time can find the jump challenging. It takes time, plenty of time, for our youngest pupils to settle in fully. We know that a child needs to feel safe, secure, happy and nurtured to create a good foundation for learning. That’s why we attribute the whole of the Autumn to establishing really strong relationships with each individual pupil, and their parents. It means that when we do venture into more academic learning the children are ready and excited, they can give their full attention because they are comfortable and confident at school.
Unfortunately, in our busy and competitive world, giving children this time and space to grow before launching into letters and maths can feel as if you’re travelling against the tide. We all know a parent whose child can already write their name, or is a natural with numbers, and it’s all too easy to think we are letting our own child down by not keeping up. However, the reverse is often true. A child who has developed strong gross and fine motor skills will learn reading, writing and arithmetic more easily than one tasked with academic activities too early. It’s why the school curriculum for the early years’ foundation stage, EYFS, prioritises learning through play for the Reception year.
If you are keen to prepare your child for school, then building strong gross and fine motor skills is a brilliant place to start. Gross motor skills enable children to move their whole bodies, to run and jump and swing, but they also help children to sit still. We all need core strength to sit at a desk for a period of time and we need strong rotator cuffs to support controlled use of a pencil for writing. The great news here is that the best way to develop strong gross motor skills is through energetic play. Go to the park, encourage your child to run and climb, go swimming, ride bikes and scooters, visit a trampoline park, just be active in everyday life.
Fine motor skills involve a refined use of muscles which control the hands, fingers and thumbs. Once again play is your friend to build these skills, but this time think quiet play. Building Lego, playing with marbles or construction toys and tackling puzzles are all great options. If they like playing with playdough, even better. Squishing and shaping playdough is brilliant at developing strong hand muscles for using pens and pencils. Outside, encourage kids to pick up sticks and pine cones or help planting bulbs and flowers. And, if you begin to worry that other children are ahead academically,
remind yourself of the old adage: you can’t run before you can walk. Children need well developed gross and fine motor skills to be able to sit and write. Of course, draw and colour as much as you like, just don’t succumb to unnecessary pressure for your child to keep up or stand out. Childhood should be fun.
Life skills are another area where you can help your child be ready for school. The simplest things can make the biggest difference to their days away from you. Being able to put on and take off their coats and welly boots. Here at Salisbury Cathedral School we go outside to play and explore daily and we always dress for the weather which can mean sunscreen or gloves, sun caps or woolly hats, and we always wear boots. Being able to use the bathroom independently, wash their own hands and use a tissue are all good skills too as is being able to feed yourself. The really great news here is that all these activities help develop fine motor skills as well as increasing your child’s independence.
A good tip is to let your child wear their school uniform during the summer before Reception. Regular use will not only help them feel more comfortable but also loosen button holes and ease zips. We don’t expect children to be able to read and write their names, but if they can recognise it that does help finding their coat amongst many which are the same. Name tags with pictures work well, children remember their animal or object easily while they learn to recognise the shape of their name too. Teach them to tidy up. At school we use lots of different toys and games and we always put them away again so we have space for fresh fun.
Whilst there is no pressure for your child to be able to read and write, we do strongly recommend sharing books as much as you can. Picture books and story books, any book really to demonstrate reading as a normal part of life. Nursery rhymes are particularly good. They are very powerful early influencers of language because of their repetitive patterns and wider vocabulary. The rhyming element is effective at progressing auditory discrimination skills which are vital for understanding phonics, which in turn, are critical for reading and writing development. Nursery rhymes are also packed with mathematical patterns too. Think ‘5 currant buns’ or ‘ten green bottles’ – it’s all good fun and good learning as well.
Of course, your child might be the one who is desperate to learn and is pushing to be able to write their name. Don’t stop them, that’s not what this article is about. The message is that there is no rush for those children, which will be most children, who are not ready for the pen and the page just yet. Send them in for a warm Reception and let us, the teachers, do our job. Whilst we do not rush into the rigour of formal learning, you can rest assured your child will not be left behind. In fact, they will flourish over time from a firm foundation of strength and independence.