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Great games to prepare your child for school

Family lying on the floor looking happy
Play helps children learn more about themselves and the world around them; it's so important that it’s a key part of the Early Years Foundation Stage. Annemarie Flanagan asks the experts about the best games to play to help prepare children for school – the fun way.

A teacher once told me the best thing I could do to prepare my first child for school was to play with her. I raised an eyebrow – really? Not teach her to count to 10 or write her name? No, she said quite categorically, children learn many different skills at home by simply having fun and playtime is the single most useful activity for any child.

Fast forward several years and my youngest child is now benefiting from that sage advice. Whilst many parents are fretting over whether their three year old can read, I’m enjoying a game of animal snap with mine.

The best games for pre-school development

Playtime is recognised by all educationalists as absolutely crucial to a child’s development. Through play, children learn about themselves and the world around them. It’s deemed so important, it has become enshrined in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) which is a set of requirements that must be followed by providers of care for children under five years old. Games, role-playing and reading with mum or dad will prepare them for what’s ahead at school. And introducing other children into playtime will help their sociability, too.
Parenting author Liat Joshi, author of Raising Children – The Primary Years, recommends board and card games to teach sharing, taking turns and understanding rules. Such activities can also help competitive children cope with not always winning.

Tackling shyness can be harder, but "Having 'play dates' at home where your child is most comfortable, and with children they know, can help start to build social confidence. At first you might need to 'facilitate' their play. Start them off with an activity and then slowly withdraw, leaving them to it."

Role play and why it's important

Acting is a great outlet for those who are loud, energetic and naturally confident but is also of huge importance to those less so. By playing with props, parents and children can talk about and begin to understand emotions.

Dr Harriet Tenebaum is a child psychologist at Kingston University who specialises in play. She says helping children learn about their feelings will stand them in good stead for coping with the many new experiences they will face at school: "In our own work, we have found that explaining ('he feels happy and sad because he likes the new bicycle, but thinks he might fall off') and getting children to explain why people feel the way they do ('why does he feel happy and sad at the same time?’) increases children's emotional understanding." For particularly shy youngsters (and parents who may feel self-conscious) puppets are a great way to ‘act out’ a variety of situations and emotions. Or use fuzzy felt and make faces change expressions!

5 great games to help prepare your child for school

  1. Building a tower from blocks: this deals with issues of frustration and taking turns.
  2. Action songs and rhymes: knowing the right moves and joining in help instil confidence and co-operation.
  3. Painting and drawing: ‘quiet’ activities involve sitting down and concentrating for short periods of time.
  4. Inviting other children to play: this can help overcome shyness and leaving them to play together prepares them to cope with separation anxiety.
  5. Packing away toys: encourages listening to instructions and co-operation.

We also love BBC Bitesize's Starting Primary School interactive game, My first Day at School. Help your child create their character and pick a school jumper, then explore the school and find all the different activities, from the register to painting time, lunchtime and play time in the playground!

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