Starting school: the first day

Girl in uniform doing up her shoes
Make your child’s very first day at school a success with a few tips from experienced parents. Reception, here we come!

Starting school is one of the biggest events in your child’s life. As you move towards this momentous occasion, it can be with a mixture of pride that your child is ‘growing up’ and sadness that your child will be spending school days away from you. 

Getting ready for school

The oldest child in the family has the toughest job. They may never have set foot in a school playground before and be unfamiliar with everything from the buildings and uniform to the hustle and bustle of school life. So first day fears are common. 

Confidence boosters

Don't worry, schools are keen to make the transition as easy as possible. To prepare your child, schools will often have open days and evenings for you and your child to look around and meet teachers. Teachers might also visit local nursery schools so that they can introduce themselves to new pupils, or even visit you at home before term starts. 
 
A staggered intake over several days or weeks, with children starting school in groups (usually the eldest first) further helps children to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

What to expect from your child's first day 

When we quizzed TheSchoolRun parents about their first day at school, memories that stood out included meeting the class guinea pig, the thrill of getting a carton of milk and the ‘delights’ of a 1977 brown and orange uniform (with matching satchel, of course). 
 
Fast-forward a few decades and five-year-old Sacha recalls her first day happily. “I had to write my name, do a handprint for my peg in the cloakroom and draw a picture of myself. It was new but fun,” she remembers. “My teacher put us into partners with other new children so we could play together and my big brother came to visit at playtime.”

Calming first day fears 

Children need to know what to expect and many first children, who aren’t used to the pick-ups and drop-offs that younger siblings take for granted, may be unsure of common school procedures, such as being left in the care of the teacher, what will happen during the school day and whether they will make friends. Take the time to talk about these things and ask older siblings or friends to recall their favourite activities from school.
 
Naturally there is such a thing as too much talk. If your child appears to be anxious, try doing or talking about something else until they ask a question.

Essential skills for starting school

Your child won’t want to be embarrassed in front of their new classmates so help them prepare for the first day by practising practical things including:
  • being able to take off and put on their coat
  • using a knife, fork and spoon
  • washing hands after the toilet
  • tying shoelaces 
  • undressing and dressing after PE, managing buttons and zips.
You might also want to try some school scenarios in your playtime such as:
  • sitting quietly while having a book read to them
  • gathering teddies together to take part in ‘circletime’, where your child will take turns to speak, ask questions and listen to others
  • recognising their name
  • sitting at a table for drawing and other activities
  • making new friends, saying “hello” and sharing.

Reading books about the first days of school, playing an interactive game like BBC Bitesize's My First Day at School or watching videos of primary-school children introducing aspects of school life (there is lots of advice and support for both children and parents on the BBC Bitesize Starting Primary School website) are all great ways to help your child begin to picture their classroom and daily routine at school.

Find out more about how your child grows and changes in their first year at school: How your Reception child develops.

For details of what your child will be learning in their first year at 'Big School' read our parent guides to Reception maths, Reception English and Reception science