Starting school: keeping up the momentum in Reception year

Reception child reading
So they’ve flown the nest... well, until the school run that is! Primary-school teacher (and parent of a Reception child) Phoebe Doyle offers some advice on keeping motivation maxed and avoiding tears during this most crucial of school years.

I simply can’t believe my baby boy has started school. Off he’s gone, tiny legs in too-large grey shorts, black school shoes on feet which a couple of weeks lived only in Crocs, smart school jumper waiting eagerly for school dinner to be slopped down it. How did this happen? How did time fly?

Yet fly it unquestionably does. And starting school is an exciting time, I tell him (and myself!). It signifies growing-up, sure, but it’s exciting nonetheless as it’s the beginning of a child's more independent learning journey.

Speak to any parent who has lived through this year though and they’ll tell you that it’s rarely totally trouble-free. For starters Reception children are invariably shattered. Absolutely exhausted. Then they’re having to deal with new people, learn (and hopefully follow!) new rules and get to know the routine of school life. It can all be a bit much sometimes.

So the tears come. And, in some cases, anxiety. But you can help them immensely at home, both by supporting them with their learning and reacting to their emotions. Here’s a short guide to some of the issues that may crop up.

Doing (but not over-doing) any homework/reading

Hopefully your child will be eager to be doing homework/ reading at home as they’ll see it as “SO grown-up”. I’ll warn you though, this novelty may wear off after a few weeks and so it’s vital to keep it fun and not push too hard.

Whenever possible, let them initiate doing any reading. If they never seem in the mood, though, choose a time when they’re relaxed (probably not when you've just got in from school) and not too tired. Make it a shared, enjoyable experience; when they are given books with words in, read them together. Never cover pictures to check they know the words – just keep it light, fun and a real bonding time.

Tackling tiredness

This is the BIGGIE. Even if your little one is used to being in a childcare setting for whole days, school is different. It tends to be more structured and routine-led; there’s less free-flow when children can take their activities at their own pace. Plus there’ll be more children around, and big ones too!

So be patient, there are likely to be some meltdowns. Understand that they might be rotten at home sometimes. Ensure you stick to bed-times, and make that a priority over activities or play-dates. Have at least a couple of evenings with no plans, other than for them to relax.

Unfortunately they may also find it difficult to switch off and go to sleep. Their minds are likely to whir after such a busy day. Help them to relax with a story and a cuddle. This is no time to point out sounds or words – just story for story’s sake. Here they’ll find comfort and nostalgia and hopefully the right vibes to send them off for a good night’s sleep.

Learning through playing

I love watching my own children’s play. They’re so good at instinctively making up games jam-packed with learning opportunities, ones that adults would never have the creativity to being able to invent for them. From measuring one-another’s feet at the ‘shoe shop’, to playing schools or vets they’ve got so many learning objectives covered it’s hard to keep track of them all!

So let them play. It’s how children learn best. Be on hand to help with resources if needed; plenty of stationery (the cheap stuff is just as good) is always handy, tempting glitter pens (who could resist writing with those?!), and real things are always preferred. Turn a blind eye as they riffle through your pots and pans, let the mess unfold and be grateful that the havoc will be matched by the learning potential.

Reading real books

The worst lesson that children can learn when they start school is that sumptuous picture books, written by talented authors, are to be replaced by reading scheme books only. We tend to get it into our heads that something official, with a level on it, is how children learn to read, but children read mainly through a desire to do so, so it’s vital we keep this burning through top quality literature at home. Let them choose and let it be non-fiction if that’s what floats their boat right now! (Not interested in a single new fact about about dinosaurs or ponies? Well, they are and that’s what’s important!)

Offering praise

As you look at your child as they head towards half term and beyond and they’re exhausted, have caught their hundredth cold and come home with nits again, remember that they’ve a right to not be 100% sparky the whole time! Praise them relentlessly for what they’ve achieved; they’ve started big school, played with new children and learnt lots. Reward them on a Friday with a magazine, watching a favourite TV programme as a family or a sweet treat – regular things to work toward can be mightily incentivising.

Enjoy the first year of 'big school' (and try not to cry!)!