Parenting: How to prepare little ones for school during the pandemic

It astounds me how fast the time goes when you have a baby. It is true when people say they are tiny newborns one minute and before you know it they are off to school. My little girl is a summer born baby, so she will go to school after just turning four. Having to make a choice for school when she's only recently turned 3 has been a bit stressful. So I'm offering some tips and ideas from an Advanced Teacher to get them ready for it as much as possible. 

I'll be honest, sending my littles off to nursery and school is a wrench for me and although there are times when it just has to happen for work or whatever, it doesn't mean that it always comes without guilt, worry or anxiety. Even under normal circumstances this is true but during Covid it feels another level to get to grips with. 

The Little Inspiration was 2 when this whole pandemic lockdown began and having another young baby to care for has just accelerated time beyond all belief. We used to go a playgroup most days and have the odd play date, which I felt was good for their development and would nicely lead onto nursery and then school.

But of course all groups and socialisation stopped and for a year and a half and it has been just us mostly. Due to Covid, the local, rural preschool we had selected for her to attend from when she turned two closed for most of 2020 until September anyway.

When they reopened in September we didn't want to hold her back any longer and she really wanted to see playmates, so we decided to let her go. It's a small rural preschool with only a handful of children so it was a risk we decided to take. It only opens a few days a week and so she only goes two half days at the moment, so that feels miles off from going to school full time.

Not only will she be one of the youngest in the year at just four, but also she has had little socialisation or experience with large groups of children, or attending places without me really. 

Well meaning people and teachers say they'll be fine and it all balances out, and of course, I hope they are right, but I worry about their emotional readiness, as well as the practicalities of being tired with full time school after being home so much.

Academically I think they do catch up and the Little Inspiration is so bright, doing things much earlier than is typical for her age, that I think that side of things will be fine. But I know that there won't be someone helping with self care type stuff with a class of 30 to look after and I don't know if they'll offer the individual attention and care that she is used to.

I guess we all hope that life will be more normal by the autumn and Covid itself will be a distant idea but I suspect that it will still be around in some way. Yes older or vulnerable people will all be vaccinated but little ones and their parents probably won't be.

I do also realise that many children during lockdown have been going to school or nursery throughout this time and for some there has been no choice but to send them. I am supportive of anyone who has been through this and would love to hear your experiences, as it will have varied for many.

Obviously I want this to feel like a positive, upbeat place to write but I also like to be honest about the ups and downs from my perspective and this is something I'm sure many of you are also worried about. I like to do what I can to ease the anxiety and for me, its preparing and planning as much as I am able and not worrying about stuff outside of my control.

There are a few things I have been considering to help prepare for this huge step of applying for and getting ready to go to school which you may also want to think about....

# If your little one is also summer born, did you know you can defer school until the term after they turn 5? When I was little, as a summer born myself, there were 3 intakes across the year, so that you didn't get just turned 4 years olds starting in autumn. They don't do that any more but you have a legal right not to send them until they're 5. 

All kids are different and if you think your child isn't ready whether emotionally, physically or otherwise, look into delaying their start. Schools and authorities don't like to promote this fact so you will have to dig around and there is a really helpful facebook page to support you.

# You may also decide to phase their start, especially if they haven't had experience at preschool or otherwise. This is something I have discussed with the headteacher and agreed that we will phase her in. The pros are that you can pick mornings, afternoons or a combination. Or you may do three full days and if you know they'll be tired at the end of the week keep them home.

It will vary for everyone what they think works and it may be a really short intervention, litrerally a week or two until they settle, or it could last for 6 months or more. Again legally they don't have to start until they're 5 so you can choose. Schools are very different and some may discourage it but if you as a parent feel its right after this last year, look into it.

The cons for me are that I worry about them missing out on learning and friendships by being different in their hours. I plan to be very led by my girl and let her choose when she's ready to increase her hours. Knowing how eager she is it may only be for a few weeks. I guess the only thing may be that schools are less flexible than nurseries say, so we probably couldn't keep changing hours as it wouldn't be fair on the teachers. The school have said they will need to know which days and hours in advance so bear that in mind.

# The other thing to prepare your child is to really focus on self care things like toileting, putting on coats and shoes, listening skills, and fiddly things like zips and buttons. This will prepare them enormously for going to school.

Academically I asked an Advanced School Practitiioner to share their top tips for getting littles ready for school and this is what she said:

do small jigsaws

threading small beads

manipulating play dough - roll, squash, squeeze, twist etc

Recognise their first name

write their own first name

hold a pencil using a tripod grip with their fingers

know colours

enjoy reading books - knowing which way to hold them, how to turn the pages, looking at the pictures, perhaps even spot letters of their name in the text.

go to the toilet independently.

dress and undress themselves (though they may need help with tricky buttons, zips or tights!)

Balance/climb/jump on and off small obstacles - logs, low walls etc

Climb, roll, run, jump

Rote count to 10 (or more!)

Count out sets of objects of a given number eg can you give me 6 buttons etc

recognise basic shapes - circle, square, triangle, rectangle

begin to categorise things eg put all the orange buttons in the dish and all the green buttons on a plate, find all of the animals that can swim etc

take turns in a game

share resources with another child

follow 2 step instructions eg go get your coat and bag

Have listened to books about starting school so they aren't too nervous!

I think the main thing to say is that it will all be ok, really it will. Our anxiety as parents is important to control and not show in front of kids. They will be excited to make friends, play and learn and our job is to support that. 

I subscribe to respectful parenting, hence being led by my ltitle girl, but also authentic parenting, so that they can be honest with me about anything that is bothering them.

It's an exciting new adventure for them and us, and I'm excited to watch her make friends and flourish in a new environment.

How are you feeling about it all? Do you have words of experience to share?

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