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How to Prepare Your Child for School for the First Time

by Abigail Fishbourne


Starting school is both an exciting and daunting time for many families. For many children, it is often their first time being cared for by people other than family members—it is their first step of independence. For others, it is a step from the small preschool groups of nurseries into the big world of school.

The question on many parents’ minds is what they should do to prepare their children for their first day at school. Many expect that the answer would involve a list of educational objectives or memorised facts. They may anticipate a lecture on the importance of ensuring that children know the alphabet and how to write their names or count to ten, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, here is what you can do to prep them for those early days.


Starting the Conversation

You can help your child get used to the idea of school by including it in your daily conversations. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Talk positively about school at every opportunity: visit the school gates and talk about how exciting it will be to put on the school uniform and step through them when school starts.
  • Build up the excitement: count down the number of “sleeps” left until school starts.
  • Talk about all the new opportunities: the friends they will meet, the exciting activities they will participate in, and the teachers waiting to meet them.
  • Share your own fond memories of school.
  • Find and read books about starting school together.
  • If they voice that they will miss you or be upset when you go, acknowledge this. Let them know that you will also miss them, but that you will be there to hear about the wonderful and exciting day they have had at the end of the day.

Helpful Skills

Part of starting school is learning to be independent, so try to teach your child these self-help skills.


  • taking off a cardigan or jacket so that the sleeves don’t get pulled through and how to fix them if they do
  • putting on and taking off the school uniform and PE kit
  • getting clothes and shoes on the right way round
  • doing up zips, buttons, poppers, or belt buckles
  • doing up their shoes—velcro, buckles, or laces


  • using the toilet independently, including closing the door, cleaning themselves, and flushing the toilet
  • washing their hands properly, including using a soap pump and turning the tap on and off


If your child will be taking a packed lunch to school, teach them the following:

  • how to open and close the containers or packaging they will have in their lunch boxes
  • how to put a straw into a box drink
  • how to tidy their lunch away once they have finished


Being part of a class means learning how to work in a group with children, so you may want to also teach them some social skills. These include things like waiting, turn-taking, sharing, compromise, and listening. Additionally, it is also helpful to teach them how to follow two or three-step directions. For instance, you can teach them how to hang up their coat and then sit on the carpet or put their lunch box away, then sit on the carpet to look at a book.


The school day is full of talking, listening, and responding. So, you can build your child’s language skills by doing the following:

  • Talk, talk, and talk some more!
  • Share books: read to your child and talk about what you have read.
  • Use big words: check your child’s understanding of those words and, if necessary, explain what they mean. When they start reading, it will be much easier for them if those words are already part of their vocabulary.
  • Help build their memory. You can practise this by telling them what you need at the supermarket and then, when you get there, ask: “What did we come to the store for?”
  • Teach them to answer questions.
  • Teach them to ask questions.
  • Teach them to problem-solve. Problem solvers don’t say, “I’m thirsty,” they ask for what they need. So, teach them to say: “Can I please have a glass of water?”


Time away from their families means that children will need to learn how to cope. Therefore, talking over coping strategies with your children will help them tremendously. Here are some questions you can ask them to guide them through these conversations:

  • What do emotions feel like?
  • What makes you happy?
  • What can you do if you are cross?
  • What can you do if you are upset?
  • If you’re feeling sad, what’s something happy that you could think about to cheer you up?


In some instances, children may need reminding about what they can’t do in school, like biting or hitting. If you are teaching this, try to rephrase these commands positively. So, instead of “no biting”, you can say: “If you feel cross or upset you can tell the teacher, but remember, we never hurt other people.”

A Final Note

Don’t worry about the formal education and learning objectives—these are the teacher’s job. Instead, focus on the skills mentioned above. This way, your child will be ready to access the learning in the school day while their teachers take care of the academic side.

Abigail Fishbourne is the school improvement partner for International Schools Partnership – Middle East. She has over 27 years of experience in education and has taught in various schools in the UK and UAE.

The International Schools Partnership (ISP) is a growing group of international private schools around the world, all of which aim to be the school of choice in their local area. It was founded by an experienced team of committed educationalists and operators who have worked together over many years. ISP’s growing group of private schools are located in countries across Europe, Asia, North America, and South America, educating students from ages two to 18. They have now expanded to 50 schools delivering multiple curricula, building on local brands and reputations with around 46,000 students and 8,000 staff located across the globe. To find out more, visit internationalschoolspartnershp.com.


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