Dear Aunt Juniper,

My daughter starts school in 6 months and I’m keen to get her ready. She’s not been to nursery so isn’t used to sitting down for long periods and she certainly can’t write her name (I’m working on it!) I’m worried that she’s going to get left behind or won’t be able to cope with all the other children. I’m trying to teach her to use a knife and fork but she’s not that great yet. Is she supposed to be able to read? What if she has PE and can’t do her shoes up? Will anyone help her to remember to put her coat on at playtime?

What can I do to help her be more prepared for school (and to stop my sleepless nights)?

Thank you,

From, Where-Did-All-That-Time-Go.

Dear Where-Did-All-That-Time-Go,

Starting school is a huge step for both children and parents, but don’t panic! It’s important that your child doesn’t pick up on your anxieties, so concentrate on the exciting possibilities and be assured that everything will work out.

Firstly, encourage your child to be as independent as possible when dressing and undressing. Praise success and reassure her that you had to learn this as well when you were a little girl. Plan ahead and make things as easy as possible for her; for example don’t choose clothes for school with fancy or tricky fastenings. If she struggles to put on tights on her own, make sure she wears socks or trousers on PE days.

Velcro fastened shoes will be quick and easy to pull on and off – leave practising shoelaces for the school holidays! There will be plenty of adults around to help if necessary, but they will encourage the children to manage on their own if they can. Don’t forget to name all her clothes – a brightly coloured label or one with a picture will help her to identify her own belongings.

Make sure she can manage going to the toilet independently and practise how she can ask an adult if she needs to go. If there is a medical problem or she has not quite mastered it yet, make sure staff are fully informed so that they can help if needed.

There will be a lot of children who will not be great with a knife and fork either. Give encouragement and praise and rest assured that dinner staff will help if needed. Children’s tastes change constantly, but try to encourage a varied diet at home and a willingness to try new foods.

Your child will not be expected to read when she starts school; if you do want to introduce her to letters and sounds use the phonic approach i.e. the sounds the letters make, not their names. It is more important that she can sit still (ish!) and listen to stories and share books with adults and other children. She should be used to handling books, looking at the pictures and discussing the stories. When sharing a book, talk about it, asking questions such as ‘What do you think will happen next?’ or ‘How do you think the giant is feeling?’

Take every opportunity to widen her vocabulary and answer her questions – yes, I know this can be exhausting!

It will help if she is confident to hold and use crayons, pencils, scissors etc, but don’t worry if she is still mastering this. She will have lots of practice in writing her name when she starts school, but persevere and praise success, even if it is just getting the first letter right.

If possible, give her opportunities to mix with other children of a similar age, for example at a playgroup. This will give her practice in sharing and taking turns – vital skills in the classroom! Are there children living near you who will be starting school at the same time? It would help her confidence if she already knows at least one other child on the first day.

It is very natural to be anxious, but put aside your fears and both of you will enjoy this next big adventure!

Lots of Love,

Aunt Juniper* xx


*On this occasion, Aunt Juniper was Linda Brooks, a retired Primary School teacher with over 35 years experience.

Linda has taught every year in the school, but spent the latter part of her career focusing on Reception children. She was also an Early Years Special Educational Needs (SEN) Co-ordinator for many years. 


‘And breathe…..! Transition to school is a big deal. I’d suggest that you needn’t stress yourself or your daughter by trying to hit ‘targets’. Every child is different and there will be a range of abilities in her class. If she’s interested in writing her name, etc., do it with her, if not, don’t. The more practical stuff like getting changed herself is easier to practice every day and will help. And Velcro shoe fasteners all the way!’

‘My daughter is now in year one and I had the same worries when she started reception but the teachers and TAs do help with things like dressing, and the meal supervisor people help out at lunch time. They don’t expect them to be able to do everything straight away.’

‘Remember they are going to school to learn to read and write and this takes time. There will be children more/less able at certain things but that’s ok.’

‘Don’t listen to the parents that go endlessly on about how advanced their child is – no doubt yours will be excelling in other areas. It is stressful and I still felt worried when my daughter went into year one this year. No doubt I will feel the same at the next stage also. Hopefully the school will help with the transition and all will be fine. x’ 

‪’Our daughter’s school asked that she could button her cardigan herself (for after PE) and that was all. She couldn’t write her name properly or read a word – the teachers told me that is what they are there for – she’s also one of the youngest in her year but is coping well. x’

‪’With my reception classes I’ve always had lots of children who are at the same stage as your daughter. We don’t expect children to be able to fully dress themselves- but if they can make a start it always helps! I usually spend until Christmas teaching knife and fork skills but this is definitely something that would be really helpful to practice at home. In terms of writing her name, just keep pointing her name out and letting her have a go if she wants to, if not, it will come soon enough. Don’t worry. Every child is different and there is no set standard for starting school. She will be absolutely fine. x’

‘It’s amazing how quickly kids pick things up when they see other children doing it. They want to be like their peers.’

‘My son started reception this September. He’s a late summer baby so very young. The onus seems to be on fun and free play. He is not expected to be able to read and write, but it’s useful to get them to start understanding the concept of numbers and phonetics as they will start this in the first term. I do find that there is little support with zips and fasteners so worth practicing that a bit too. And yes Velcro shoes. He’s fine, but some kids find it all a bit unsettling, so don’t be worried if she has bad days in the beginning – they all do and she’ll have lots of good days too.’


Note: These are suggestions from members of Mummy’s Gin Fund based on experience and should not be treated as official advice. Any action taken is at your own risk. Always seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your life.

Always consult NHS 111, your GP, health visitor or A&E for professional medical advice.