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Starting school - a guide

Updated: Sep 22, 2021

It’s an exciting time but an emotional one; your little one is moving on from being at home or at nursery to begin their Reception year at school. Although filled with eagerness and enthusiasm a change of setting, friendships groups and expectations can be unsettling for children and parents alike.

Here are a few things to expect from the Early Years Foundation Stage (Nursery and Reception) and some tips to help your child feel at ease with adapting to their new daily life.


Meet the teacher

Due to Covid your child will probably not be able to go into the school for the usual pre-summer holiday settling in sessions however you can expect that your child's teacher will visit you in your home come September before they start (Covid restrictions allowing). Inviting your child’s teacher into your home is a great way for the teacher to see your child at their most comfortable. Encourage your child to share with their teachers something special to them, this might help to break down the barriers and get them chatting. Your child’s teacher will usually arrive with questions ready prepared; they are not being nosy but just trying to get a well-rounded picture of your child and get any additional important information they will need to know to successfully settle your child. Have a think about what you may want to ask them before their visit and make a note of it.

Your child may not start until mid/end of September

Usually EYFS settings settle the children in small groups. This can be difficult for working parents but it is important that children are not overwhelmed by walking into a class full of new children and have the attention of the teacher in their first days of school. Staggering the school start will ensure your child gets the one to one attention they need when finding their place in their new class and also help the teacher to establish rules and routines gently.

Starting school may include some half days to begin with

Most EYFS settings will invite your child in for a few hours at a time, taking each day as it comes and asking to respond to how your individual child is settling. Each child will settle differently and it is important not to compare your own child’s experiences with others - they will settle eventually but forced settling will usually mean more long term problems such as not wanting to go into school throughout the rest of the year. Try to be patient and listen to your child’s teacher they will know what is right for your child.

What looks like a free-for-all is carefully structured play

Do not be concerned by children playing freely in your child's class - it is not that your teachers do not care. Behind what looks like children being babysat is actually carefully well thought out, planned and structured play experiences for your child. Do not expect to see your child sat at a table with pen and paper - children at this age learn best through play and experiences to consolidate their learning (listen to our podcast episode with Amelia on Play to learn more).

Online observations

In the EYFS children are observed playing and from these observations your child’s teacher will plan carefully to help facilitate and develop your child’s skills. Most settings now use some kind of online platform such as 'Famly' or 'Tapestry' to share these developments and milestones with you. You may also be invited to add in milestones from home helping to create a full picture of your child which helps with the assessment and planning process.

Your child may settle in the first couple of weeks and then suddenly not want to go

This is very normal. Excitement alone can carry your child through their first couple of weeks and then the novelty wears off and they realise this is a permanent change; it can be quite daunting and unsettling. Don’t be surprised if suddenly they start to cry and not want to go in. Just speak to your child’s teacher and together you can work out the things your child enjoys and what friendships they have made to help encourage them gently in to the classroom; in time all will settle down.

Toilet use may take a step backwards

Whether you have had one month or two years of your child confidently using a toilet, starting school can undo any toilet training you have previously done. Do not panic, you are not going back to square one. Be understanding and respond gently to your child. Ask them about the toilets at school - it may be something simple like a new louder flush that worries them or just a new toilet that they need to warm to. Work with your child's teacher so that they can be reminded to use the toilet throughout the day. It also may be a sign that your child is a little unsettled by the change and as they begin to settle in to their new life so will their toilet use. It is vital that you do not tell them off when you are passed a bag of wet clothes at the end of the day as this is likely to exacerbate any anxieties they have already and make the problem worse.

Tips to help your child settle

Have a visual timetable

A simple visual timetable at home will help your child pre-empt what is coming. When a routine changes it can cause anxiety; change the timetable with your child the night before so that they will know what is happening tomorrow and mentally prepare.

Have a picture of your child's teacher and classroom at home

If the school haven't provided you with one before the summer then request one - its a good way for your child to familiarise themselves with who they will be spending their weeks with and in what environment they will be learning.

Find out if your child knows of anyone going into the same class

Set up some play dates with them over the summer - having a familiar face will make it more exciting and enticing.

Encourage messy play

In the EYFS messy play is an integral part of the learning experience. If a child is worrying about a uniform getting ruined due to parents being upset this will place barriers on their play. Ensure they are equipped and dressed appropriately to get involved. This will ensure they don't feel left out or avoid activities that will encourage happy and attentive play.

Try to be on time

It can be extremely unsettling if a child is walking into an EYFS classroom late. This is because quite often children have settled into playing with a group of children already. It is really important for your child’s self esteem and enjoyment of school that they are part of this warming up session at the beginning of each day.

Work with the teacher

It can be very unsettling for a child if a parent is unsure or being negative about the place they are going to everyday or the people that are looking after them. If you do have concerns about the teachers approach, teaching skills or the environment they are in arrange a meeting with the teachers without your child there. Let them see that you are confident in the place you are sending them everyday but do also encourage honesty - it is important for them to be able to come to you if they are upset with a teacher or adult in the school - they need to know that they can question anyone's behaviour, even adults!

If you have any questions regarding school starts and you feel unable to approach your child's school please do get in touch and I will try to answer your questions and put your mind at rest. You can email me at and I will aim to get back to you within 24 hours.


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