Ready for School

Going to school or nursery can be a big step for both children and parents. There are lots of activities you can do with your little one to help them develop the skills they need for school.

It’s normal for every child to develop at a slightly different pace. There are lots of. Here are some tips and links to support you on your journey to having a great start in the classroom!

Independence Skills

Washing your hands is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself and others from illnesses such as food poisoning and flu.

Some children will readily wash or clean themselves, others may not.

By making washing hands and nose wiping a fun activity, for example, through songs, children may be more likely to remember to do it.

Watch the video below with your child on how to wash their hands


Encouraging your child to dress and undress themselves supports their independence and can build their confidence. Remember to start small and allow plenty of time.

Bedtime is a good time to practice putting their pyjamas on themselves as it’s usually a quieter time. You can practice putting their school uniform on at any time of the day.

You could try putting on some music while they dress or undress. As they become more confident they may be able to dress and undress within one song (about 3 minutes).

Remember, making it fun is key. Give plenty of praise.

Ideally your child will be able to put on and take off their:

  • School uniform and PE kit
  • Socks and shoes
  • Coat.

In England, if you have children at a state school in reception, year 1 or year 2 they are entitled to free school meals regardless of your household income.

Children will need to feel confident eating independently, using a knife and fork and sat at a table. Get your child used to this by eating as a family at the table at home – practicing cutting up food and even get them to carry their own plate and clear it away, they may be expected to do this at school.

To support your child to eat well, including a variety of fruits and vegetables – at least 5-a-day - make sure you often expose your child to new foods. Try to incorporate a variety of textures too – smooth, lumpy and crunchy foods, as this will help your child to learn to like a range of different food.

It is perfectly normal for toddlers to refuse to eat or be a fussy eater. Make sure you give them the right portion – children have small tummies so will eat little and often rather than big meals. To help keep bodies and teeth healthy, children should only drink plain water or unflavoured milk. Children over one year should drink from a cup or free-flowing beaker.

Good Behaviour’s

It’s important to establish routines that ensure good eating and sleeping habits. Plenty of good sleep and a healthy balanced diet are very important to your child’s health and brain development.

Routines also help children to become independent. They like to know what is going to happen and when, because it makes them feel that they have some sense of control and can help them settle into the school and nursery environment. 

We all need sleep. Setting a healthy bedtime routine will help your child to feel ready and prepared to learn at school every day. Being tired affects behaviour and performance at school. Having a bath, book, bed can help.

Get more healthy sleep tips for children

A regular teeth brushing routine is essential for good dental health. Children between age 3 and 6 years old should:

  • brush at least twice daily for about 2 minutes
  • brush last thing at night before bed and at least on 1 other occasion
  • use children’s fluoride toothpaste containing no less than 1,000ppm of fluoride (check label) or family toothpaste containing between 1,350ppm and 1,500ppm fluoride
  • use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste
  • spit out after brushing and don’t rinse as the fluoride won’t work as well.

You should supervise your child while they brush their teeth.

Find out more about taking care of your children’s teeth

Confident, happy children will find it easier to settle more quickly when you leave them at school. Visiting new places and meeting new people will help children prepare to feel ready to explore their new school environment. Reassure your little one you will be back at the end of the day to collect them from school.

To help your child settle into to school ideally they will be able to:

  • say goodbye to their parent/carer with confidence
  • take turns and share when playing with others
  • be happy to help and tidy their belongings

Parents can encourage confident children by using the Five to Thrive approach. Five key activities for parents/carers to do with their children to help their brain development and help them connect to others around them.

Respond - You notice your child’s needs and feelings.

This switches on your brain and body to connect to your baby.

Cuddle and Engage -  Your child picks up signals from your body when you are close together.

This switches on their brain to connect to you.

Relax – Being calm yourself can settle your child.

The brain works best when we are calm and alert.

Play - Your face, your movements, and your tone of voice all stimulate your child’s brain.

Playfulness promotes healthy development at all levels of the brain.

Talk -  Human brains need language in order to work properly

All the words, sounds, signs, symbols, or objects that you use to communicate build patterns in your child’s brain that will help them to make sense of their life.

Hungry Little Minds is a resource full of ideas and activities for parents of under 5’s to do with their child to help them learn and discover the world. This will help them get ready for when they start school.

Hillingdon children's centres offer parenting support for families with children under 5 in Hillingdon and can support your child being nursery and school ready,

Learning to communicate

Reading with your child is the best way to help them develop a love of learning and support their speech and language skills. Establish a bath, book, bed routine so that your child enjoys a story every day.

Being able to communicate what a child is feeling and thinking will really help them get ready for school. 

  • Provide simple choices during the day so that children have the chance to say which they’d like and why. 
  • Encourage your child to have a go at things and ask for help when they need it. Let your child ask for things when you are out shopping. 
  • Play games that involve taking turns – make sure you are a good listener too!
  • Use family dinner time as an opportunity to talk about everyone’s day. Ask your child what they have enjoyed today. Reduce distraction by turning off the TV and radio.
  • Ditch the dummy to help your child to be able to speak clearly by making the right mouth shapes to make different sounds

A child’s strength to hold their pencil comes from their core. You can help your child develop their core muscles by providing them with plenty of outdoor play including:

  • running
  • hopping
  • skipping
  • jumping
  • throwing and catching a ball.

Developing strength in fingers and hands helps develop their fine motor skills to make it easier to hold and control a pencil to start writing and drawing. There are lots of activities that you can do together to help:

  • playdough,
  • finger rhymes,
  • provide materials to start practicing drawing and painting,
  • draw with a stick in the mud/water painting on the ground,
  • holding onto ropes and swings at the playground,
  • practicing using scissors,
  • scrunching up paper balls.

They’re all are fun ways to practice holding a pencil. Give lots of opportunities for you child to hold a pencil and make marks.

CBeebies Grown-ups: Ready for School

Sometimes at school your child will need to listen and sit still. You can help by encouraging activities at home that allow them to practise doing this. Developing good attention and concentration skills at home will support them get ready for the classroom.

Playing games that involve listening to different sounds or words and remembering the information helps children to become good listeners, eg. I Spy, Simon Says etc. Learning to share and listen helps develop important skills for a social classroom environment.

By emphasising the importance of listening, and showing your child they can take turns to talk and learn, they’ll gradually develop skills that will take them through school and beyond.

Ideally your child will be learn to:

  • sit still and listen for a short while
  • follow simple 2 step instructions
  • understand why we need to follow instructions.

Counting can be fun and there are many fun counting games that you can do with your child. You can also teach them to count on a daily basis, for example counting toys and items of food such as carrot sticks. 

Ideally by the time your child starts school they will be able to:

  • count objects
  • recite number rhymes, for example, “1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish alive”
  • recognise numbers when they’re written down.


Learning to use the toilet is an important step towards your child’s independence. Children are usually ready to start between 22 and 30 months but some children may be younger and others older. 

Toilet training requires time and patience. Give your child plenty of encouragement and praise when they are dry; don’t get cross or let your child see your frustration when they have an accident. 

If they have an accident change them in the bathroom. This helps them learn where they should be going. Encourage them to clean themselves by wiping properly using toilet paper and wash their hands if they are able to. 

Rewards for positive actions, such as a sticker for every time they use the toilet can help.

Bedwetting in young children is normal. Many children under the age of 5 wet the bed.

It can take some time for a child to learn to stay dry throughout the night.

Things you can do at home to help with bedwetting

  • do give your child enough water to drink during the day
  • do make sure your child goes to the toilet regularly, around 4 to 7 times a day, including just before bedtime
  • do agree with your child on rewards for positive actions, such as a sticker for every time they use the toilet before bed
  • do use waterproof covers on their mattress and duvet
  • do make sure they have easy access to a toilet at night
  • do not punish your child – it is not their fault and can make bedwetting worse
  • do not give your child drinks containing caffeine, such as cola, tea and coffee – this can make them pee more
  • do not regularly wake or carry your child in the night to use the toilet – this will not help in the long term

Constipation is common in childhood, particularly when children are being potty trained at around 2 to 3 years old. Constipation can cause soiling (child pooing their pants). If they're already potty-trained, the soiling is usually because they are badly constipated. Treatment from a GP can help. 

Useful resources