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Skills for starting school

There are lots of things you can work on at home to help your child develop the skills they need for school.

Becoming independent

Encourage your child to develop basic skills such as getting dressed, eating with a knife and fork and managing going to the toilet on their own before they start school as this will give them confidence and make them feel in control and independent.

Getting dressed is a complex skill that requires a mix of both large and small movements: putting arms in jumpers and legs in trousers. Buttons and zips can be tricky for small fingers, so try and think about this when buying school uniform.

Child getting dressed

With encouragement and lots of practice, your child should be able to dress and undress themselves ready for school and home. It’s important to make extra time for them to try this in the mornings, as it can be frustrating for you both if you are in a rush. Make a game of it, keep positive and keep on trying.

Children who are just about to start school don’t need to tie shoelaces as this is an advanced skill and one that they don’t really need to learn until they are about eight or nine years old. Shoes come with a variety of fastenings including Velcro and buckles, so again get them practising and make learning their right foot from their left foot fun!

Physical Play

By the time your child goes to school, they will no doubt already be skilled at running around! At pre-school and school, they will be discovering and developing new skills all the time, and need lots of time to practice new play and movement.

To prepare your child for physical school activities, encourage lots of outdoor play. This could involve going to the park, letting them climb, kicking a ball around and playing with other children.

Children sitting together

Playing with others

You can try to play simple board games with your child to help them to develop turn taking skills, encouraging them to wait patiently for their turn. This will help when mixing and playing with other children at school.


If your child is having school meals, they will need to feel confident eating independently, so sit down to eat as a family, getting them involved in the whole process from laying the table to using their own knife and fork.

They may also be expected to clear away their plate when at school, so start getting your child used to this at home first too.

Developing Writing skills

To encourage early writing skills, you can:

 1)   Provide writing and drawing materials which your child can enjoy using, and have fun doing different craft activities together.

2) Practise a range of big play activities, such as catching a ball and safe climbing games. This will help them to develop muscles in their hands, arms and shoulders, which all help when it comes to writing.

3) Involve them in every day tasks such as writing shopping lists, labels, using a scrapbook/photo album and writing birthday and Christmas cards to friends and family.

4) Talk to your child’s new teachers who will also be able to give you advice and tips on the writing techniques they will be using in the classroom.

Grandparent and child writing

Using scissors

Using scissors can be difficult for a small child as it is a complex skill to master. All children should be supervised when using scissors. It may take a few years before they can cut accurately and independently, so make sure you give them lots of chances to practice.

Ideally, your child should be able to cut a straight line with child safe scissors by the age of five or six.

There are so many changes for your child and you to get used to when they first start school, so if you can start to make some changes at home, they get an idea of what’s to come and it may help them feel settled more quickly.

Why not download our free ‘ready for school’ reward chart that you can fill in with your child? It will help them feel confident in the new skills they are mastering.

If you do have any concerns with your child’s development or they appear to have difficulties with any of these activities, contact your Health Visitor for additional help and support.

Page last reviewed: 25-08-2021

Next review due: 25-08-2024