I can barely believe it. It feels like just the other day I was snapping pictures of my daughter – a little fraggle feeling all shiny and new ready to start school. But the months have been whizzing by and at the end of the school year, our daughter will be moving up from infant to junior school. Perhaps you are also at this juncture, wondering how best to prepare your child for starting junior school?
Even as I write this I am flooded with a mad mix of emotions – excitement for her, a mild anxiety of whether it will all be okay. And of course, that ever-present bittersweet feeling of your baby growing up fast and becoming ever more independent.
As the end of infants and the start of junior school swings ever more towards the latter, I have been increasingly mindful of what I should be doing to support this landmark transition. Yes – the schools have already been gearing them up with moving them off the carpet and onto desks sitting all neatly in a row facing the teachers. But what can parents do to prepare their child for starting junior school, especially as this year group is likely to be kept off school until September under the current Pandemic?
If your child is moving up from infant to junior school this year, let’s all take a deep breath together and hear this excellent advice from Murray Morrison – leading education expert and founder of intelligent online learning programme Tassomai on how we can best prepare them:
Starting junior school…how big is the transition from infants to juniors?
It’s easy, of course, to see each change as a defining one, but the move from infants to juniors is in most respects just another year. The pace, tone and purpose are likely to develop – as is right as children themselves mature and grow in capacity. But it’s really just another step on a long and exciting path through education.
What are some of the thoughts and feelings children are likely to have about starting junior school?
There is no straight answer – every child is different and deals with change in their own way. The abiding influence on a child’s feelings, though, is likely to be their own parents and how they themselves talk about the next stage. If parents talk about the transition as an exciting time where children will learn amazing new things, that’s likely to have a powerfully positive effect.
How can parents help children who may feel anxious about the transition?
The key thing in all cases is knowledge: know your child and what excites and scares them; know yourself and what you convey consciously or unconsciously in the way you talk about school; know the school and the curriculum and find out what you can about what’s coming.
The most important thing for your child’s education is always their attitude, enthusiasm, and confidence in it. I’d always advise parents to make sure they talk in such a way that helps their child engage in their education with a sense of excitement.
What can parents do to support their child a) in the run-up to the transition & b) in the first few weeks of the transition?
Keeping things in perspective is the main thing. Seeing this step as one of many, and helping to get across that everyone is different, everyone develops at a different pace, and to deal with any highs or lows without overreacting is likely to help build resilience.
Remember, as well, that schools and teachers are experts in the pastoral care that goes alongside the curriculum. The more you engage with teachers and listen to their advice, the better able you will be to help your child get the most out of their experience.
What are some things parents may be surprised to find out about how things are managed in Year 3 as opposed to Year 2?
It’s difficult to generalise as schools vary enormously in their approaches. You’re likely to get a good sense just from talking to teachers and other parents about how things are done in your school.
In some cases, there’s a greater emphasis on assessment and measurement of progress; there may be a move towards setting and streaming; in other cases, you may see very little change.
What are some of the new skills that children need in KS2?
As the level of challenge increases, resilience is something that will start to separate students. Those who are better equipped to meet those challenges and take adversity in their stride will have a better time of it.
Academically, the focus in KS2 is very much on reading, writing and maths – partly because schools are judged on their students’ performance in these areas. The breadth and balance of curriculum and the culture of the school is important too. It’s likely schools will be leading children not only to embed those key skills but also to develop their interests and curiosity in other areas.
How much will homework expectation change and how can parents best support children in that?
Homework is likely to become more of an expectation, though opinion and policy on homework vary greatly between schools. Many schools believe that homework is of limited benefit in terms of raising standards and that children should be spending home-time in more creative pursuits. Others will rely on homework as a means of reinforcing students’ skills and improving their self-directed learning skills.
It’s an easy trap as a parent to help too much – to the extent that you do your child’s homework with them and hand in perfect work. Avoid this at all costs. It may have the short term gain of getting them lots of ticks, but it carries perilous risks to their long-term education. Instead, take an interest, be there to discuss ideas or help them to find ways to work through problems, but make sure the work they do is their own; let them be less than perfect and receive the feedback and support they need from their teachers.
The opportunity in homework is to develop a child’s independence, self-reliance and understanding of themselves.
How might things like playtime and other social aspects change?
There’s likely to be less structured playtime – they may lose an afternoon break for a longer time in class. A child’s stamina and ability to concentrate becomes a factor, so parents who nurture and reward these abilities will be doing their children’s education a great service.
It’s probable, too, that at such a formative age, friendship groups may change and this can be quite tough, whether or not it’s explicitly acknowledged. Again, I’d advise parents to keep their distance on this issue, but keep an interest. If this emerges as a problem, don’t dismiss it too easily. The feelings of belonging and comfort are often deeply rooted in a child’s friendships and they can have a knock-on effect on their academic performance.
What are your top five Year 3 starter tips?
- Don’t Panic! The transition is part of an ongoing learning journey and goes hand-in-hand with a child’s mental, emotional and physical development. Embrace it.
- Find the positives in every experience and think about what you’ve gained from every experience. Ask always, “what went well?”
- Be patient – education is a life-long journey, so although what’s happening right now seems very important, try to keep things in perspective.
- Be yourself – it’s comforting to think about what you have in common with classmates, of course, but avoid comparing yourself to others. We’re all different, we all learn in our own way. Focus on yourself.
- Have fun!
In these unprecedented times with many children going up into Juniors without the months of transition due to Coronavirus, how concerned should parents be about this?
I wouldn’t be overly concerned – everyone is in the same boat and necessarily, schools will need to do a fair amount of looping back to make sure every student is in the right place for the new school year.
What extra steps can parents do to prepare their children for jumping into Juniors (whenever that may be) having finished Infants so abruptly?
It would be easy to think of the advantage you might give your child by plenty of intensive home-learning during school closure in order to get them ahead. I’d say this could be a misstep. The resumption of school will be fairly slow at first with lots of recapping, and the greater risk is that children will get bored. I’d really recommend using this time to give attention to those skills of focus, listening and self-direction while doing what you can to nurture their love of reading and curiosity.
What should parents of children who are deemed to be “behind” in certain skills or capabilities be doing to provide extra support to their children during this time?
Certainly, if there are areas that teachers have been advising you need attention, there is a great opportunity to give some particular attention. There are plenty of excellent resources out there that will support children in doing some extra practice. However, parents should be extremely careful not to focus too intently on areas of weakness – blend in targeted practice with an array of other, more confidence-building activities.
Is there any evidence that missing this period of school will have any sustained impact on children moving into Juniors, or is it all likely to even out in the long run?
I fear that this period of abeyance could have a powerfully negative impact on some sections of the education community. The ‘attainment gap’ is likely to widen considerably and this is something that should concern us all. Schools will certainly be working hard to address that as soon as they can get back to work.
If you had to give a pep talk to parents of children starting junior school it would be:
Remember the power of your words and your attitudes in shaping your child’s own attitudes. Focusing on the positives and the exciting opportunities ahead will make a huge difference.
Keep a good dialogue with your child’s teachers so you can understand what’s going on, what the plans are, and how they want you to help.
Support, but don’t hover: children at this stage need to learn independence and resilience. So give them enough freedom to try, and occasionally to fail. Be there to help when they need it, but don’t preempt their needs.
Set a good example – read with your child, but also let them see you reading for your own pleasure. Let them see that, even as an adult, you’re still learning, facing challenges and dealing with them so that they can see that their current experience is no different from anyone else’s.
If you have a child starting junior school this year, we hope you found the above insights useful. Do share your thoughts in a comment below.
About Murray Morrison
Murray Morrison is one of the UK’s leading Education and Revision experts with over 20 years of experience within the education, learning and revision sector.
Murray has personally taught hundreds if not thousands of students on a one to one basis to help them reach their full potential, pass their exams and grasp the process of efficient learning. During Murray’s career he has taught a diverse range of people. From students with learning difficulties, behavioural issues or psychological issues that prevented them from achieving their best, to the children of rock-stars and royalty. Murray’s approach has always yielded exceptional results and earned him the reputation as one of the top tutors in the UK and a renowned expert within this field.