Getting children ready for school should be fun - for both of you. Making a game of what you are doing is a great way to help your children learn.

Using games

Games can be a great way of helping get your children ready for school. They are fun and children won’t even realise that you’re giving them the vital skills they need.

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1. Incorporate sorting and matching into everyday activities with your child, e.g. matching socks from the washing basket, sorting which clothes / shoes / hats or scarves belong to which family member. This can lead to a dressing up activity.

2. Where’s the object? Whilst playing with toy cars, dolls or soft toys with your child, place one object under a chair, table or other piece of furniture and another object on top. Ask your child which object is ‘under’ and which is ‘on top’. Do the same with a box or bag to develop the concept of ‘in’ and ‘out’. Or use a shelf unit for ‘high’ and ‘low’. Progress the game by asking your child to place an object under or on top of something.

3. Hide something with your child’s name written on it (use a capital for the first letter of their name and then lower case letters). Use a stop watch on your phone, cooking or games timer, or see if they can find it before you count to 20.

4. Simon says. Firstly, ask your child to follow your verbal instructions to do an action, e.g. jump up and down, turn around, stand on one leg, fold your arms, whisper your name. When your child is familiar with following instruction, explain that they can only do it when ‘Simon Says’, i.e. if you say, “Simon says touch your nose” then they do that action. If you just say, “Touch your nose” your child does not do that action. This can be used to get your child to do activities from a routine.

5. Make skittles using plastic bottles. They can be left empty or weighted down with pasta, rice or sand. Find a soft ball or make one using a pair of socks or scrunched up paper to roll or throw at the bottles. Stand the bottles up and roll or throw the ball to knock the skittles down. There are many ways to vary this activity, try writing each letter of your child’s name onto a separate piece of paper, stick one on to each bottle and stand them up in the right order before knocking them down again.

6. Use the book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ to talk about and act out the story together. You could make some of the obstacles in the story, e.g. use some blue fabric for the river. 

Songs and rhymes

Songs and rhymes help your child to think in words. Singing to children before they learn to speak is ‘preparing a child’s ear, voice and brain for language’ and may avoid language problems developing in later life.

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Repetition is very important to early brain development and songs and rhymes are particularly good for this. You may find that a child wants to sing the same song over and over. Try not to discourage this as it’s helping to make lasting connections in his/her brain.

1. Sing rhymes and songs with your child. Encourage your child to join in actions while singing along.

2. Make a song box by collecting several items which are related to songs and rhymes. Put the items into a bag or box. Let your child put their hand into the bag and pick out an item. Everyone can sing the related song.

3. Use song books with CDs to join in and sing along. Alternatively, look on YouTube for songs and rhymes.

4. If you really don’t like to sing, try chanting and emphasising the rhythm.

5. Record yourselves singing together. Children love to hear themselves – and you.

6. Songs that include the child’s name are great fun and they love to join in. For example, if you know the song ‘Peter pointer’, you can substitute the child’s name – “Harry Smith, Harry Smith where are you?” Your child may reply or sing “Here I am. Here I am. How do you do?” It’s a good idea to suggest your child hides first and it becomes a peek-a-boo game too.

7. Try songs with instructions e.g. “Here we go round the mulberry bush … This is the way we brush our teeth; put on our shoes” etc.

Outdoor activities

There are opportunities everywhere to help your children to get ready for school. There is so much you can do every time you leave the house.

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1. Look for environmental print i.e. signs, logos etc.  (There is lots more about this on our reading and writing page)

2. Play pooh sticks. You need to be on a bridge over flowing water. All the same time as each other, drop sticks into the water at one side of the bridge. Run to the other side and see which twig comes out first. You could read the Winnie the Pooh story about pooh sticks at home before or after playing the game.

3. Collect items to use in a collage, e.g. feathers, leaves, conkers, twigs, pine cones. Stick onto paper or card at home. Use this opportunity to talk about washing hands.

4. Use the opportunity to count. For example, the cars, birds' nests, people wearing wellies. Or look for certain objects, e.g. red cars, white ducks, dogs, diggers, tractors.

5. Take paper and wax crayons to make bark rubbings

Fun with playdough

Playdough can be used to develop many different areas of your child’s school readiness: from their physical and intellectual development, to recognising their own name, learning to share and using cutlery - and even more. Make it first and have it ready for your activity with them.

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1. Before you begin an activity, allow your child time to play freely with the dough, you will see how much they enjoy just kneading and squeezing it.

2. Introduce plastic cutters and plastic plates or bowls. Ask the child to imagine they are making their favourite food and arrange it on the plate. Introduce plastic cutlery but make sure they don’t actually eat the dough. Children like to offer what they’ve made for you to pretend to eat. Use specific praise, e.g. “Mmm that’s tasty, please can I have a bit more tomato”? Or help them to think about size and shape, e.g. “Can you make me a square one”?

3. Roll pieces of dough on a flat surface to make ‘snakes’. These could be used in a variety of ways, e.g. Form letters of their name and encourage your child to try. Decorate the ‘snake’ using the end of a pencil to make shapes on the dough. This will support your child to hold a pencil. Make ‘snakes’ of different lengths and talk about the differences.

4. Mix two colours of dough and see what happens when you mix them together.

5. Add natural materials to use with the dough like shells, pine cones and twigs. 

Snakes and ladders

This classic game can help with counting, taking turns and playing with others. But you can also use it to help your child with lots of other skills too.

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Make a simple ‘snakes and ladders’ board. This can be made with your child. The number of spaces on the board will depend on the stage of your child. For example, if your child is new to the game or has a short concentration span, then a board with less squares may be more suitable. Similarly, the number of ladders can be increased for younger children. The length of board and numbers of snakes and ladders can be increased to make the game more challenging.

Play traditional ‘snakes and ladders’. Place the counters on the start. In turns, throw the dice and move counters the right number of places (you can download a free dice app on smartphones). If the counter lands on a ladder it can be moved up the ladder. If it lands on a snake then the counter has to slither down the snake. Who will be first to reach the end?