Ready for school

School can seem a big step for both children and parents. It’s normal for every child to develop at a slightly different rate. This page contains information and ideas to help your child develop the skills they need to be ready for school.

Contact your health visitor if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development.

Getting dressed

Putting on clothes is a skill. It requires both big and small movements.

Buttons and zips can be difficult for small fingers. 

Help your child to get dressed by choosing school uniform that is easier to get on and off. For example, elasticated waists for trousers or skirts.

Get them to practice putting it on and taking it off before their first day. Be sure to plan extra time in the morning to reduce stress.

Practice putting shoes on the correct feet. Draw half a smiley face inside each shoe to help children with their left and right. Comfortable shoes which fit are important. Velcro or buckles are easier than laces. For PE, trainers support the feet more than plimsoles.

Ready for lunch

Children will need to be able to feed themselves using a knife and fork and sat at a table. Get your child used to this by eating as a family at the table. Get them to practice cutting up food. Get them to carry their own plate and clear it away.

To support your child to eat well offer new foods in different forms (raw or cooked, sticks or slices, smooth or lumpy). This will help your child to learn to like a range of different food.

It is normal for toddlers to refuse to eat or be a fussy eater. Make sure you give them the right portion size for them. 

Children should only drink plain water or unflavoured milk to keep their teeth healthy

Your child should be drinking from a proper cup. Make sure they are having about 6 to 8 drinks every day.

All children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 can have a free school lunch.

If you are on benefits your child may be eligible for free school meals throughout school. You need to apply through your local council. If your child is eligible for free school meals, they’ll also qualify for the Holiday Activity and Food Programme. Food vouchers may also be available through the Household Support Fund. Find out more by contacting your local council.

Read our Healthy Eating page for more information.

Going to the toilet

Your child should be wearing cotton pants through the day at school. Some children with complex needs may take longer to be dry during the day. Some children will not be dry at night when they go to school. This is normal.

Start toilet training as soon as your child shows signs they are ready. It 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 wipe properly themselves from front to back using toilet paper. Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water. You can use (not food) rewards, for example stickers when toilet training.

If you need help contact your health visitor.

To prepare your child for all types of physical school activities encourage a variety of outdoor play to practice new skills and movements. Feed your child’s natural curiosity and explore together:

  • at the park
  • climbing play equipment
  • skipping
  • kicking a ball
  • playing with other children

Try new games and activities as this is a great way to learn and practice new movements. This also helps children learn to give things a go and keep trying when things are difficult.

Play with your child as this shows you are interested. Delight in their discoveries and encourage creativity.

Every day should be a healthy day. Children should be active for at least 3 hours every day (spread throughout the day). NHS Live Well suggests tips to reduce sitting time including:

  • agree a family limit to screen time per day
  • make bedrooms a TV and computer free zone
  • limit screen time to encourage kids to be active
  • involve your child in household chores such as setting the table or taking the bins out
  • use toys such as balls, skipping ropes or kites to encourage active play

For more ideas and local links see our Being Active page.

There are ideas for free things to do in Yorkshire.


Being able to communicate what they are feeling and thinking will help your child get ready for school. 

  • Give simple choices during the day so your child can learn to say what they would like and why
  • Encourage your child to have a go at things
  • Support them to ask for help when they need it
  • Support your child to ask for things when you are out, for example asking where the toilets are
  • Play games that involve taking turns
  • Use family dinner time as an opportunity to talk about everyone’s day
  • Ask your child what they have enjoyed today
  • Turn off screens, TV and radio

Having healthy teeth and gums will help your child speak clearly. Stop using a dummy if they still have one. Remember to brush their teeth twice a day. NHS dental care is free for children. Find you nearest dentist and register with them today.

Words for Life has ideas on little ways to make a big difference, which books to read and activity sheets.

Talking Point has tips for parents with children of all ages.


Your child will need to listen and follow instructions at school. Developing good attention and concentration skills at home will help get them ready for the classroom.

  • Play games that involve listening, for example I Spy or Simon Says
  • Read stories and rhymes together. Stop at different points in the story and ask them what they think might happen next
  • Establish a bath, book, bed routine so that your child enjoys a story every day (this also helps improve sleep)
  • Visit your local library to discover new books together and attend story or rhyme time sessions

Tips for talking to your baby and young child from the Literacy Trust

Baby and toddler play ideas

Writing Skills

Your child needs to develop strength in their fingers and hands. This helps them to become more independent with everyday activities that require fine motor skills. It will 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, find examples on the BBC website 
  • mark making, draw and paint
  • draw with a stick in the mud or paint with water on the ground
  • play with ropes and swings at the playground
  • practice using scissors
  • scrunch up paper balls

Children should be able to concentrate on something they find interesting for short periods of time.

CBeebies has different programmes on getting ready for school.

Staying Healthy

Make sure your child is fit and healthy to attend school as much as possible. Remember to take them for their preschool vaccinations (age 3 years) at their GP surgery. Please contact your GP if they have not had them.

If your child is unwell and you’re unsure if they should go to nursery or school, there is lots of information on this page.

Make sure your child knows how to wipe their own nose. 

Did you know that under 5’s can have a free NHS eye test? They don’t need to be able to recognise letters or read to have their eyes checked. It is important to find eye problems early as it can affect their development and education.


Being a confident and happy child 

The Five to Thrive approach includes 5 key activities for parents and carers to do with their children to support attachment.

Do the 5 key activities every day with your child to help their growing brain develop: 

  • Respond 
  • Cuddle 
  • Relax 
  • Play 
  • Talk

Confident, happy children will settle quicker when you leave them at school. Visiting new places and meeting new people will help your child feel ready to explore their new school environment. Reassure your child you will be back at the end of the day to collect them from school.

There are tips on how to learn and play with your child everyday through the different early years stages from National Literacy Trust’s project.


We all need sleep. Setting a healthy bedtime routine will help your child learn at school every day. Being tired affects behaviour and performance at school.

Children aged three to six need roughly between 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night. So, for a child that wakes at 7am, you should be aiming for them to be in bed around 7pm.

Our sleep page has more information. 

Special Educational Needs or Additional Needs

If you feel you and your child would benefit from extra support with starting school, you can speak with your local health visiting or school nursing service. They may offer support with a personalised plan. If your child is under a specialist team or paediatrician, you can speak with them regarding your child starting school or nursery.

If you think your child may have special educational needs (SEN), contact the SEN co-ordinator, or ' SENCO ' in your child's school or nursery. Contact your local council if your child is not in a school or nursery. 

This BBC article has tips for parents of children with special educational needs.

This guidance has been reviewed and adapted by healthcare professionals across West Yorkshire with consent from the Hampshire development groups.