Getting your little ones ready for nursery in September

Katie Fox, Primary School Teacher


Due to coronavirus, playgroups and nurseries are shut and those children due to start school in a few months will be out of routine and away from friends. It is understandable that many parents are worried about getting their children ready for September. Children learn and progress at different rates so there are no set criteria on what they need to be able to know or do when they first start nursery, but if they have had some experience learning at home it could help to make it a smoother transition. Turn taking games, imaginative play, reading, and developing fine and gross motor skills can promote independence, build confidence and help develop simple skills.

For some children, nursery will be the first time they have spent away from parents and caregivers where they will have more independence and lots of opportunities to choose their own learning through play. This can prove overwhelming at first, but there are lots of simple ways parents can support the transition from home. Here are my top tips:

  • Allow your child to choose their own outfits. If they choose something completely unsuitable, for example, a winter coat when it is hot outside, it provides an opportunity to talk about why the clothes might not be the most sensible choice. What do we need to wear when it is hot/cold/raining?
  • Help them practise getting dressed and undressed independently – zips and buttons are particularly tricky for young children.
  • If they are not already toilet trained, now is a great time to start trying.
  • Encourage independent feeding using cutlery – children at this age are not expected to use a knife and fork to cut up food but can use a spoon or fork to feed themselves. Do not worry if they are reluctant to feed themselves – providing opportunities to eat finger food or turn taking, you feed a bite then they feed themselves a bite, can help encourage them.
  • Model how to independently wash hands. This will be supervised and consistently modelled at nursery, but considering the current circumstances now is a great time to start practising. To make it more interesting you could use a washable marker pen to draw dots to represent germs and wash thoroughly until they all come off.

Lots of activities in early years are focused around fine and gross motor skills which are important for cognitive development. Fine motor skills are movements that use small muscles in the hands, fingers, toes, and wrists. Gross motor skills are movements that use large muscles in the arms, legs, torso, and feet. Due to the current circumstances, resources may be limited but there are plenty of things you can do at home with what you already have to support motor skills development. Why not give some of these a go?


Gross motor skills activities:

  • Yoga – tailored for young children:
  • Make an obstacle course out of household items like chairs, cushions, blankets, teddies. Experiment with different ways of moving to complete it.
  • ‘Simon Says’ with different ways of moving, e.g. skipping, hopping, walking, running, crawling, tiptoeing, bending, and stretching.
  • The animal game: explore moving like different animals e.g. waddling like a penguin, slithering like a snake, flapping arms like a bird.
  • Singing songs with actions like ‘I’m a Little Teapot’, ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ and ‘The Hokey Pokey’.

Fine motor skills activities:

  • Make your own playdough – ‘dough disco’ is a fun way to introduce new ways of manipulating the dough (rolling, patting, balling, kneading) along to music.
  • Helping hang out the washing – it takes a lot of strength to hold a peg open.
  • Practice using scissors (or ripping paper carefully along a line if you don’t have children’s scissors). You can draw simple 2D shapes or a variety of lines (straight, wavy, zig-zag) for your child to cut along.
  • Thread uncooked pasta onto string to make necklaces or bracelets. You could use paint or felt tip pens to decorate the pasta first.
  • Get cooking or baking together to practise skills like stirring, mixing and kneading.
  • Junk modelling! Use different materials from your recycling bin, glue and Sellotape to construct whatever your child is interested in – robots, castles, cars, rockets.
  • Play hairdressers! Get a colander to use as a ‘head’, your child can then thread uncooked spaghetti through the holes to make ‘hair’.
  • Messy mark making. Get a baking tray and sprinkle on flour/salt or squirt on some dish soap/shaving foam. Your child can then experiment making patterns and pictures using their hands, fingers, a paintbrush or cutlery. For children who are reluctant to try touching the wet textures, the dry textures like salt or flour will work well.

During this difficult time, children are not able to meet and play with others their own age, with the exception of siblings, and a common concern among parents is that this could affect making friends in September. But do not worry, there are several skills you can help to develop in order to prepare them. Promoting social skills through play is a great way to encourage turn taking in both conversation and the games themselves. Imaginative play can help with cognitive and social development as it supports the development of problem-solving skills, language, and self-regulation.

  • Share a story. Read a variety of texts: poems, fairy tales, storybooks, and non-fiction. Aim for short 5/10-minute sessions every day. Let your child hold the book, turn the pages and encourage talking about the pictures.
  • Helicopter stories – write down word for word a story that your child has made up. Then as a family act out the story whilst an adult narrates.
  • Play games that involve sharing e.g. Lego, building blocks, simple puzzles, etc.
  • Have a teddy bears picnic.
  • Make a fort/den. After you could role play camping or use it as a reading cave.
  • Make a shop to role play buying and selling food (tins, dried goods, cereal packets).
  • Dress up together and let your child create their own imaginative world. Children often need support when extending pretend play; you can help by suggesting ideas based on their interests.
  • Role play baby care/doctors/vets using dolls and teddies. This is a great way for your child to learn about caring for living things.
  • Play pirates – make a treasure map and go on a treasure hunt.
  • A cardboard box can be absolutely anything to a child – let their imagination run wild.

It is important to praise all efforts when approaching new tasks and challenges to build confidence and promote independence. But most important is for children to have fun!

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Further Reading

  • By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children
  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.