Learn about what to teach your child before they head off to school.
Given that the national curriculum was created by the 1988 Education Reform Act and first used in schools in 1989, the fact that no one has written a parents’ guide to it before is puzzling.
One reason may be that it keeps being revised, which threatens to render any guide obsolete by the time it’s published.
Our hope is that the latest version of the national curriculum, which came into effect in 2014, will remain in place long enough for our book to prove useful.
Our aim is to help parents of primary schoolchildren understand what it is their children are learning in the classroom – and what they can do at home to help.
Please don’t think you have to do everything we suggest. Plenty of children are exhausted when they come home from school and the last thing they want to do is some educational ‘exercise’.
Between us, we have nine children and if we’d done all these after-school activities with just one of them, we’d probably have driven the child mad. But, as a general rule, your child will engage in these activities willingly for the simple reason that they’ll want to spend time with you.
That won’t be true for ever. Before long, they’ll prefer spending time with their friends, so enjoy your child while you can. These are the golden years, and some of the most precious moments you spend together will be when you’re introducing them to the world and showing them all its treasures.
Before school starts
You’ll be amazed how much you can teach a young child. Here are five rudimentary skills that your child is expected to have when they start “big school”.
1. They should be “toilet-trained”, i.e. able to go to the lavatory by themselves, wipe their own bottom and wash their hands afterwards.
2. Make sure they can get undressed and dressed by themselves. Because so many children haven’t learnt these basic skills, a 40-minute PE lesson often means 30 minutes of dressing and undressing (no exaggeration), leaving only 10 minutes for physical activity.
3. They should be able to recognise their own names. A 2013 report by the Centre for Social Justice revealed that one of the reasons some children fall behind in school is because they start Reception unable to respond to their own names.
4. Given that they’ll be embarking on a phonics reading programme almost immediately, it’s helpful if your child is already familiar with the alphabet. Ditto for maths and the numbers one to 20. There are lots of excellent alphabet and number books, such as Alphabet and Counting by Alison Jay and ABC by Quentin Blake.
5. Your child should be able to sit still for up to 40 minutes – or at least remain seated in one place. This can be a lot harder for boys than girls. Calm time spent with your child playing games, doing jigsaw puzzles or just drawing and painting helps.
5 ways to make it an easy start
Visit the school with your child before they start so it’s not an unfamiliar environment on their first day.
If possible, meet your child’s Reception teacher beforehand. If they offer you a “home visit”, take them up on it.
Read your child bedtime stories in which the characters are starting school, such as Busy School by Melanie Joyce.
Have your child memorise your mobile phone number. If, God forbid, they ever get lost, they can ask someone to call you.
Try not to burst into tears when you drop them off on their first day. Crying can be contagious and you don’t want to set off the other parents!
Reception and Key Stage 1
1. The most important thing you can do at home when your child is in Reception is to read aloud to them. At a very basic level, you are teaching your child how to read a book: to start at the beginning, to turn the pages over one by one, to read from left to right and top to bottom.
Listening to someone read also helps your child begin to understand that words are made up of distinct sounds. This is an important precursor to reading.
Your child is unlikely to be set formal homework in Reception. However, from quite early on in their first term they will come home with a reading book at an appropriate level.
You should try and get into the habit straight away of sitting down with your child and their reading book every day, or almost every day – it’ll only be for five or ten minutes in Reception.
2. In September 2014, all primary schools will offer a free school meal to every child in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 for the first time. There are exacting guidelines governing the nutritional content of average weekly consumption so, in theory, you can rest assured that the food is healthy.
However, children are picky eaters. Lunchtime can be fraught with difficulty and in the early years lunch is often the only bit of the school day your child insists on telling you about. We’ve known children terrified of the dinner ladies or too nervous to ask for a drink.
You won’t know whether your child eats much of what they are given without finding the right person to ask, which can be tricky, and this can be a reason that some parents prefer to provide a packed lunch.
But beware, children are good at emptying their lunch box into the bin, or giving the bits they don’t want to a hungrier friend.
And they are good at telling you that they are the only child in the whole school not to have whatever that month’s expensive and non-nutritious craze is. Some children find it very hard to eat as quickly as their friends. It’s worth making an effort to check that your children aren’t enduring an unnecessary trial.
NB: Most children come out of school hungry, so it’s a good idea to have a snack ready.
3. Learning multiplication tables is a chore, however ‘fun’ the approach. Nevertheless, we cannot emphasise strongly enough how important it is to master them.
To help, use a deck of playing cards for a game of Multiplication War. Flip over the cards as though you are playing Snap. The first one to say what two successive cards equal when multiplied together (a four and a five = ’20’) takes the cards.
There are also numerous times tables apps. One our children enjoyed is Solving Maths, which has a slot-machine format.
4. To help your child understand that substances have different densities, fill an old plastic bottle with different oils and liquids, e.g. honey, karo syrup, Fairy Liquid, water, vegetable oil, rubbing alcohol and lamp oil.
Because they all have different densities, they’ll separate, leaving them in layers on top of one another. Shake the bottle so they get mixed up, then watch as they separate again.
5. One of the key characteristics of the new national curriculum will be the inclusion of computer programming from the first year of primary school.
To help your child understand what a program is, pretend to be a robot and ask them to write some instructions for you to get from the kitchen to the bedroom. Tell them that instructions can include only the following commands: ‘Right’, ‘Left’, ‘Forward’, ‘Back’, ‘Rotate Left 90 Degrees’ and ‘Rotate Right 90 Degrees’.
After the child has written them down, try them out and see what room you end up in. If it’s not the bedroom, they’ll have to “debug” the program, i.e. rewrite the instructions so that you do end up in the bedroom.
Key Stage Two
1. History: Google Earth has an ‘Ancient Rome’ layer. Under ‘Gallery’, tick the ‘Ancient Rome layer’ box and it then appears in your ‘Places’ list. You can zoom in on buildings, temples and amphitheatres, either seeing them from above or from inside in 3D.
2. Geography: The Ordnance Survey website has 104 ‘Map Symbol Flashcards’ to print out, half of which are the symbols for things such as ‘Quarry’, ‘Site of Battle’ and ‘Public Convenience’ and the other half the descriptions of what the symbols stand for. Your child can use these to play Pelmanism, in which you have to match the symbols with the correct descriptions, or Bingo.
To play Bingo, divide the symbol cards equally between the players and keep the description cards yourself. As the caller, your job is to read out the descriptions and the first child to match all their symbol cards with the descriptions is the winner.
3. Maths: Tell your child they can spend, say, 25 per cent of their pocket money on sweets, but only if they can tell you how much that is. Get them to work out what percentage of their waking hours they spent on screens on a particular day, and how much less time it would be if they dropped it by 10 per cent.
4. Science: Try an experiment to see if adding salt changes the temperature at which water boils. Or, if you don’t have the right kind of thermometer, see if it takes longer or is quicker to come to the boil.
This gives lots of opportunity for ‘fair test’ discussions (same pan, same heat supply, same temperature of pan to begin with, same amount of water, same starting temperature of water, same amount of stirring …)
5. English: Subscribe to an English newspaper for children. We like First News, which comes out once a week and gets children used to the idea of an actual newspaper. Our children love receiving post that’s addressed to them personally – an increasingly rare event.
If your child prefers the glamour of the iPad you can become a digital subscriber to First News. Or even a broadsheet newspaper if you think having it on your iPad will make your child more likely to read it.
Learn more at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/primaryeducation/11063065/Starting-school-what-every-parent-should-know.html