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Last updated on 30 April 2020
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The uncertainty of lockdown makes transition into reception scarier for families. Find out how you can ease these worries, and use our parent handout of activities they can do at home to help prepare their child for reception.

We've written this article with the scenarios in mind that schools either won't fully open until September, or will partially open with social distancing measures in place.  

Be proactive and develop the home-school relationship early

Transition into reception is a big step for both children and their parents. The uncertainty of lockdown might make parents feel more anxious about their child starting school, especially if these families are completely new to your school.

Reassure parents now if you haven't already. Acknowledge that this is a tricky time and that you'll still support them and their children in the run-up to starting reception, as best you can.

Set up a video call with each family so you can start to get to know each other. Clarify what you expect of parents early on. Tell them you'll send a list of activities that they can do with their child (scroll down to the section below to download our parent handout).

Set up an easy way for parents to get in touch with you - for example, a dedicated email for new reception parents so they can send in questions and feedback.

Send photos, videos and prepare a video tour, including of:

  • The classroom, play area, displays, canteen, etc. Ask your staff on rota to prepare this if you don't already have any photos/videos
  • Teachers and support staff introducing themselves, talking about their hobbies and reading stories that children can watch in their own time - lean on what you're already recording for your existing reception cohort

If you're not making videos yet, get inspired by how other schools are using YouTube to stay connected with families.

Get your teachers to engage directly with the children by asking them to complete challenges or carry out activities. Then, ask parents to send in photos via a digital platform, or to your class email or school mobile phone. Make sure your teachers respond to each interaction - the reception teachers we spoke to send a simple voice recording to say they enjoyed the picture.

Start building a sense of community with parents - lean on what you're already doing with your existing reception community and create something similar for the new cohort.

  • For example, set up a dedicated Facebook page, invite parents onto your digital education platform if you have one or get them to log in to your remote assemblies
  • For more inspiration, see our community ideas page of how schools are keeping a dialogue going with their parents

Set up group calls with up to 3 families so the children can meet each other - the reception teachers we spoke to said 3 is the magic number for group calls with children.  

Organise a remote Q&A session for all parents so they can find out what other parents are asking and learn from these. Keep a rolling tally of these and publish them as FAQs where everyone can see - such as on your Facebook page, school website, etc.

  • For example, Dave Sammels at Mayflower Community Academy hosts a tea at 2 on Twitter to answer questions that parents send in - why not try with your new parents?

Equip parents with activities to do at home to prepare their child for reception

As you know, the next cohort of reception children will have missed out on additional time in early years settings to develop social and emotional skills through play. Reassure your parents with practical tips on what they can do over the next few months to make up for this. Be mindful that some of them will have less time on their hands to do this.

Download and modify this parent handout. Add a visual timetable of a typical day in your reception class so parents can use this too.

Start preparing now for children with additional needs

Have your special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO):

  • Carry out virtual home visits and make sure they keep in regular contact throughout the summer term
  • Get in touch with children's early years settings to find out what additional needs the children have and what the settings were doing to cater for these needs before lockdown
  • Ask parents to produce a child profile with their child that includes likes, dislikes, what they're good at and what they find challenging

Make sure your staff:

  • Know about the needs of the children and how to meet these needs in the classroom
  • Are trained to support any medical needs 

When school starts: focus on developing emotional stability and foundation skills 

The next cohort of children will likely have more attachment issues because they’ll have spent much more time at home with their parents. Accept that they'll feel unsettled for longer, but don't panic, they'll settle. 

Delay your usual start of academic learning and instead: 

Focus on building team cohesion with class songs and shared experiences.

Set routines quickly to support children feeling comfortable and build emotional stability. Reinforce routine with visual prompts, e.g. a visual timetable, now and next boards, and use objects of reference for particular activities.

Clarify with all staff how you'll respond to children under the different circumstances - children need to have consistent expectations across adults and contexts.

Make teaching even more explicit to cover sharing and considering others. For example have structured turn taking and sharing routines in small groups as you normally would. However, do it more often (i.e. several times a day) and with more explicit adult modelling of the expected behaviours.

Focus on empathy and positive regard when dealing with unwanted behaviour such as not wanting to follow the routine or not sharing. In practice this means you verbalise that you understand it's difficult to behave in certain ways in certain situations. This makes the child believe you understand their worries and why they behaved like that. This empathy response needs to come before the reminder and prompt for the behaviour that you want to see. 

Be flexible to support the additional needs of vulnerable children

Vulnerable children are likely to be more affected by school closure because they'll spend longer in an unstable home. Make sure you still carry out home visits at the beginning of term so that you can identify those vulnerable children that you otherwise wouldn't know about. 

Manage your expectations when school starts and be mindful that these children will need additional support:

  • They're less likely to accept instructions. So make your demands more positive and turn them into a game, like "I bet you can’t do this…"
  • Separate them from their behaviour so that even if you don't like how they behave you always like them
  • Give them more frequent reassurance and praise for their efforts
  • They might need help settling when they first come in - help them settle by giving them a preferred activity for 5 to 10 minutes with a trusted adult if possible 
  • Model expected behaviour with them more explicitly. For example, they may find it hard to share during turn-taking activities. Show them how to do this and recognise small steps of progress 


Many thanks to:

  • Rebecca Scrace and Katherine Wilson, reception teachers at Danesfield School who shared their approaches with us so we could share them with you
  • Gemma Slack, principal educational psychologist at Lincolnshire Psychology Services, for her expertise
  • Lorraine Petersen, an education consultant, for her expertise. She was previously the chief executive officer of nasen (which promotes the education of young people with special educational needs), and a primary school headteacher. She is also a governor at a special school in the West Midlands

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