What does my Reception starter need to know?

Someone asked me recently what their preschooler, due to start Reception in September, needed to know. Should they be able to write their name, for example? And what should they be doing with them, now their nursery is shut, to be sure they are ready for school? So I thought I’d share a few pointers for anyone in the same boat!

First things first…

…Don’t panic! Your child is going to be just fine. It’s the school’s job to be ready for them, NOT the other way around. There’s loads you can do to get them off to a flying start, but lots of it you probably ARE doing already, without even realising! There’s no standardised tick list of things they must be able to do by the end of nursery. In fact, the curriculum they use in nursery is the same one they will be using in Reception. For each area of learning, there are examples of the kind of learning that will be taking place within certain age ranges, but the only actual ‘goals’ are the Early Learning Goals which are the end-of-year expectations for Reception. In nursery, the main focus is on three key areas of the curriculum, known as the ‘prime’ areas. These are:

  • Personal, Social and Emotional Development;
  • Communication and Language; and
  • Physical Development

These are the focus because they set the foundation for the other ‘specific’ areas of learning (Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World, and Expressive Arts and Design) which become more prominent as they reach Reception.

Personal, Social and Emotional Development

This area is all to do with their relationships, their sense of self, and their management of their emotions. You’ve been helping them to develop all of these since Day 1! Things like: playing with others; turn-taking; growing in independence and confidence; and starting to recognise their own feelings and understand that other people have feelings too. Books are a great tool for conversations around this area, and there are lots of online tools to help you out as well.

Communication and Language

This area of learning focuses on children’s ability to listen, understand and communicate their own thoughts too. The best thing I can recommend here is that you read, read, and read some more! The benefits of reading are huge – you can read more about my thoughts on it here! It’s great to incorporate reading into the bedtime routine, but you can also try having books available around the house so that they can access them throughout the day.

Tub containing leafy stems and some sticks, along with jungle animals.
Some sticks and leafy stems make a good jungle scene!

You could create a little small world scene which relates to their favourite story, or make some puppets so they can retell it, or create their own version?

As well as reading, you can also sing! Singing is great for developing children’s language and communication skills, and familiarises them with rhythm and rhyme too. It also develops their auditory discrimination skills, which they will need when they start to learn letter sounds. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to singing – play instruments too, and if you don’t have any, make some like these Music Makers, or get out the pots and pans!

Physical Development

I’m not talking PE lessons in your front room, or even #PEwithJoe, fantastic as that may be! However, physical development is one of the most important skills in these early years. Give them as much opportunity as you can to run, jump, climb, roll, hang, swing, hop and balance. Developing large muscle movements helps them to develop core strength which is really important when they later come to beginning to write. It also helps regulate their emotions! To help develop the fine motor skills they will need for writing later on, give them opportunities to play with playdough (loads of ideas here); to use tools such as tongs and tweezers; and to use paints and chalks on both horizontal and vertical surfaces (eg an easel, window or a garden wall!)

Literacy and Maths

Of course, while the prime areas are the main focus in nursery, they will be doing some things related to the specific areas as well. I know a lot of parents will want to know particularly about the expectations for maths and literacy as they begin Reception.


As you might expect, there is a huge crossover between Literacy and Communication and Language. In fact, before the current curriculum was introduced in 2012, they were one curriculum area! All that I’ve said already about reading, playing with story, singing and rhyming still stands here. In addition to that, your child may show an interest in mark-making and even beginning to learn letters. The absolute best thing you can do here is to follow their lead. If they want to draw and write, enable it. You might find they love to draw lots of wiggly lines and then ‘read’ them to you – that’s great! Equally, if they show absolutely no interest, don’t worry. There is plenty of time. Encourage and enable them, but don’t push. If they are showing an interest in letters and writing, their name is a great place to start, but again, don’t worry if they aren’t able to do it by the time they begin Reception.


There are lots of ways to begin to develop mathematical understanding. You can help develop mathematical thinking skills by giving them opportunities in play. You probably do this without even realising! Try playing shops and using money; making patterns as you thread necklaces; singing number songs; or building towers and talking about the shapes you use. Find natural opportunities to count things with them. Dial numbers on a toy telephone. Bake with them, and get them to help with the measuring. There’s nothing you need to do, but there is loads that you can do, and that you probably do already!

I hope these pointers are helpful! My top tip above all else would be to follow their lead – observe their interests, see what they enjoy and then bring the learning into it! With all the uncertainty at the moment, don’t put pressure on yourself – just do what you can, and the rest will follow.

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