My advice would be to plan early- even from your child’s birth. Look around on websites such as Mumsnet and The Good School’s Guide. Once the schools in your options are selected, ring them. Ask about the application process and deadlines. Look on their website for application information.
Usually, nurseries conduct an informal assessment at this age, which is usually in groups to see how children interact. Parents may have a one-to-one discussion with the school as well. This is an opportunity for a parent to ask any questions they may have. Schools are looking for curious children who see learning in a positive way and who are able to get on generally in consonance in a group situation and will select children based on ‘best fit’. To give your child the best chance, it is important to support them as much as possible in the early years. Basic numeracy, literacy, motor skills and emotional and social development are the areas that schools will look at. Pencil control and basic tool use, such as scissors is a plus but this only comes with developing fine motor skills in children. They all develop at different rates and practise of these at home can help encourage this. But it is imperative to build up muscle strength in the hands that children play with lots of malleable materials, such as drawing in sand, shaving foam, playing with play-doh, building with construction blocks and many other materials.
Numeracy- such as counting in ascending and descending order, number and letter formation, shape recognition, mathematical language such as ‘larger than, smaller than’ and ‘more or less’. To help prepare your child for this, purchase some fun games such as shopping games and counting games. Transfer this to real-life situations, look for shapes in the surrounding area and take them shopping. Use any opportunity for counting and talking about amounts.
Literacy- It would beneficial to start phonics with them and if you are not confident with this, perhaps a tutor could help. It is important that you are reading to your child regularly to help them to develop a love of reading and to help them retell narratives. Turn taking during reading is extremely beneficial and less overwhelming for a child of this age: you read a page, they read a page, you read a page etc. It is also about understanding what they are reading so ask questions about the characters and what is happening in the book even if they cannot read all the words yet. Check that they understand meanings of new words. Building up their vocabulary and understanding of words with feed through to other areas, such as speech and conversation.
Social and emotional competency-such as being polite, taking turns, listening and sharing are also beneficial. It is important that they are around other children, and sometimes new children, to help them to practise and build-up these skills. It is also important that you are modelling this for them and playing board games and interactive games will help with all of these skills.
Learning through play is imperative for this age group to develop all of the above skills and to help to build their imagination for story writing. I find that if children have not had enough opportunity for play as a young child, their imagination really suffers when asked to write a stories years later.
Most importantly, bear in mind that children develop at different ages and rates so you need to move with their own development pace and it really is imperative that they go to a nursery where they feel happy, safe and supported. Visit lots of different nurseries, get a feel for them yourself.