This September my daughter is starting school. It’s a big step and I’ve been on the hunt for the best books to help prepare her for the transition to school. Here are my top ten fiction and non-fiction books with emotional wellbeing and educational themes that will help children starting school. Plus a bonus bingo game!
First things first, let’s talk practicalities…
Everyday Skills: A Sensory Book of Fastenings by Nicola Edwards & Thomas Elliott
The first piece of advice I was given by a teacher when I asked about how I could help my daughter prepare for school was: make sure she can get dressed independently and tie her shoes. It’s a P.E sports challenge I hadn’t considered, but made perfect sense.
I never thought I would be able to find a book to help solve this problem, but here it is. Everyday Skills is part of the My World series and is a great way to help children learn these important skills in a fun way. Children can practice using a zip, snapping a popper and tying shoe laces. My daughter loves interactive books and Everyday Skills really helped her get to grips (pun intended!) with fastenings.
Published by Little Tiger Press, 4 March 2021
It is very common for children (and parents) to worry about making new friends at school. There are so many brilliant picture book on making friends. But this is our favourite…
Meesha Makes Friends by Tom Percival
Meesha loves making things. But there’s one thing she finds difficult to make – friends. After her attempts to play with other children fail, Meesha decides to “make” a set of friends using her paints and glue. Then Josh stumbles upon her, playing with her new friends – will she trust Josh with the truth? Through Tom’s wonderful red and blue themed illustrations, we see Meesha take that courageous step to put herself out there and let Josh into her wonderful creative world. From feeling left out at her own party, we see Meesha grow into a confident little girl who isn’t afraid to be herself.
This book has a warm message of friendship that every child can relate to. Whether you know a child who is struggling to make friends, or a social butterfly who could offer a friendly smile to a child that is shy, this is a brilliant book to read and discuss with children starting school.
Published by Bloomsbury, 9 July 2020
Non-fiction picture books are an invaluable tool in helping prepare your child for school. Molly Potter and Sarah Jennings have created an absolutely fabulous series of books to help children discuss the “big issues”. There are two that I felt were particularly useful for children starting school, the first is on making friends…
Will you be my Friend? by Molly Potter & Sarah Jennings
The design and layout of this book is very well thought through. There is an accessible contents page which goes shows pictorially what is included in the book. Each spread covers a different area of friendships from: how to make them, thinking about what makes someone a good friend, to how to help a friend who is feeling sad.
As a parent, I was pleased to have a guide I could refer to, to discuss tricky situations. We spent some time talking about the page on what do if you fall out with a friend. On the left hand side, it went through how the situation might make you think and feel. Then, on the right hand side, it gave you some pointers to keep in mind such as creating a plan for making up. There is also a useful glossary and guide for parents at the back of the book.
Molly and Sarah sensitively discuss all the tricky questions and offer practical advice. At the end is a fun true or false quiz which tests the knowledge they have learnt through the book.
Published by Bloomsbury, Featherstone, 23 February 2017
Worries can extend beyond just making friends. Indeed, the whole concept of starting a new school can feel very daunting. Here is a lovely picture book that explores those emotions through a unique fiction story that reminds me of The Tiger Who Came to Tea…
Mooncat and Me by Lydia Corry
I knew as soon as I heard about this book that my little girl would love it. She loves looking at the moon at night, so what could be better than facing the big scary world with a ginormous fluffy mooncat?
The opening spread tells us everything we need to know about imaginative, strawberry-ice-cream loving, Pearl. There is so much variety in Lydia’s artwork. My little girl loved this night time seen at the beginning, where the moonlight shines down on the city cars as Pearl gazes up at the moon.
Pearl is feeling nervous about starting a new school, having recently moved to a strange and empty flat. But then a giant white cat appears at her window and she begins to find her confidence. There is so much joy in Lydia’s illustrations of Pearl and Mooncat.
In one of our favourite spreads, Lydia has captured that first day school nerves and forming friendships. My daughter loved the rainbow coat pegs. Mooncat is in the background, as Mavis steps-up to say hello. No detail has been forgotten – we even find out her favourite ice-cream!
This beautifully illustrated book on childhood anxiety felt like a fresh take on Judith Kerr’s much-loved classic, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. Mooncat is the purrfect picture book to share with children who are feeling anxious about starting school in September.
Published by Two Hoots, 24 June 2021
If you want to open up more conversations with your child about their worries and anxieties, I highly recommend this guide published by Bloomsbury Education…
What’s Worrying You? by Molly Potter & Sarah Jennings
This book is going to be my go-to recommendation for parents looking for a book to share with children on worry and anxiety. It’s not that kind of book you read from cover to cover once and move on. Rather, it acts as a companion book that you will find yourself picking up in those tricky moments.
It covers a range of experiences, from how it feels to be told off, parents fighting, seeing something horrible on TV to feeling like nobody is listening to you. Each page takes the child step-by-step through different worry scenarios.
We are in the process of doing school stay-and-play sessions to introduce my daughter to her new teachers, so we spent a lot of time talking about this scenario. She was able to identify with the illustrations and feelings and it helped our conversation about anxieties feel easy and natural.
This is a book I think every school, library, and in an ideal world, every household should own. All children will face some, if not all, of the situations discussed in the book and What’s Worrying You? provides them with gentle, sensitive and practical advice about how to face those situations head on. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
Published by Bloomsbury, Featherstone, 8 February 2018
Over the past few months, I’ve found that sometimes talking about school can get a bit overwhelming for my daughter. So, we’ve tried to find fun alternative ways to get her comfortable with the idea of school. Games are great for this, and we loved playing BINGO!
My First Bingo: School
Who doesn’t love a game of bingo? This gorgeous version that has been designed by Jenny Lelong, better known as Niniwanted, is perfect to play with pre-schoolers. There are four boards that showcase a different aspect of school life: the classroom, the library, the dining hall and the playground. Each card has ten objects that you need to complete your card.
We let my daughter be the bingo caller and she then decided which of our boards she thought the item would be on. So, the book was on the library board, for example. It was a fun and relaxed way to introduce school. And she won, three times, which she was very pleased about!
Published by Laurence King Publishing, 27 July 2021
We also tried to include our youngest into the conversations about school, to make it feel like a family chat. We found a great board book that both our toddler and four-year-old love…
I Want to be a Teacher by Becky Davies & Richard Merritt
My daughter’s nursery staff have all told us at various stages, that they think our little one would make a good teacher one day. So, it was a no-brainer to get her this gorgeous little board book. What I hadn’t appreciated at first was that it also acts as a great way to get children used to what to expect when they start school and familiarise themselves with the classroom setting.
My daughter’s favourite page was definitely the flip-the-book pages of the teacher the library. The annotated spreads are a great way to get children talking about the classroom and increase vocabulary. I also was delighted to see a teacher of colour represented in this board book and will be looking out for more board books in this series!
Published by Little Tiger Press, 8 July 2021
Getting prepared for school involves the practicalities of shoe laces and the emotional side of worries and friendships, but it also can be helpful to think about doing a little bit of academic preparation too. This will vary from child to child, but if you want to work on number and letter recognition and formation, here are the books I’d recommend…
Touch and Trace 123 by Harriet Evans & Jordan Wray
The My First Home Learning series has two levels, a board book and a paperback level. The board books are suitable from toddler age, but are still very useful for pre-schoolers. The indented numbers allow children to run their finger over the letter and begin to build the gross motor skills needed for number formation.
What I liked about this book compared with others, is that it goes all the way up to 20 and so doesn’t feel babyish for pre-schoolers. There is also a final page of pretty complex number sums which would stretch most four-year-olds!
Published by Tiger Tales, 3 August 2021
I couldn’t mention numbers without including Numberblocks! My little girl absolutely loves the TV show and I was so excited when we won a giveaway of the 2021 Numberblocks Annual. Well, I think we’ll be getting these annuals for many years to come…
Official 2021 Numberblocks Annual for the BAFTA-winning hit CBeebies show!
I loved annuals as a child and I just knew my daughter would be obsessed with this one. She adores Numberblocks and as I write this review I have the CBeebies theme-tune stuck in my head because we watch it all the time!
The TV show consists of short episodes featuring the Number Blocks on a different adventure. Each number has its own personality. Episodes will sometimes demonstrate simply calculations or patterns, or shape formation. But there is always a little story at the heart of the episode which makes the show so likeable. This annual captures all of the enjoyment of the TV show.
The activities vary in levels of difficulty. Some can be done by age 3+ such as a spot the objects in hide-and-seek, while other activities could be more suitable for age 5-6. It gives the annual longevity and will appeal to children of all ability levels. I really hope that they continue to make more annuals each year!
Published by Sweet Cherry Publishing, 12 November 2020
Moving on to letter recognition and formation, there are so many different resources available. We have a whole range of Peppa Pig workbooks. But the standout all-rounder guide for me is from the My First Home Learning series…
Learn to Write: Pencil Control, Line Tracing, Letter Formation and More by Lauren Crisp
This guided workbook has it all, from the pincer pencil grip and basic line drawing, all the way through to writing your name.
What I love is that fun puzzles are interwoven between the more standard writing exercises which make this feel more accessible and not like homework. My daughter instantly engaged with the opening pages, drawing different types of lines and also enjoying the kitten maze puzzle. Each letter has its own page, for the child to practice writing and also think about words that start with that letter.
Maths puzzles sneak in, with children able to draw shapes. I love this because it was practising mark making at the same time as shape recognition and we actually recreated this exercise on paper a few times. Because, like with all workbooks, once you’ve done an exercises, it’s done. To get around this, I often draw the exercises out, so my daughter can have a few turns.
By the end of the guide, the exercises become quite advanced. So, this guide will last most children all the way through Reception, and I think it will act like a lovely record of their development. A lovely touch at the end of the book is the certificate of achievement.
Published by Tiger Tales, 16 February 2021
And finally, a book recommendation for parents. Many schools now use a Grow Mindset approach to learning. I am still learning about it, and in fact trying to apply the mindset to my own life, as well as help my daughter learn it. Mindset for Parents was recommended to me on a “prepare your child for school” course and I couldn’t write this post without including it…
Mindsets for Parents: Strategies to Encourage Growth Mindsets in Kids by Mary Cay Ricci & Margaret Lee
Research has shown that a growth mindset can help a child (and adult) thrive. A growth mindset can be taught. It involves developing a can-do attitude, perseverance, and positive thinking. Let’s be honest, that isn’t always the easiest mindset to stick to as an adult, and it can be hard for parents to instil that mindset in their child if they haven’t mastered it themselves.
That’s where Mindsets for Parents comes in. It explains (much better than I have) exactly what the growth mindset is, and then gives realistic, practical strategies and tools parents can adopt to help encourage their children to develop a growth mindset themselves.
For children, using the growth mindset could be re-thinking how they play sports. A phrase such as, “I can’t run as fast as him” would become something like, “If I keep practicing, soon I’ll be able to run faster than I can now”. There are lots of practical worksheet type exercises parents can use with their children. I’m still working my way through the book. I’ll admit haven’t mastered the growth mindset… yet! But “yet” is the point of a growth mindset. It’s about realising that we can achieve our dreams if we give ourselves the chance to grow.
Published by Routledge, 1 May 2016
If you have come across any books that you think are helpful for children who are starting school, please let me know in the comments!
I am very grateful to the publishers for providing me with complimentary copies of these books. This voluntary feature contains my honest opinion.