Helping Your Child Prepare for Primary School

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Transitioning from pre-school to primary school can be a big step for children, given the significant differences in classroom size, staff ratio, teaching methods, and level of independence required. However, by visiting the new school, introducing your child to new staff, practicing activities that develop fine motor and social skills, and preparing them for the routines of the primary school day, you can make this transition easier for your child. Encourage them to follow instructions, build friendships, and acclimatise to any new transport routines. If you have any concerns, consider consulting professionals like a speech and language therapist or an occupational therapist for guidance.

Is your pre-schooler gearing up for school with the bigger kids? A bit of preparation can make the transition easier for both of you

Over the summer months, many parents will be gearing up and getting their kids ready for their first day at primary school. And most are wondering how the kids will settle into their new environment. Transitioning to any new environment has its challenges, and the best way to combat these challenges is to think about the skills your child will need in primary school and what you can do to develop them.

Even if your kids have been attending pre-school, there are a few differences between pre-school and primary school, including:

  • Pre-schools are often small with only a few staff members.
  • In pre-school, the number of children per class is often fewer than in primary schools, and there is frequently more than one adult supervisor per class. This allows for quite a bit of one-to-one support for pre-schoolers.
  • Children tend to know all the children in their class and are familiar with all the adults in their environment when they are in pre-school.
  • Depending on the type of pre-school your child attends, there may be more emphasis on learning through play and less on structured table-top activities that require completion of instructions. Furthermore, pre-schoolers may not be required to participate in all tasks if they choose not to. This is not always the case in primary school.
  • Children at primary school are often required to work in groups or with a partner more collaboratively than in pre-school.
  • There is closer supervision in the pre-school playground, so it’s easier for adults to support and guide children who are struggling to play with others and make friends.
  • There is a greater emphasis on independent work in primary school, especially in relation to choosing readers to bring home from the library and receiving class news.
  • The instructions provided in primary school increase in length and complexity.
  • Getting to and from primary school may change or the journey may become longer. So does the school day.
  • Some/all of your child’s friends may not be moving to the same primary school.


Get ready

Of course, there are lots of changes on your child’s horizon. But never fear: There are plenty of things you can do to help make your child’s move to primary school less daunting.

  1. Try to visit the new school once or twice with your child, if possible. Many schools offer orientation days but, if yours doesn’t, do ask if you can go and see the premises. Initially, try to visit on a day or at a time when there aren’t too many other students running around – during lesson time or if a particular year group is away on camp, for example.
  2. During your school visit, try to see as many of the main areas that your child might need to know about as possible – the playground, toilets, library, classrooms, and hallway.
  3. If possible, try to meet a member of the school staff who might be involved with your child when they start school. Ideally, meeting their new class teacher would be great, but isn’t always possible since classes and teachers might not be assigned until the beginning of the school year.
  4. At home, play games seated at a table for short periods of time during the day. Arts and crafts, board games, colouring and construction work well, because these tasks also allow opportunities to further develop your child’s fine-motor skills, such as cutting, sticking, pencil grip, pencil control and building. Being strong in these areas allows for greater independence in the primary classroom where there is often less one-to-one support available.
  5. Encourage and play games that involve turn-taking, which can help develop skills that are needed to work effectively in a group. Card games such as Snap or Go Fish and board games such as Snakes and Ladders are excellent for turn-taking.
  6. Work with your child to accept adult direction. Take turns choosing games to play and teach your child that even if she doesn’t want to play the game the other person chooses, she must play anyway for a set period. Start with short amounts of time (five minutes, for example) and then gradually increase it, using a timer to help keep track of time. If your child wants to play for longer, offer lots of praise, especially if they showed little or no interest initially. Be specific in your praise so your child knows what exactly has earned it. For example, “You played for X minutes even though you didn’t want to at first; well done for sticking with it!”
  7. Provide opportunities for your child to follow instructions during the day. Where possible, try to include vocabulary that might be used in the classroom. Some examples are: first, last, next, then, colours, pens, paper, exercise book, after that, before, break time, lunch time, home-time and bell. Playing Simon Says is a fun way to teach and reinforce the importance of following instructions.
  8. Look at books with your child to develop their pre-reading skills. On top of reading the story, take time to look at and describe the pictures, answer questions about the story and re-tell the story or add parts to the story. Talk about the book’s features, such as the front cover, title page, title, author, illustrator, speech bubbles, etc., because research shows that children who are aware of the features of books develop stronger literacy skills than those who don’t.
  9. Find out which of your child’s friends are going to their school so they can look out for each other on the first day. This can be a real confidence-booster. If your child won’t know anyone at their new school, spend time over the holidays practising the skills required to make friends. This can be done with puppets in role-play situations at home and in real life at the playground or swimming pool. Children benefit from knowing the steps required to make friends. For example: you see someone you want to meet, you go up to them, look at them and, with a friendly face and voice, say, “Hi, I’m X. What’s your name?”
  10. Encourage your child to practise joining in the games of others. Once again, children benefit from knowing the steps required to join in: seeing children you want to play with, going up to them, looking at them and saying “hi” before asking what they are doing and whether they can join in or not. Often children will say yes but, occasionally, children will say no. Encourage your child not to be disheartened and to simply find other children to play with. They can move away by saying, “OK, maybe next time then”. You can’t make other children accept your child’s overtures to join in but you can give them the confidence to let it roll off their backs and find other kids to play with.
  11. If your child’s journey to school is changing, then discuss with them what the changes will be.If they are going to be using a school bus, spend time looking for school buses when you are out and about and talking about what the children on the bus might be doing, such as talking with friends or looking out of the window. Go and see where they will be getting on and off the bus so that it becomes a familiar routine for them.


If you are concerned about your child’s ability to master the skills outlined above, consider chatting with your child’s doctor about what services are available to help. A speech and language therapist will be able to help develop your child’s communication skills, whilst an occupational therapist will be able to assist with fine-motor skill development. A paediatrician may be able to help if you have concerns about your child’s overall learning capabilities.

You might also be interested in:

Understanding the Local School System in Hong Kong 

School and Education News in Hong Kong 

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