Tying your laces - and other primary school firsts

Crossing the threshold into your very first classroom, saying goodbye to the grown-ups who took you there, settling down in your seat and launching yourself into primary school life: it’s one of the biggest days we ever experience.

But school isn’t just about reading, writing and the rest of the curriculum - those first flashes of independence away from home are just as important. From learning to tell the time to choosing a book, early school years are full of milestones.

We take a look at some of those first times and what they mean. And if you have a new starter of your own at home, read on for some expert advice on teaching them the ropes when the right time comes.

Tying your laces

Do you do bunny ears, or chase the rabbit down the hole (also known as a granny knot)? Put a group of adults in a room, ask them about their shoelace-tying technique and you’re likely to see a split between the two methods.

One of the trickiest knots we may ever have to master...

There's something special about tying your shoelaces on your own and heading off on your next adventure, but that kind of dexterity comes with age.

Helen Stroudley, an early years consultant for the charity Peeple, which supports parents and children to learn together, told BBC Bitesize: "This skill involves fine motor skills, co-ordination and lots of practice! Usually this is learnt after being at school for a while."

If you do want to practise lace-tying with your children, NHS Scotland offers some practical tips, including trying knots on a larger object first, such as a dressing gown cord, or using different coloured tape on the ends of the lace, which makes them easier to tell apart.

Alternatively, until the right time comes, Helen's advice is to "buy Velcro shoes, make it as easy as possible for children."

Tying a tie

Dangling a thin, patterned strip of fabric from your neck to your belly button is not something we spend our formative years dreaming about. Although not many primary schools required children to wear a tie these days, if the uniform policy requires it, it can become part of the daily routine.

... And another one of the trickiest knots we may ever have to master!

Helen says: "This is another skill that even some adults haven’t learnt!

"Childrens’ school ties, if they are part of the uniform, are usually worn from year three, halfway through primary school, once they can master the skill."

If you want to start practising to get a head start, this NHS guide might be handy. It's worth remembering the method will differ depending on whether a child is left or right-handed. In both cases, though, the longer drop of the tie with the thicker end should be on the same side as their writing hand.

It does become second nature eventually, but elasticated and clip-on ties are also an option until children have tie-tying off-pat.

Getting dressed

Although putting your uniform on first thing in the morning was something an adult often helped with (remember holding both arms up in the air so that your jumper could be pulled off over your head?), with physical education a compulsory subject in the curriculum, there was also a time when changing on school premises was a necessity, something which remains today.

Helen explained practice really is key for this one: "Many children are ready to be independently dressed and undressed as they start school, if they’ve had a chance to practise with their everyday clothes beforehand."

But as Helen points out from her own experience, it's not as easy as getting changed into and out of your sport kit after a PE class. Many clothes end up going back on inside out. Her advice? Tell children to "remember the tags go on the inside!"

Telling the time

In those glorious days before we even knew school existed, there was little point in us telling the time as days were filled with general fun and mealtimes were the only things to stop for.

Then, suddenly, we enter a world that’s divided into neat nuggets of time, a mixture of assembly, lessons, breaks and a long gap in the middle of them all for lunch. There’s usually a bell to indicate the beginning and end of these sub-divisions in the day, but to really get a a grip on the timetable, the ability to read a clock is a huge bonus.

While digital clocks are perhaps easier to read, deciphering the secrets of an analogue clock are another of life’s earlier milestones. To be fair, working out the relationship the numbers one to 12 have with the number 60, and then dividing them into five minute segments sounds more complex than any of the maths problems we encounter at the age of four.

Helen agreed: "Young children just starting school won’t be expected to tell the time yet. Telling the time involves number recognition. Early maths does start before school and many children can recognise some numbers, usually the age number they are - but not all."

Being aware of different times of the day and what will happen next are the first steps, explains Helen.

And when the time comes (see what we did there?!), BBC Bitesize has its own guide to telling the time.

Choosing for yourself

Making your own mind up is about taking responsibility for your decisions. Primary school offers an environment where kids have to make their own choices, such as which food to choose in the canteen or which book to take from the library shelf, without mum or dad being around to offer any advice.

Meg and Mog or the Mr Men? The choices we face as we begin our school lives.

Helen supports the idea of giving children choice, although it should be restricted. She said: "We start by giving young children simple choices. Always suggest two, as too much choice is too difficult. Ask, 'would you prefer milk or water?' for example.

"It builds problem-solving skills, builds respect, helps children feel listened-to and to feel in control, all really useful skills in school."

Like so many of the life lessons included here, mastering them is the tough bit. When they become second nature, it’s all part of those first steps towards independence, just so long as there’s fish fingers for tea after a hard day of colouring-in and story time.

How to help your child be independent
Primary school life: school tour
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