Insights & Articles

Why is the first year of school so important?

Categories: Teachers Blogs, Pre-Prep

Every year of a child’s life is unique, each presenting experiential opportunities to shape one’s future, but there is something particularly precious about the early years. Between the ages of 0 and 5, children make the most rapid progress in their development.

Every year of a child’s life is unique, each presenting experiential opportunities to shape one’s future, but there is something particularly precious about the early years. Between the ages of 0 and 5, children make the most rapid progress in their development when their brains make connections faster than at any other time in their lives. 

Reaching those all-important milestones 

My teacher training was rooted in the primary years, and there was always something that fascinated me about child development. However, now a Head of a Prep School, when I reflect on 24 years of teaching across the ages from toddlers to teens, I believe the most rewarding and influential year of them all is the first year of school in Reception. It is common for adults to think back to their primary school days, and those who were fortunate to have an excellent Reception teacher will nearly always cite them as their favourite teacher.

In just one year, children begin to learn to read and write, understand what a full stop means and give an example of an adjective. They begin to add and subtract numbers, share with others and manage their emotions, kick, throw and catch a ball, solve problems creatively, sing in tune, feel a pulse, project their voices on stage, look after plants and the world around them, and in the case of those at The Royal School, how to speak French and how to manage technology safely in their lessons with specialist teachers. The children do not learn these things simply by osmosis; it takes a highly-skilled, empathetic teacher who understands early child development and emphasises how and why they learn, not just what.

The lightbulb moment

The lightbulb moment of children learning to read and write their first words and sentences is magical. However, it can also be a needlessly painful experience if given a poor Reception class environment. Children are naturally curious and have a thirst for knowledge, yet it is all too commonplace for them to be put off in the classroom and this often comes down to how confident they feel. One cannot just ‘be’ confident; confidence is gained through successes, failures, safety nets and risk-taking. An experienced teacher will have the goal of developing confidence at the forefront of their mind because the way a child feels about going to school in their first year can have a long-lasting impact on how they approach the rest of their education, sometimes for many years to come. 

Understanding and adapting to different learning styles

At The Royal School, to harness an enjoyment of learning, we make very deliberate choices of the language we use to engage the children and of how to set up a day’s learning experience. Activities require the children to participate actively in a kinesthetic way, both inside and outside; resources are tactile and encourage physical manipulation whilst at the same time, a large emphasis is placed on communication and language development. 

Our pupils move on to Year 1 with confidence and a genuine love of school. ‘Reluctant writers’ is not in our vocabulary; using powerful models such as Mighty Writer and clever technological tools enables the children to scaffold their sentences by manipulating pictures and adding symbols to represent adjectives, verbs, and punctuation before reading out their pictorial sentence and recording it on a sound device. Before the children know it, they have taken that step from hearing a story to telling a story, to reading and writing a story. This gives them a huge sense of pride and achievement, which boosts their confidence. 

The pupil-Teacher relationship is key

When teachers forge a close relationship with the children and their parents, the children feel safe. This sense of security is essential to children’s effectiveness in learning. If in a warm, caring environment that encourages young children to have a go, try again, succeed, all in the knowledge that they have supportive adults around them. Being a good learner and a model student is not about getting things right straight away all the time or being perfectly behaved; it is about having the confidence and courage to make mistakes and learn from them. Once children (and adults!) recognise this and accept that life’s journey has bumps along the way, they enjoy the ride so much more!

To find out more about The Royal Prep School, email