You are currently viewing Get Ready For The Big Shift to Grade 1

Change is something that makes many people feel uncomfortable. For children, the big shift from Grade R to formal schooling may be overwhelming.

Parents can help their children navigate the big shift and the associated big feelings by practising some basic social and emotional skills before they enter the classroom.

“The big shift from what has been familiar for the past few years of their early childhood development may present some unique challenges,” says Mari Payne, director of Education and Outreach at Sesame Workshop International, South Africa, Sesame Workshop is a non-profit media and educational organisation that aims to help children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.

activities and games

Payne suggests some activities and games for parents to do with their children to help get be socially and emotionally ready for Grade 1.

taking turns

Being patient and waiting for ‘their turn’ is something that may be new to children starting formal school. Practise turn-taking with children by using verbal cues (“my turn, your turn” or “first you, then me, now you, now me”) and use timers to show how much time they will have to wait for their turn.

sharing is caring

Sharing with others is an important school-readiness skill. Practise this skill by engaging with your child in co-operative or collaborative play. For example, building a block tower together or painting together using the same jar of paintbrushes.

whole-body listening

Playing Simon Says is a great way to help children develop listening skills and learn how to follow directions. Try adding each element of whole-body listening into the game: “Simon says … sit criss-cross on the floor and look at my face. Simon says use calm hands”. Also, challenge children to listen to an entire story without interrupting.


In the school setting, children will need to undertake certain self-care tasks, such as cleaning up after themselves, putting on and taking off their own jackets or shoes, packing their school bags or using a lunch box. Help build their confidence and independence by practising these tasks at home.

“Practising these social and emotional skills with children before they enter the classroom will make things less overwhelming,” says Payne.

Read more about getting your child school-ready

big shift, big feelings

When the time comes for start-of-school week, Payne notes that children will need to adjust a lot and may experience many big feelings. The best thing to do during this time is to help children express and understand their emotions. “In simple everyday ways, you can give your child the important tools to help them handle big feelings, as well as the little ones,” she says.

managing the the first weeks

Payne offers the following advice to help your child adjust during for the first weeks of school.

  • The three-step strategy “Breathe, Think, Do” can help in tough moments:
    • Breathe: Encourage children to slowly take three deep breaths.
    • Think: Help children come up with some possible plans to solve their problem.
    • Do: Together, choose a plan and try it out. If it doesn’t work, try another.
  • Teach them the phrase, “I just can’t do it yet.” Remind them that learning something new takes time and practise, this will help with feelings of frustration.
  • Show them mistakes are okay – they are an important part of learning.
  • Help them express their emotions by acting them out through play or have them draw their feelings or ‘dance it out’.

“Using these tips helps ready your child for the big shift to Grade 1. And, knowing that we’ve done what we can to prepare our child offers us, as parents, comfort; these are big moments for parents too!” Payne explains.

Read about the valuable role teachers play in making your children’s school career memorable

Child magazine