‘Starting big school’ or even toddling into nursery marks a major milestone in your child’s life, and in yours. But along with the excitement, there will almost certainly be some nerves. Picture books are a wonderful way to help your child feel comfortable with the concept of school, to voice concerns and to open up chats with you. Here are some ideas for different personality types and worries.
Best books for nursery and school:
Lily is starting school – so of course her wingman Blue Kangaroo is coming too. With the focus on Blue Kangaroo and his antics in their new classroom, this is perfect for children who like a fantasy element in their books. The result is a charming and indirectly reassuring story, with plenty of real-life detail about reception, too. Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations are a treat, as always.
Puddle is dying to start nursery - but when the big day comes he gets cold feet. Mummy cleverly packs some special things in his bag to help him: a feather to remind him of her, biscuits to share with his new friends and his Cuddly for nap time. Her tokens see him through an exciting first day, counting caterpillars, jumping between lily pads and decorating twigs. A perfect confidence boost for any 2-3-year-old (especially a sensitive flower!) starting nursery or pre-school.
This is the all-time classic Reception-ready book, and rightly so. The Ahlbergs’ delightfully accurate account of the first term at primary school has barely dated – from the first day when the children ‘look at the toilets’ to the Nativity play, via chicken pox and phonics. Unusually, it’s about a whole group of children, rather than an individual: a great way to show children that their peers are going through the same things that they are.
Marshall stands out from the other children (his laces are straight not crisscrossed, and he’s always looking at the blackboard), but he quickly wins everyone over and shows you can be different and still loved. An important story for all children that teaches them to embrace their own quirks, and to celebrate them in others. One for old souls, and little boys who couldn’t care less about football.
Simple but effective, this real-life depiction of nursery – in all its slightly chaotic glory – was a hit in our house. Just like in your child’s classroom there is ‘toast time’, a song circle, a squabble over who had something first and lots of wobbly block towers. The rhythmical read aloud text keeps even toddlers engaged until the end.
Shirley Hughes is the master of making every day into a warm, humorous story, and this classic – told from the point of view of an older and younger sibling – is no exception. There are plenty of familiar classroom and playground scenes to provide talking points, with a nice balance between home and school. Deliciously nostalgic, it’ll take you back to your own primary school and the first teacher, too.
Straightforward, fun and factual all the Topsy and Tim books are geared towards helping children navigate new situations. They might seem a bit bland, but they really appeal to four-year-olds- perhaps because there’s something comforting about the way the twins are a little team. For tech-obsessed kids - ie all of them - you can even download the Topsy and Tim Start School app.
Bullying, problem-solving and friendship are tackled in this fun semi-fantasy story of a future inventor, who finds an ingenious way to beat the bullies. Don’t be put off by the open discussion of bullying, many children respond well to having their fears voiced in a safe way, like this. A good one for slightly older children who may already be in their first term at reception, and a nice way to ignite discussion of how to deal with bullying in the real world.
All toddlers seem to love Maisy and her first experiences, and this is no exception. We see Maisy find her coat peg, play outside with sand, make a lot of noise with instruments, and have a snack and loo break. Try this if you have a child on the autistic spectrum: Lucy Cousins bold illustrations tend to work well with ASD children as there isn’t a load of background detail to distract their focus. See also: Spot Loves Nursery, by Eric Hill.
A sweet, gentle story of Chester racoon who’s nervous about going to school and wants to stay at home with his mother. Gradually Chester learns that her love is always with him, even when he's at school. Perfect for anxious children who hate to say goodbye to you in the morning. (Warning: do not read after an emotional day/glass of wine, you’ll probably start crying).
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