School. You can't get away from it. It's not just the advertising.

It's the school run, the traffic jams and the streams of five-year-olds in oversized clothes approaching the school gates with trepidation.

If you have a three-yearold, all this probably seems light years away. It isn't.

Most four-year-olds start school in September. So, if your child's fifth birthday falls in the next September term, they will start full-time school then.

As for children who are five in the spring or summer, they, too, will start in September, first attending half-days, then converting to full-time in the term when they're five.

Now, put yourself in your three-year-old's shoes one year on.

While the reception classroom will look very similar to the familiar nursery or playgroup, the building will be on a larger scale.

From the outside, it will look huge. Inside, there will be a maze of doors and corridors.

And then there are the bigger, stronger children, especially intimidating outside at playtime.

Of course, when four-year-olds start school, they soon find much to reassure them.

At nursery, they were learning through play in line with the early years curriculum.

This involves messy play, storytime, role playing and craft activities.

All this will continue but their day will be more structured with more emphasis on language and maths.

The challenge is to smooth over the differences and speed their settling-in.

Much of this is in hand. If, for example, your child attends a nursery on the same site as the school, there are almost certainly strong links between the two.

As a result, little children visit the reception class regularly as a treat and get to know the teacher and the new surroundings.

Even in the case of off-site voluntary-sector or private nurseries, there are close links with the local school to ease the transition.

This usually includes regular visits from the spring term onwards by groups of children due to start school in September.

Parents are also usually invited to visit the school and meet the teachers.

If this does not happen, take the initiative and arrange a visit for yourself and your child.

All this will make an enormous difference to the rate at which your child settles in.

But there is much more you can do to help your child become independent and receptive to change.

For example, talk to your child about school and discuss their concerns.

Walk or drive to the school regularly, taking the opportunity to explore the area the shops, park and other landmarks.

Read books about school together and teach your child basic skills such as how to dress themselves, how to recognise their name and how to tie up shoe laces.

Play learning games such as counting the stairs, nursery rhymes, recognising colours, numbers and letters.

A year is a long time but it can be time well spent if, at the end of it, your child is looking forward to the challenge and has the independence and skills to meet it.

Helen Standen is marketing
manager of East Sussex Early Years Development And Childcare Partnership, the organisation responsible for developing childcare provision in the county. For information on childcare provision, ring Kites Childcare Information Service on 01323 737294.