Starting school can be daunting for kids and parents alike. Although my child is extremely excited to begin school, I often see attributes of anxiety in her behaviour. This, in turn, leads me to question whether I am properly preparing her for this next big step in her life.
Many parents worry about similar issues. When it comes to starting school, we ask questions like:
Am I doing enough to prepare him academically?
Do I need to teach her letters and sounds?
What can I expose him to which will help him socially?
Will she behave for her teacher?
Will he cope with the structure, routine and pressure of a full school week?
So, here are some ideas to help prepare our kids.
1. Be positive about school
It is important to begin discussing school and chatting about the kinds of things they will be doing, seeing and hearing at school. Ensure you are positive and excited about school in these discussions. Kids will often pick up on our feelings of eagerness or anxiety. Discuss any worries with your partner and friends in private, not in the presence of your child.
2. Read, read, read!
If you do nothing else to prepare for school other than reading to your child everyday, you are well on the way to giving them a good foundation for learning. Spend at least twenty minutes reading together each day (or more if possible). Research has shown this is vital for children’s future learning.
Reading is so important for kids to be participating in. Children are:
Learning how to hold a book
Direction to turn pages
Watching you read from left to right
Hearing the interaction of words and the sound of language
Learning rhythm and rhyme which will help in their own reading development
Seeing reading as a fun and enjoyable activity
Experiencing a special moment with you
Reserve your selected books at your local library to keep costs down. To find good picture books, check out these sites:
3. Talk, talk, talk!
Oral language is the fundamental building block for a child’s learning. Without an understanding of and ability to use language, we cannot express and put into practice the concepts we are learning. Engage frequently in dialogue with your child. Chat about the weather, the view outside the car window, the procedure for cooking dinner, the plants in the garden. Don’t be afraid to use ‘big’ words, just remember to explain what they mean.
4. Use Language Concepts like bigger, smaller, wider, next, before, in front of, behind, etc, in everyday conversation with your child. Ask them to complete simple tasks using this language, including questions like, Which one is bigger? Which object is the widest? What is smaller than this object but bigger than that object?
5. Sing Nursery Rhymes
From an early age, nursery rhymes teach children rhythm and rhyme, cause and effect, and simple vocabulary. Kids usually love to sing and it is such an easy way for learning to occur at the same time.
6. Play Board Games
As well as being a fun, family activity for everyone to enjoy, board games encourage the basic numeracy skills of counting, skipping, going forwards and backwards, and recognizing written numerals. They also teach kids the importance of turn taking and accepting disappointment if they do not win. Perhaps you could even make your own board game with your child, using concepts and people relevant to them.
7. Following Instructions Games
We can help our kids become more proficient in following instructions by giving them specific instructions they must follow. Start with one instruction and when they have completed this successfully, move on to giving two instructions, then three, and so forth. Perhaps you could use dress ups for this activity, eg. Put on a hat… Now put on a bag and a mask… Next, put on the purple wings and yellow shoes… Now put on a scarf, gloves and glasses…A simple task poster can help routines such as getting ready for bed. Use pictures to show your child what to do next,. For example, having a bath, brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, reading a story, etc.
8. Colours and letters
Most parents do this without even realizing! Teach kids colours by pointing out various colours, playing ‘I Spy’ finding all the things your child can see in a certain colour, discuss favourite colours, and refer to the colours by name when your child is colouring in. Letters can be taught if your child shows interest. You can begin teaching the basic sounds they notice in the books you are reading. ‘I Spy’ can be played with all kids using the initial sound of the word and not the name of that letter. For example, I Spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘mmmm’.
9. Teach your child to write their name
Even kids who show no interest in learning letters and sounds will benefit from learning to write their own name. This not only gives them confidence starting school but it also encourages independence with their own work in class.
10. Teach your child to respect rules and obey authority
Talk with your child about school rules and the particular people in authority. Role play scenarios when an authority figure might make a request of your child, including picking up rubbish, lining up quietly, wearing a hat in the sun, and putting their hand up to speak. Discuss various responses your child can give including speech, attitude and actions.
The best kind of social learning happens in social settings. Funny that! Engaging in social outings results in children learning positive interaction and social rules. Take your kids to the park, play group, birthday parties, friend’s places, and invite other kids to your place. Be prepared to intervene to teach your child (and others!) the value of sharing, taking turns, encouraging, helping, and resolving conflict in an appropriate manner.
12. Encourage Independence
As often as possible (where appropriate and safe) get your child to complete simple tasks independently. Teach them to dress themselves, manage themselves on the toilet, pack their bag (and carry it), help make lunch, etc. Easy to fasten shoes helps them with their independence. This will also make life somewhat easier for you!
13. Implement a Routine
It doesn’t necessarily need to be strictly structured, but a semblance of a routine at home helps children settle into the school routine. Children need boundaries and routine to feel safe and secure. Kids learn to navigate life with more ease and confidence when it is fairly predictable. A home routine might look like breakfast at 7am, outdoor playtime at 8am, morning tea at 9.30am followed by indoor play, quiet rest time at 11am, lunch at noon… Every family’s routine will look different as it is formed to suit their needs. And the same routine may differ on certain days. However, the basic principle of a loose routine will help children prepare for prep.
14. Watch some T.V.
I’m a huge fan of Playschool. It is a simple but fun and entertaining program that teaches basic concepts excellent for children. I love that it is Australian, uses music, singing, rhyming, cooking, craft, role-play, and picture books to engage and educate. I usually incorporate Playschool in my daily routine for my kids to watch during morning tea. Be careful to limit screen time though, as research has shown that too much screen time may contribute to attention difficulties. This includes television, computer, iPad, iPhone, etc.
15. Educational Apps
Speaking of screen time, there are loads of fantastic apps that can help prepare kids academically. From counting, to letters and sounds, writing and jigsaw puzzles. Check out pocketphonic, dtdnumletlite, preschool all in one, basic skills, colouring book, and many more. ‘Reading Eggs’ is an online program teaching letters, sounds and basic reading skills. The website offers a free trial for two weeks before subscribing. Well worth it!