It is about this time of year, every year, since I had my first child that I think ‘Goodness?! I’ll blink and she’ll be starting school…’
And with this realisation comes the flood of worries, how will she go transitioning to school? Will she be ‘ready’? And what exactly does ‘ready’ mean?
Yes, even as a teacher, I have these fears and worries. And I don’t have a magic trick that I can give you to ensure all these doubts are expelled from your mind.
But take comfort in this, there is no way as a parent you can be expected to fully prepare your child for school, I don’t believe it is possible.
And you know what? That’s not life anyway. We never know exactly what is around the corner and so sometimes we just have to roll with the punches and our kids do too, to an extent.
But what I can share are the basic skills I will strive to arm my daughter with prior to starting school.
They do not involve spending hours ‘teaching’ her to write, add and start to read before the first day of kindergarten.
Rather, the skills I am referring are incidental through play; drawing, make believe games, homemade obstacle courses, exploring playground equipment and the like. The skills I will work on are the foundations and base knowledge that will allow her to learn to read, write, spell etc. when this learning is introduced to her in the school environment.
What are they? They’re fun! And if you get hands-on with your kids, you probably already do a lot of them.
DOODLE and SNIP
· Experimenting with pencils, crayons and pens to draw different patterns and line shapes (long before a child learns the shape of all their letters they need to be able to manipulate a pencil in their hand to form different shaped lines). In other words we DOODLE!
· Exploring scissors. We have a pair of safety scissors at home and I let my daughter ‘cut’ up an old magazine however she would like. There is no need for the cutting to perfectly follow a line or the outline of a shape/object. It takes time to build the strength and dexterity to cut with precision.
Once she is ready I will draw some large wavy lines, zigzags etc. on paper and let her try and cut along the line. (Cutting is an important self-help skill for primary school, as well as a skill that supports creativity as it opens up a whole new world of things that can be created)
PLAY EQUIPMENT and SILLY GAMES
· Skipping, jumping (with two feet together), hopping on both legs, balancing on a line. (These skills are important for core strength, crossing the midline and left/right coordination- these will be used not only in play but also support classroom activities like sitting comfortably on the carpet, writing and reading (that use left/right coordination)
· Climbing- As much as the Mum in me can worry about her, I let me daughter ‘climb’ trees, equipment and onto the roof of equipment etc. It is important for her sense of confidence and an awareness of her own body and strength. Climbing is also important for vestibular stimulation and proprioception. Both of these systems, when well-developed, support a child’s learning in the classroom.
DRESSING and INDEPENDENCE
· As much as it can drive me crazy, I know that it is important that I encourage my child to be independent and take responsibility for her own things. In a classroom of 20-30 students, she will need to think for herself, pack her own bag, take care of her belongings and follow instructions. These skills do not magically kick in the day a child starts school they are learned skills from the years before school.
· Dressing herself and putting her own shoes on and off is also an important self-help skill. We have days when it is 30 degrees and my daughter is in leggings and a jumper. Instead of forcing her to change, I calmly explain why she might want to choose some other clothes. If she doesn’t then I remind her of the spare clothes bag her in backpack. Some kids need to experience something in order to learn the lesson and don’t take everything they’re told at face value. This can be challenging for parents and there are times when they may ‘have’ to change but when it isn’t dire, let them learn the lesson and make a better choice next time. I always thinks I’d rather my child thought for themselves, than followed the crowd anyway.
Social and emotional well-being:
TALKING, SHARING AND LISTENING
I have left one to last because it is, in my opinion, the most important. You can work on all the other foundations but if a child is not socially and emotionally equipped to handle the school environment their behaviour and learning in the classroom will be adversely affected.
Please don’t get a knot in your stomach reading that, for I think this is also the easiest foundation to incorporate into a preschoolers daily life.
We encourage social emotional well-being by:
· Having firm and fair boundaries
· CONSISTENCY! It can be so hard to follow through on a threat that adversely affects you as well as your child, but follow through you must! It is the first concept your child has that their actions have consequences.
· Talking about your day and asking them about theirs. With this comes sharing emotions. It is important for a preschooler to know that even adults have days/times when they feel sad, surprised, confused, angry, frustrated etc. As well as supporting your child’s emotional well-being talking is also how, as parents you can develop their vocabulary, which in term allows them to express their feelings with ease.
· Listening. My preschooler will not always tell me about any social issues that occur but when she does I try my best to listen and validate her feelings ‘Oh that would have made me feel a bit sad too’. Sometimes we talk about what could be done next time (and I try to be very aware of not letting my suggestions sound like judgement, but rather ‘tricks’ to try in future).
Other times I just let her tell me and leave it at that. As adults we sometimes just need a friendly ear and don’t want to be ‘told’ what we could have done better, kids are the same. But by listening I get a good understanding of how my daughter is dealing with and solving social issues and therefore, how much I still need to support her. As hard as it can be as a parent, we cannot and should not solve every problem for our children, but we can let them tell us about it, get it off their chest and at the end of the day, feel a little lighter.
So the next time you read the word ‘school readiness’, don’t let those butterflies in the pit of your stomach take over, instead remember that getting moving, doodling, dressing themselves and sharing feeling and emotions together as a family will serve your child far better than academic prowess in preschool.
Your hands-on helper,