Preparing your child for school
Every mother goes through a time of emotional preparation the day her child starts school. We prepare ourselves for the reality that our precious children, who we have cared for diligently and lovingly, will now be in someone else's care. We prepare ourselves emotionally to accept the fact that their teacher will become the new hero in their lives and that they will receive input from someone other than ourselves. We prepare ourselves to be strong when we wave goodbye at the start of the new school year.
The question we need to ask ourselves as our children are getting ready to embark on this new adventure is whether we have adequately prepared them to be ready to attend school. I recently went to a parent orientation evening for my son who will be beginning school next year and I was rather surprised by the information I gleaned. Obviously I had thought of all the typical things relating to school readiness. I know that he can write his first name, count to twenty, knows all his colors and so on, but there were some things I hadn't even thought of.
Here are some suggestions that may help your child when starting this new adventure called school and ways you can help to prepare them.
- Talk about the experience - Most children have a vivid imagination and often their fears seem a little silly to us. Don't patronize your child or tell them not to be silly when they verbalize anxiety or fear. Reassure them by telling them what they can expect and giving them confidence to face the challenge ahead.
- Train them sufficiently - teaching them the little things are important. Simple things like dressing themselves and tying their shoes help them to not only develop their confidence, but also to develop their fine-motor coordination skills. These skills are very important for their ability to write and produce quality work in the years to come.
- Children learn many skills for school from activities they participate in day to day. Simple drawing of patterns on paper or drawing large shapes and circles in chalk on the driveway are important lessons in writing development and fine-motor coordination. Make it fun for your child to use these skills by giving them freedom to draw in unusual places like the driveway. A section of wall painted with chalkboard paint in their rooms also allows them freedom to draw and decorate. We have painted our old fridge in our kitchen with chalkboard paint and this makes a great noticeboard but also a drawing board for my little boy.
- Gross-motor coordination is also important for learning at school. Climbing is particularly good for your child in developing strength and also learning how to judge distance. Play games with your children and see how you can incidentally help them to develop these skills. It helps to give them greater control over their bodies, which is helpful when you are sharing space with at least twenty other little bodies. Something as simple as sitting cross-legged can be difficult for young children. Games like hopping, skipping and galloping all teach your child these skills and how to control their bodies.
- Reading stories to your child is not only pleasurable for them, it gives them a reference to words on a page. Point out words as you read and they will quickly learn that we read from left to right. They will also learn how to scan and follow pages in a storybook which strengthens their visual ability. Looking at illustrations and asking questions related to the story teaches them to listen as well as to communicate their understanding of the content to you. You can reinforce concepts like color, shape and number through story reading and illustrations.
- Helping your child to follow instructions is very important for their school readiness. They will be entering into an environment where they will need to listen carefully and follow guidelines set out for them. You as a parent have a large role in helping them with this. Set simple tasks and instructions for your child to carry out and follow. Make them few and simple so as not to overwhelm them. If they become distracted or forget, repeat them with the child looking at you. Praise them when they do well and complete the task.
- Another way we can help our children is to teach them to sit still. This sounds a hard task, especially if you have boys, but they need to be able to concentrate for short periods at a time. Try by giving them short tasks that require concentration. Try to make these tasks fun and have a reward or goal for them to work towards.
- Teach your child social skills. These are very important for relating to adults as well as their peers. Teach your child how to answer the telephone at home and how to be polite. Teaching them confidence is important. We do this by making them feel valuable and important. Allow them to contribute to family discussions by asking them their opinion. Teach them how to greet people who come to your home without being shy or afraid. Show them how to respect and honor others as a way of life. This will help them to settle very quickly into school.
- Please teach your child how to ask to use the bathroom/toilet. We assume that they will just ask if they need to go because they just use it at home when they need it. Your child may be too embarrassed or afraid to ask the teacher. This can lead to embarrassing accidents for them. Teach them the correct way to ask.
- Establish a routine for them. Having a routine also eases stress and anxiety for them. Have a set bed time routine so that they are fresh and ready for the school day, get them to set out their clothes the night before so there is no morning madness in the home. Drop them and collect them at the same place each day for school. All this creates stability and security for your child.
- Take them to visit the school before they start. Get a school tour and meet the teachers of the new entrant classes. We are fortunate that the school our little boy will attend has transitional classes that they can attend.This enables me to attend school with him the first couple of times and then to leave him for a couple of hours the last few times. He will get to meet his classmates for next year as well as his teacher so that when the school year begins after Christmas he will feel safe and confident. Check to see if your school has a similar program.
- Make this a special time for him or her. Buy them a special school bag and some special stationery that makes them feel grown up and important. This will also teach them to be responsible for their things. My little boy received a T-shirt in the school colors that stated he was enrolled at the school - a clever way of advertising for them but more importantly it made him feel welcome and special.