Starting school is a big step for your child. Child Psychologist, Ian Wallace, offers some advice on how to tell when your child is prepared, and ways to smooth the transition.
One minute they’re learning to walk, the next you’re buying them that way-too-big school uniform in the smallest size possible. Then you panic when you realise they can’t even write their name, let alone tie their laces. But before you become anxious about your child’s ability to read, write or count to 20 by the time he/she walks into prep, try to get things into perspective.
The reality is many normal children will begin school not reading and will proceed quite happily and successfully to do so when ready. Because kids develop at different rates in different areas, they show splintered skills at this age, and one of the most important lessons you need to learn is that kids’ development is not a competition. Little Timmy next door might well be reciting Shakespeare, but chances are he’s not so proficient at doing up buttons.
School readiness is about being socially and emotionally prepared, as well as having personal care, language and motor skills. So while being able to read and count is a bonus, they’re not necessary. Exposure to books through listening to stories and colouring-in is more important than reading, and craft skills such as cutting, pasting and drawing will stand a child in good stead for writing.
Your child’s coping mechanisms
You won’t see a child being referred to a psychologist because he/she can’t read at the start of school, but we do see lots of kids who can’t share, don’t cooperate or haven’t learnt to adapt to change. If you’re not sure your child is up to speed with their social skills, get together with their Kindy teacher to work out a simple plan to help them.
You can practise these skills every day in easy ways. They need to develop emotional independence in social situations, so encourage them to ask for what they need on their own when you are with other people, and rather than rescuing them every time anything goes wrong, let them find their own way.
Playing with other kids they don’t know in the park or at the beach over summer is great preparation. They’ll be exposed to new people and the need to take turns and negotiate. If you notice they’re not coping, go home and practise the social and emotional skills they need help with, then return to the park to practise them more in a social setting.
Preparing your child
Make sure your child is also well practised at pulling their pants up and down by themselves, wiping their own bottom and washing their hands. I meet the occasional mum who thinks teachers will help with these. They’re wonderful, caring souls, but teachers have a lot of other important work!
This is also the time to practise wiping noses, buttoning shirts, doing up shorts and skirts, and getting shoes on. So if you’re always picking up after your Kindy kid because it’s easier that way, change your approach – for their sake. Encouraging independence is the name of the game, so have them practise putting things in and out of a backpack, opening and closing lunch boxes and bottles, and tidying away belongings.
What not to do
Resist the temptation to over-hype big school. It’s much better to play it down and give your child confidence that she will cope. This is much easier if she has been to some form of childcare or Kindy, because you can paint big school as just a small step up.
Neither is it a good idea to warn young kids that they won’t cope at school if they don’t know how to do a particular task. Keep the mood positive.
The three Ps
Preparation, practice and positives are the three Ps to keep in mind when getting your child ready to start school. Familiarise them with the physical space by visiting while the school is quiet or watching pupils play at lunchtime. Let them hear the bell and watch the kids go into class. Go to school orientation days. Use his preschool teachers to build confidence and skills. Let your Kindy child play with a child who’s already at school and loves it.
Be careful not to promise too much, though. I’ve heard of kids who arrive home distressed after day one because they were promised they’d learn to read at school and it didn’t happen!
You may be feeling sad or emotional on the day, but try to hide this. Big smiles and lots of confidence are what’s needed. Some kids love it, some are confused, some cry, but all soon get over their fears. Let him know how happy you are he is heading for a fun and interesting time, and the step up to big school won’t be so big after all.
School readiness checklist
Can your child…[list style=”check”]
- listen to stories, learn rhymes, and recognise and name colours?
- play, share, take turns and adapt to doing things differently?
- cope with change and deal with challenges?
- dress themselves, pull down and up their pants, wipe their own bottom and wash their hands?
- converse socially and express their needs?
- run, jump, catch, balance and dance?
- cut, paste and use pencils?
- recognise numbers and begin counting?