But as your pre-schooler continues to run around like a crazy person yelling 'poo poo head' or refuses, yet again, to put their own shoes on, you may find yourself more frequently contemplating the question 'are they REALLY ready to start school?!?'
I know, 'advice you haven't heard before' is a big call. However I have been pleasantly surprised with the helpful advice my son's transition program has provided. As a teacher I didn't expect to find much of the information new to me, so I was happy to pick up some tips from our school's speech pathologist, child psychologist and experienced teachers which I'm keen to share here.
MJ turns five in February next year and is starting Prep in January at our local Government school.
To assist in a smooth start to Prep, his school has run quite a comprehensive transition program.
He has attended the school for a one hour session once a month since July and while he has enjoyed art and music sessions the school has run information sessions for parents covering a wide range of topics including language development and how to help your child with maths.
In this post, I've tried to focus on the advice that I found was different from the usual 'make sure they can open their drink bottle, read to them, pack healthy snacks' advice I have come across in the past.
Tips to help prepare your child for school:
1. Make comments when you talk to your child rather than using closed questions.
When our children are first learning to talk our instinct is to ask lots of questions to encourage them to talk more; however asking questions doesn't actually help improve their communication as questions don't model language.
Young children need their parents to model language so they can develop an understanding of tone and expression and to broaden their vocabulary.
Initially you start by expanding on your child's sentences e.g. "there's a car" and you say "oh yes, that's a red shiny car isn't it?" and you can progress to modelling more complex sentences. e.g using 'because' 'until' and 'so' in sentences to link ideas and concepts.
As a guide, when your child starts school they should be using complex sentences. i.e. I don't want to go outside because it is wet and cold'.
When to seek expert advice:
If you have difficulty understanding your child; if your child is getting frustrated at not being able to express him/herself; if there is a marked difference between your child's level of communication and their peers; if your child is using few words and very short sentences; if you child is stuttering
2. Never, ever, ever share stories of your maths failure or dislike.
Research shows that the single biggest determinant in your child's success or failure at maths is their mindset. If your child thinks they will enjoy and be good at maths then they will be more successful than the child that thinks the opposite, even if each child actually has the same ability level.
Always speak with enthusiasm about maths regardless of your own experiences or difficulties. Highlight how useful and essential maths is in our daily lives. Recognise and praise when your child successfully uses maths in real life.
A fun maths game to try at home is called 'blocking'. Select two identical sets of ten Lego blocks. Ask your child to create a pattern or structure with the blocks without you seeing. They then have to describe to you how to recreate the pattern or structure with your identical set of blocks. See how close you get and then change roles.
3. Don't just read the story.
Most of us are aware of the importance of books and reading but it can be easy to fall in the habit of one quick story before bed or trying to skip ahead a few pages without your child realising (Come on, I know I'm not the only one doing it!)
When you have the time, you can try retelling the story in your own words or ask your child to retell it in their own words. I like to ask MJ to retell the story from kinder storytime in the car on the way home.
Ask if your child understands the meaning of more difficult words or ask 'what other word could we use here?' You can also ask questions about how the character felt, what they did, what else they could do. This also helps with emotional development and problem solving. You can also try coming up with a sequel to your child's favourite story.
3. Help your child develop an understanding of past and future tense
Children need to understand past and future tense such as yesterday, today and tomorrow. At our transition session parents mentioned the idea of using a calender labelled with extracurricular activities to help develop this understanding.
It is common for children to have difficulty with past tense e.g. 'I tolded you.' Just simply model the correct grammar for them 'yes, you told me' and move on.
4. When you play with your child, be a responder rather than a director.
You are a director if you ask lots of questions, tell you child to 'go and play' and when you are playing with your child you give lots of instructions and talk a lot. Of course we are all going to do some of these things some of the time (okay the 'go and play bit' a lot of the time!) but the idea is that we should try to be more of a responder.
That is we should make comments more than asking questions, ask for their ideas, leave pauses, follow their lead and expand on their ideas. What do they say, try to 'surrender' to the play!
I guess this means I need to actually play with MJ a bit more!!
5. Focus on sounds rather than letters
Try to talk about and notice sounds rather than just focusing on letter recognition. It is more helpful for language development and spelling if your child is able to recognise the sounds associated with letters. When they start school, children should be able to identify the first sound of their name and also a few other sounds associated with their most frequently used words.
It is also helpful to play games around recognising the beats (syllables) in a word and to use rhyming words. Try reading a rhyming book and leave a pause when you get to the last rhyming word and see if your child can correctly guess the word.
6. Pretend, pretend, pretend
Pretending builds language as it provides opportunities to explore familiar and less familiar situations. When your child is pretending they need to use language to describe and explain.
Now this is a tough one for me as imaginative play with my four year old son is the surest way to make five minutes feel like five hours. One way I've tried to overcome this is by playing pretend and imaginary games in the car - multi-tasking at its best! We pick a make-believe setting such as space, the time of dinosaurs or a car race, and we then describe what we can see happening out the window as we travel. I rather enjoy hearing how MJ's mind works as he comes up with some pretty cool scenarios.
7. Ensure you and your child knows it is okay to feel bad sometimes.
In order to be emotionally prepared for school your child needs a wide range of words to describe and express their emotions. They also need to build a range of coping strategies.
An important part of this is teaching your child that it is okay to feel bad sometimes and to make sure they know that bad feelings pass. If your child is not happy all of the time at school don't automatically assume something is wrong that requires your immediate intervention.
Encourage talking and listening and don't try to fix everything, let them have their struggles.
Role model a flexible approach to problem solving and allow them opportunities to be a problem solver and being assertive.
8. Determine your child's preferred way to unwind
We all hear about how overwhelming Term 1 can be for the little Preppies and how tired they can be by the end of the day. That's why it can be helpful to recognise what their preferred method of unwinding is after a day at kinder.
Some children will be most communicative about their day on the car ride/walk home others need this time to just relax and stop thinking. For these children it can be more beneficial to ask about their day during their bath or just before they go to sleep. Parents are often concerned that their child is using this as a stalling technique for going to sleep, but rather many children are most relaxed at this time and they are most willing and able to discuss their day.
Some children may need to spend sometime alone in their room playing Lego or Dolls to unwind others may need a chance to run off some physical tension. Try to identify their individual calming routine so you can implement it from the start of Term 1 next year.
9. Always ask specific questions about their day.
It is important to enquire about your child's day to demonstrate that you are interested in their day and show that they are important to you. But try to avoid questions such as 'What did you do today? or 'How was your day? as they are generally too big and you will just get a 'Good', 'I can't remember' or 'Nothing' in return.
Simple Simon and Company has an excellent post on '25 Ways to Ask Your Kids "So How Was School Today?" without asking "So how was school today?"
My favourites include:
The other key is to ask one just more question before you allow your worrying parental instincts to kick in. For example if you ask who they played with and they respond "no one" it can be easy to quickly hit the panic button and assume they have no friends. This will make us come across as quite anxious in our responses and it will make your child more concerned about the situation than they need to be.
Our school psychologist says we should instead try asking just one more key question - "And what happened next?". She reassured us that on most occasions they will tell you that a minute later they started playing with someone else and you'll realise it wasn't a big deal for them after all and by asking one more question you avoided making a bid deal of it.
If you are in doubt at all about any of the advice above make sure you speak to your child's pre-school teacher and start conversations with the primary school as soon as possible.
Otherwise trust your instinct and enjoy picking out a new lunch box for your little one, safe in the knowledge that the majority of kids in your child's prep class will also think that 'poo' is the funniest word in the world!
P.S If you have a child starting high school, the single biggest stress for them is being able to correctly use the combination lock on their locker. Make sure you practice this with them before they start their first day!
What is your best advice about getting your child ready to start school?
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