I have been a teacher in New Entrant classrooms on and off for the last six years. I have two children at school and a preschooler. I have many friends who are teachers and have been an active participant in conversations around this topic. I feel like I am quite well qualified to give an answer to the question: “How do I make sure my child is ready for school?”
The answer may surprise many parents. I have seen on many parent groups pages answers around the child’s academic performance. Encouraging the parent to make sure their child knows the alphabet, can write their name, can count and recognise numbers.
While all of these thing will definitely help your child have a positive start to school academically, there is a lot more to it.
I asked a group of teachers what they wish a new child to their class had been taught before starting school. Not a single one of them answered with an “academic” response. All of their answers focussed on life skills such as toileting, eating, dressing themselves, talking etc.
As a teacher you may have anywhere between 13 to 20 five year olds in your class. Imagine having to put on 20 jackets every time you need to go somewhere. Tie up 20 sets of laces, assist 20 children going to the toilet/washing their hands, dress 20 children after swimming lessons…. the list goes on. It is not only impossible, it is taking up valuable learning time.
Encourage your child to be independent with these tasks at home so when they start school it is something they are confident and comfortable doing.
You know your child, you know their capabilities. If you wouldn’t expect them to do something for themselves at home then how will they do it at school? You can make it easier for your child and their teacher by doing a few things. Ensure your child has food that they can eat by themselves. There is a reason sandwiches are popular lunchbox food! Cut up apples instead of sending the whole fruit, and provide a lunchbox/drink bottle that your child can open and close independently. If your child can not manage to tie up their laces when they start school (as many can’t), then send them with velcro/slip on shoes. Make sure they are dressed in clothes easy to take off and put on (eg, trackpants with elastic not jeans with buckles). These all seem like little things but they will make your childs first few weeks/months at school so much easier.
When your child starts school they are going to be spending all day with other children. It important for them to know how to handle that. It can be hugely overwhelming for a child who has not spent time around others their age to suddenly be permanently surrounded by them.
Teach your child how to use their manners when speaking to others. Talk to them about what they need to do if they are uncomfortable or unhappy in a social situation. It is Okay to not play with someone but, it is not okay to be cruel or unkind. If someone upsets them how will they react? If your child is prone to reacting physically when they are unhappy (my youngest is one of these!) then talk to them about other ways to express themselves. It would be really upsetting for your child and you to have them in trouble in the first few weeks at school because they hit/hurt someone.
Make sure your child is aware of the school and classroom rules. Discuss why these rules are in place and how it is very important for them to do as the teacher says.
Being responsible for themselves and their belongings.
It is not the teachers job to know where every item of their clothing is. If you think they can not keep track of where they left their jacket then name it. This is crucial. Many children are not able to recognise what they were wearing when they came to school. Naming their clothes means you will hopefully have them returned to you or your child.
Provide your child with a big enough bag to hold all of their things. Lunch box, drink bottle, book bag, jacket. Nothing worse than losing something because it just didn’t fit.
You can help your child take responsibility for themselves and their belongings by encouraging them to pack their own bag for school in the morning and unpack it at the end of the day. If they make a mess, they can help clean it up. Teach them to put things back where they came from. These skills will easily transfer to the classroom and will definitely make your home life easier too! Win, win!
Teach your child to recognise his/her name. Even if they cannot write it themselves they need to be able to recognise it written somewhere. It will be on their bookbox, tote tray, bag hook, school books/stationary and if they can recognise it then they will be able to find their own things much easier and faster.
Sing songs to your child. Read to them. Give them a pen and a piece of paper. Allow them to explore their voice and their imagination. Talk to your child and encourage them to ask questions. More and more children are starting school with poor oral language. Conversations you have at home are crucial for your childs development. Encourage your child to become an independent and creative thinker and they will embrace the challenges school gives them.
All children are different and bring so many wonderful things to a classroom. They will love the opportunities they are exploring at school and we (teachers) will love having them. Be prepared for a very tired five year old, especially in the first few weeks. Don’t push too many after school activities on them. They will need time to process and wind down. Ask them questions about their day. Tell them about yours! Enjoy this new time in both of your lives.
If you have concerns about getting your child ready for school pop in and talk to the school your child is going to attend. They will be more than happy to talk through their expectations with you as well as calm any worries you might have.
Thank you to the teachers I have consulted to write this piece. You know who you are.