Is your child ready for school?
That’s a tough question isn’t it? There is no magical list to mark your child against as they transition from nursery to school and many people assume school readiness means some level of academic achievement; holding a pencil, writing their name, counting to 20, but let me tell you, as a former Primary 1 teacher, your child has a lot of school ahead of them and all of the time in the world to be learning these literacy and numeracy skills. Ask any teacher in the lower primary stages and there are some skills which will set your child up for their school days waaaaay more than the ability to write their own name by the age of 4.
Starting school is a BIG deal and we hope our children will love it as every child should love their early school years, right? The problem is not every child does, and it rarely has anything to do with academic ability.
When we think about sending our children off to school we often focus on skills we think they will need for the classroom and undervalue the skills they will need for life.
The problem with this is that early academic school skills are actually very simple, but we are not raising simple kids, we are raising complex little beings. So how can we refocus our energy into helping our children with these more complex skills? How do we spend less time worrying about whether or not they know a triangle from a rectangle and build environments for them to learn social skills, develop resilience and be school ready?
I have put together my top 10 tips for school readiness, this isn’t a bible, it’s simply food for thought.
School Readiness Number 1
Does your child have a voice in the room and can they seek help?
When our children trip, we catch them. When they fall, we lift them up but you won’t be around in a school day to pick up the dropped crisps, tie the laces or bandage the scrapped knee. Your child will have to develop the ability to ask other adults for help.
You can practice this when you are out and about, ask the shop assistant where the milk is kept, ask the waitress for the bill, ask the park attendant where the toilets are. Don’t be too fast to use your adult voice when your child’s voice is loud and strong.
School Readiness Number 2
Problem solving in social situations.
Primary school playgrounds can be a hive of chaos. What could possibly go wrong in an unstructured playtime of 45 minutes with over 100 children left to their own devices? 100 other children who are all building their own social skills, managing emotions, negotiating feelings and making sense of friendship rules.
Many children look to an adult for help and support but in a playground situation it’s unlikely there will be many staff available to offer assistance. Your child should be starting to build a toolbox of strategies to fix problems. Developing a toolbox of strategies for dealing with problems will help your child to be more resilient when they encounter a problem at school particularly when it involves friends.
If your child has fallen out with a friend, don’t jump right in as mediator. Give your child the space to try and resolve these things themselves and afterwards talk to them; what went wrong? How did they react? How could they better react next time?
School Readiness number 3
Be able to be bored
It might actually come as a bit of a disappointment to discover that the school day won’t be full of entertainment, sometimes, at different times throughout the day it can even be a little bit boring.
In current times children are so entertained with electronic devices and toys that they rarely have time to be bored but children actually need to develop the ability to fill a quiet void without entertainment.
When the going gets slow children need to build their capacity to self -entertain. A class teacher simply can’t fill that void for 25 children in a class.
Children need to have their play skills cultivated, too quickly they reach for time filler activities that require technology or toys but once you begin to offer open ended play opportunities with very little stimulus your child will start to show their creativity and develop their own fun.
School Readiness Number 4
Engage with books
Stories captivate imaginations, throwing children into a world of make believe allows them to develop imaginative play and in turn tell their own stories. Encourage your child to select stories, hold a book the correct way, identify the title on the cover page and turn the pages correctly. If you have a child who is reluctant to sitting down to read a story, find texts which are relevant to their interest and use props to keep your child engaged and participating in story time.
School Readiness Number 5
Following age appropriate multi step instructions.
Can your child follow multi step instructions? Pick up your coat, hang it on the peg and put your shoes on the rack?
Being able to take direction is super important when they start school, a teacher will have many other 5 year olds to micro manage. Following multi step instructions isn’t simply a skill for school, it’s a skill for life.
When giving your child an instruction think about the number of key words they can follow. Pick up your coat is a single instruction, pick up your coat and put your gloves away is a two step instruction. We need to start with one word instructions and then build on to two or more step instructions.
School readiness number 6
A typical Primary 1 class in the UK has 25 pupils. That’s 25 little people who might need help to tie their laces, to wipes their noses, to wipe their bottoms, to manage their buttons. Your child will hit the ground running if they can manage their own personal care when they start school, and if they can’t, it’s likely their teacher will ask you to work on it at home.
School Readiness Number 7
Take turns and share
There are many simple ways to reinforce turn taking, it usually involves modelling and side by side play but it is a relatively simply concept to teach.
Sharing, however, is a vague and confusing concept for younger children to understand. Made even more of a challenge because it requires children to be able to wait.
Your child should be able to wait patiently if the toy they want is in use. Sharing doesn’t simply mean you help yourself to a toy even when it is in use, you must wait until the child playing has finished with it. If your child is desperate to play with a toy that’s already in use explain that the toy will be available soon but they can try using something else in the meantime.
School Readiness number 8
Win and lose graciously
We don’t do our children a service if we let them win all of the time because the world doesn’t work that way and although winning is a celebration, the game playing should offer as much fun.
Losing sucks right? That feeling of disappointment can be a challenge for younger children. If your child struggles with losing demonstrate losing to them, don’t always let them win and talk through at the end that they may win next time. Like everything, losing takes practice.
School Readiness number 9
Make marvellous mistakes
Mistakes are MARVELLOUS. No one can learn without making mistakes along the way. Let’s embed failure into childhood so that children have the resilience skills to dust themselves off and try again. How do we do this? Celebrate mistakes, celebrate the effort your child put in to trying and look for ways to do it again.
With failure comes disappointment but that’s OK. If our children do not learn how to manage that disappointment the may become task averse or react in an emotional way to challenge.
School readiness number 10
Fine motor development.
Spending focussed time developing your child’s fine motor skills will help them to do their own buttons, manipulate play-dough, hold a pencil and a host of other skills which will give them more independence when starting school. Finger gym activities are usually very simple to set up and complete for a few minutes each day, there are lots of great examples on Pinterest.
And how do we develop all of these important skills?
Through active PLAY.
There is no worksheet that can teach a child to share, or to try again, or to lose. Youtube videos will not build your child’s resilience. Environments which encourage adult supervised play will allow children to grow and develop, with support and guidance. Play dates will encourage socialising skills, play environments will expose your child to new children and new social situations, outdoor play will develop their ability to take risks and begin to understand their own physical abilities.
And all of this, without a pencil in sight…