Preparing your child for school should be done as early as possible, through everyday routines and enjoyable activities. Not every child will accomplish every task at the same rate and it’s important to practice each new activity. Through practice, comes mastery.
Sometimes the hardest thing to teach, can be teaching your child to help themselves, and yet, it’s one of the most important skills to learn when getting ready for school. Teaching your child self help skills is just as important to them to learn as it is to help the teacher. These skills consist of: putting on and zipping up their coat, putting on their shoes, and going to the washroom – all on their own. YES – all on their own! We, as the adults in their lives, are in such a rush at times that we don’t give kids a chance to accomplish tasks on their own. When they do, they are so proud of what they have finally mastered – through constant and consistent practice.
Being able to recognize their name is also another skill that will help your child get ready for school. Label items at home with your child’s name (art work, belongings) while they are watching so that they associate that name and its combination of letters with themselves. Just by consistently doing this simple task, you will enable your child to be able to recognize their name once they are in their classroom. This will allow them to locate their hook, cubbies, notebooks and other belongings.
Activities that practice fine motor (smaller motion) skills such as holding a pencil and cutting with scissors, are important but fairly easy to do with your child. Expose your child to crayons, markers, pencil crayons, and paint brushes, keeping in mind your child’s development and what they are ready for. Moving from “chunky” markers, crayons and paintbrushes, to “thin” ones assist your child with practicing the “pincer grasp” which will help your child hold a pencil once they start printing at school. This will also help your child eventually hold scissors and learn to cut. When you provide your child with paper and children’s scissors, try the hand over hand method, by placing your child’s fingers and thumb in the appropriate holes and placing your hand over theirs to teach them the opening and closing movement necessary for success with cutting.
Cognitively, your child should – hopefully – be at the stage where they are curious, asking – as much as it pains us – “But why?” over and over again, therefore they are receptive to learning new things. Make sure to encourage this curiosity! Ensure that your child is also able to listen to instructions – as they will definitely need this skill in school! When playing games, and asking them to do things – give them two step instructions. For instance – playing a game like Simon says, “ …put your hands on your head, and then on your stomach…” . Also saying things like, “put the book away, and then bring me the phone”, will help your child follow the teachers instructions in the classroom.
Singing songs with numbers and letters in them – such as the ever favourite “ABC song” and “1-2-Buckle My Shoe” will make learning letters and numbers easier. If you are looking for other songs that teach letters and counting, check out this website. Once your child knows how to say the alphabet and knows numbers, introduce the visuals (Flash cards) while singing the songs, so that they are able to learn what the letter/number looks like. This activity helps with pre-reading/writing skills.
One of the most important ways you want your child to be ready is socially and emotionally. You want your child to be able to get along with other children and to play well as part of a group, sharing and using their words (instead of their hands). Emotionally, you will also want your child to be okay when it’s time to drop them off on their first day. If you haven’t, start taking your child to play groups where they can socialize with children their age. Observe how your child interacts with others; do they share toys, problem solve on their own, or do you have to intervene on their behalf? If you are intervening on their behalf, ensure you start modelling for them (tell them what to do and say) so that they can learn to solve the problem on their own. They may also need to be involved in a program like nursery or preschool, not in your care, to begin learning how to cope without you, their caregiver, being there
If your child is already in a program or child care, speak to your child’s childcare teacher about how they are doing in the program and whether there is anything you can do at home to get them ready for school in the aforementioned areas.
Once your child is nearing school age, talk to them about starting school and what kinds of things happen there. Start taking walks to the school yard, so that once that first day happens they are a little more prepared. As you know, when a child knows what to expect, we are all happier.