When parents are preparing their children to start school for the very first time, there are a few areas that parents can address to ensure:
- That the children feel comfortable with a set of life skills which will allow them to learn
- That the life skills will allow the teachers to concentrate on their core business of teaching the Australian Curriculum.
This message also highlights the fact that the education of children, especially young children, is the collaborative responsibility of parents and teachers. Together, parents and teachers, want THEIR children to have the best start to school. The foundation years in early childhood education sets the children up for success.
There are four (at least) main areas that parents may address in the weeks leading up to starting school for the very first time.
- SOCIAL SKILLS
- MOTOR SKILLS – FINE AND GROSS
Let me stress that the skills and experiences under each of these categories are NOT an entrance exam. Not all children will have all these skills and experiences and that’s OK. Teachers will teach all the children at whatever skill level they arrive at school.
When children come to school for the very first time it is important that they have a degree of independence. There are certain life skills that allow the child to feel comfortable and confident in themselves as they have to navigate the demands of school. These independent skills allow them to concentrate on learning, knowing that they have the ability to manage these independent skills. Let me explain some of the basic independent skills that it is preferable that children have when they come to school for the very first time.
I encourage parents to do a mental checklist and to ascertain if your child has these skills. Can your child toilet themselves independently? Can they dress themselves independently, managing zips and buttons and shoelaces? And if they can’t manage shoelaces, I would encourage them to have velcroe shoes initially. Can they recognize their own name? and hence identify their own belongings which will have been named by their parents. Can they carry their own bag in and out of school? (Just as an aside – one of my pet priorities for children is for them to be able to manage their own belongings and manage their own school bag. If a child is big enough to come to school, they are big enough to carry their own school bag). Can they pack and unpack their own school bag? Can a child use tissues independently? There is nothing more frustrating for a teacher, particularly in our current climate and particularly during the cold and flu season, when teachers have to assist children with blowing their nose hygienically! Can your child manage eating and drinking independently? Now this includes opening their lunch boxes, opening their drink bottles, opening poppers and closing bottles and lunchboxes as well. So parents if you are going to buy your child a new lunch box for school, may I encourage you to take them to the shops with you and have them test out the lunch boxes. It sounds great to give them this new lunch box but if they can’t use it independently it becomes a task beyond their means.
Let’s now explore some of the basic communication skills that are necessary to give children a degree of confidence and competence when they start school. Again parents I ask you do a mental checklist. Can your child do the following? Can they make their needs known by asking simple questions such as, may I go to the bathroom please? May I have a drink of water please? Can they use appropriate greetings “good morning,” “good afternoon”, “hello my name is…”. Can they speak in sentences that are more than 2 or 3 words long? Does your child maintain eye contact when having a conversation with their peers and with the staff around them? Can your child take turn in a conversation? Do they wait for the other person to respond and can they engage in a two person or even three person conversation? Can your child talk about a subject of interest to them? Do they speak clearly – is their articulation clear and can they be understood? Can they pronounce words at an age appropriate level? Keep in mind parents that children don’t have to have all their letters and sounds until they are approximately 7 so it’s not uncommon for TH to sound like an F, it’s not uncommon for Y to sound like an L. It’s not uncommon for some of the basic sounds not to be articulately perfect until they’re about 6 or 7. Please correct your child and listen to their speech patterns. So there’s some tips about communication.
Let’s move on to social skills. Parents do a mental checklist – can your child share? Can they take turns? Can they listen? Do they know how to enter social networks with children and adults? Can they play games and are they accepting of winning and losing? Do they have boundaries around the amount of screen time at home? because at school they certainly will. Do they comply with behavioural expectations of parents and their preschool teachers? Once again these are some basic skills that if the children have, they will give them a degree of competence and competence and indicate their ability to attend to learning at school.
Let’s now explore motor skills – firstly gross motor skills these are the big body movements. It is important that children have these big body movements so that they can address their fine motor skills which are the smaller body movements manipulating things with the hands and their fingers. So can your child run, jump, hop, skip, climb?, so are they coordinated to do all those things. Do they have core strength to sit for a few minutes at a time on the floor or on a chair, without slouching without lying down? Can they throw and catch? Do they have the ability to use monkey bars? (not that schools may have monkey bars but it’s just an indication of their core strength) It’s also an indication of them being able to cross the midline, which is the imaginary line and the centre of our body, so it’s important that children can cross their midline. Do they have the ability to put one foot after the other, not going foot together, foot together, foot together, but it’s going past their foot when they’re walking up and down stairs. So there’s some gross motor skills that ideally children will have when they’re ready to start school. Now we’re not looking for Olympic athletes but we are looking for a degree of competency at an age appropriate level.
Now fine motor skills are those skills that children need in a classroom that allows them to use their hands in a very specific way. Can your child hold their pencil correctly? Can they open lids of glue sticks? Can there manipulate blocks / lego? Can they use scissors? Can they thread beads? Are they happy to colour in inside the lines of a drawing? So that when they do have to hold a pencil or when they do have to use a keyboard and using technology that they are competent in using their fine motor skills.
Let me emphasize once again the reason that parents can work on these four sets of skills is so that their children can feel confident and competent to attend to learning at school. It also allows the teachers to attend to the core business of teaching and learning, knowing that they don’t have to worry about doing up shoelaces, they don’t have to worry about opening lunch boxes, they don’t have to worry about toileting children or assisting them blowing their nose. Now there will be some children who come to school without those skills and teachers will accommodate those children’s needs. If the majority of the children come to school without a degree of age appropriate competency for those skills they will feel confident they will attend to learning and teachers can concentrate on their core business.
There are other skills which will be an advantage that are more associated with the learning of the curriculum. Knowing the alphabet, counting, knowing colours, knowing shapes, writing their name – having these foundational skills is an advantage.
Some other tips to prepare a child for the transition to school include:
Trying on their uniform, especially shoes, a week or two before school starts.
Visit school if you haven’t already (most schools will have had an orientation program).
Meet with some class mates if possible.
Enjoy the journey – it is the start of a fascinating ride.
Written by Andrew Oberthur from Creative Collaborative Solutions – Executive Coach/ Educator / Author/ Speaker