As a Speech Pathologist working with preschool aged children, I am frequently asked how to best prepare children for school.
First of all, I encourage parents to go to as many of the orientation session provided by the future school as possible. These are great for the children to meet their new peers and become familiar with the school. In addition to attending the formal orientation sessions, parents and carers can do a number of things to help prepare their future Preps.
I feel the most important aspect of beginning school is to make it a positive experience. Children are very ‘in tune’ with their parent’s emotions so if it is an anxious time for you, your child may feel anxious too.
Think about your child’s school day and everything they will need to be able to do either independently or with minimal assistance and prepare them.
Start off with simple tasks such as sitting at a table to colour or draw. Show your child how to open their pencil case, sharpen their pencils and erase mistakes. Teach your child how to use a glue stick and what they can use a ruler for. Children often need to be taught these basic skills before they can even begin to think about completing their work.
Sit down and enjoy books together, read the stories, talk about the pictures and have conversations about the stories and characters. Basic pre-literacy skills such as how to open a book and follow the black marks (words) on a page with your finger are important to know before learning to read.
Have a look at their new uniform or school clothes and teach them how to dress and undress for toileting and changes in the weather. When you’re going about your daily routines make comments such as “I’m a bit warm, I think I’ll take off my jumper” so that your child associates feeling warm or cold with taking off or putting on their jumper. If your child’s new school does not have a uniform, go through your child’s wardrobe and discuss (and mark) clothing that is suitable for wearing at school.
Toileting at school alone, can be a daunting task for some young children. Encourage your child to ask you when they need to go to the bathroom so that they are prepared to ask their teacher when they are in class. When using public restrooms, check to see if your child is able to complete the routine themselves including: locking and unlocking the door, dressing and undressing, wiping, hand washing and drying. If they struggle with a particular step, create opportunities to practice.
Organinsing and managing their belongings is also a difficult task. In a class filled with similar, if not identical items, belongings need to be clearly labelled. Make sure that anything your child wears or takes to school has a name clearly written on it.
Having a school bag and a lunchbox is also a new experience for some children. Show them how to pack and unpack their bag and have them try it themselves. You may even want to go on a picnic and have them pack their lunchbox and bag beforehand. When you find a suitable place to stop, have your child unpack and open food containers independently. Children need to be able to open their own food packages and water bottles. In the past, I have seen children who do not eat parts of their lunch because they are unable to open a container and are too shy to ask for help. Also, make sure your child knows the difference between snack time food and lunch time food so that there’s no confusion at meal times.
If your child is not naturally a social butterfly, practice different ways of asking to play. Encourage them to ask other children their age, at a park or play centre, if they can join in their game.
In the weeks leading up to starting school create a bedtime routine which prepares them for the following day. Simple things such as having their schoolbag already packed, their lunch already made and their uniform ready will make mornings less stressful. You could even create a visual checklist of what your child needs to take each day for school such as hat, water bottle, lunch, notes, schoolbag etc. This can be laminated and placed near their bag or the front door.
In the morning make sure you wake your child early enough for them to have breakfast, get dressed and put their lunch in their bag.
Remember to unpack your child’s bag after school and check for notes, worksheets and uneaten food. It’s a good idea to have a special place for their bag at home.
Most children find visuals helpful and reassuring. In an age where most people have access to a tablet or phone with a camera, it is easy to make up a story about your child. With permission, take photos of things such as your child’s uniform, lunchbox, schoolbag, school, classroom and teacher and create a story about what they will be doing. For example: “This year I will be starting at XYZ Primary School. This is my uniform. I will wear it to school. This is my schoolbag. I will put my things in it. This is my lunchbox. I will take food to school. Mum will drop me off at school in the morning. In the afternoon mum will pick me up from school.”
Most importantly teach your child how and who to ask for help when needed.
Last of all, set up a calendar and start the countdown to an exciting new beginning.