This has been one of my most read articles with over 22,000 reads, so I thought with school orientation days starting, this will be helpful to parents beginning the season of school! If you have any friends with children about to start school or getting ready to go, then please share this post with them by sending them directly here to my website, my The Realistic Mum Facebook page that has a link to this article or my Instagram @therealisticmum and tag them in a comment for them to follow the link on my bio page.
How to get your kids school ready!
Being a mum and a teacher I am constantly asked what parents should be teaching their kids at home. My answer always comes as a great surprise. This post isn't to make you feel bad and it is purely my opinion as both an Early Childhood Educator, a mum and my experience along with that.
So my answer is this. Your child attends school for thirteen years full time and only gets five years before that begins, maybe less if they are starting at four. In all my years of teaching, I have had children begin school already reading, writing and counting and others barely knowing the alphabet or how to hold a pencil. However, by the end of the school year and sometimes even by the end of the first term, the children are pretty much at the same level. What stands out the most though, is their school readiness, and I'm not talking about what they can do academically. When I am asked the question is my child ready for school, I answer with the following questions:
1. Does your child know how to share?
2. Does your child know how to play with toys? That doesn't include tipping them out of the box and throwing them around the room, leaving them for mum to pick up!
3. Has your child lost at games and can deal with it appropriately? Imagine teaching twenty or more children who have only ever won! See the teacher's dilemma here?
4. Can your child say hello and use manners?
5. Can your child sit, wait, follow instructions and take turns?
6. Can your child use a toilet independently? You're not around to wipe their bottoms and your teacher won't be able to either.
7. Can your child open a lunch box or unzip things? Don't assume they can.
8. Does your child know how solve simple problems independently such as seeking someone for help? What if I need to go to the toilet? What if I want to ask a question? What if another child says or does something to hurt my feelings?
9. Have you talked about the boundaries of school e.g. where to pick them up from and who will pick them up? My children know a handful of people that if they said they will be taking them home, they know it is ok. If I haven't told them or it is not on the list of friends that take them home, then they stay with their teacher. This is a good time to talk about child safety if you haven't had that conversation yet. That includes both in school and outside of school. Children should always know they can say no to anything that makes them uncomfortable or worried.
10. Can your child pack away an activity? They will no longer have mum to do it for them and twenty children standing around during tidy up time because they have no idea what they are suppose to do, is super annoying for a teacher.
Interesting answer? Well these are extremely vital skills for your child, so if they can't do these things (and don't assume they can) then focus on this first and leave the learning to read and write for a trained teacher. If you have got this list sorted and they are bursting to learn words and want to write letters, then by all means start the journey while they are showing interest! No need to buy education books to fill in, just a scrap book, pencils, a white board and pens and a packet of buttons is all you need. A scrap book doesn't force them to write on lines and lets them experiment with shapes, lines and circles to eventually become letters. It's all writing! Whiteboards are awesome to just reuse and save paper. Buttons are a great tool for sorting, counting, adding and subtracting. But please I beg you, if your child at any point says I have had enough or I don't want to do it any more, STOP! You don't want them starting school hating the work. Finally read, read, read! Read them books everyday. It is the best start to learning you can give your child.
My experience as a parent:
This story is told often amongst my friends because it's funny and also highlights the point I'm trying to make. My son Jack went to preschool only two days a week leading up to school because we did enough other social activities and for financial reasons as well. Jack showed absolutely no interest in any sort of writing and hated (still hates) drawing and anything associated with that. At preschool he had learned to write his name but didn't know the letters and didn't really care. When he was asked by a friend what his name started with, he very quickly and confidently replied with 38 (yes the number). We all completely cracked up laughing without him seeing and I did correct him that it was actually a J. He argued that it wasn't, it was 38 so left it at that. He got it eventually.
His school sent out a 'what does your child know sheet' and we noticed most of what we were ticking yes for were all the social and emotional questions. Academically he didn't know much and again I was in no panic. He loved us reading stories to him, had learned a lot of them by heart and was excited when he could pick out the words 'a' and 'I' from stories. Jack made friends anywhere we went sometimes putting me in some very awkward positions like "mum can this kid, ahh what's your name again, come over to our house for a play. His mum is over there?" Although he isn't perfect at it and sometimes has his moments, Jack learned to lose a game and be happy for the winner. All in all, Jack was in my opinion, school ready.
Now he started up against many children who knew and were able to do so many academic skills. Jack being a December baby was also one of the youngest in his class. However, Jack being able to sit on the carpet, follow instructions and listen meant he absolutely flew through and sat at a good average most of the year. He finished his year above the national bench mark reading level, can write sentences, count in groups of numbers, add easily etc etc etc. Do I sound proud? I'm ecstatic! Jack had his fair share of sorting some minor friendship issues (typical wrestling, rough play) and plateaued during one term, but he's not perfect, he doesn't need to be, and it's all part of the learning journey. His achievements and the successful year he had is due only to his interest and his readiness. We never pushed him and when he was excited about writing, we supported him. He was so excited to go back to school because of all the new things to learn (his words) and that is something two years ago we would never expect to come out of his mouth.
My experience as a teacher:
As I mentioned earlier, children generally end their year around the same level. No child was made the same and developed skills at completely different times. Not every child walks the same age don't they? I'm sure most of you found your own children walked and talked at completely different ages. This is the same for learning academically as well. So children in a class room are going to find it all clicks in place for them at different times. Some will just get it immediately and for others, it will all make sense to them right before the end of the year, just when you start to wonder if there is something you have missed. Every single year without fail a parent or two would introduce themselves followed by "my child already knows how to read and write." I would smile and say "lucky for me" but wouldn't get too excited. I made that mistake in my first year of teaching when a child was reading and writing before they started but couldn't sit on the carpet and listen to a story. They constantly snatched things off other children and would throw enormous tantrums if they weren't chosen to do something or picked for an award. It was a nightmare and while that child spent so much of their time learning these skills, the other children caught up and finished the same. Can you see what is more important here? That is one example of MANY.
So my encouragement to you is if your child is about to start school or they are in their last year of preschool, teach them to be ready. Below is a list of activities you can do with your child to get them school ready and for the rest of the time, just be their parent not their teacher. You are more valuable to them as their mum; their biggest fan.
- Read a book to them each night. We usually read the same book two or three nights in a row so they can join in as well.
- Play board games. My kids love trouble, guess who, pictionary, the beetle game and uno.
- Teach your child to pack up something after they have played with it and get them to help you tidy up before dinner. My kids have to pick up and put away 10 things each.
- Involve your child in cooking and getting meals ready. They love doing this because they feel responsible for something.
- Teach your child to say hello to your friends and answer their questions so they learn to interact with adults.
- Sing songs with your child and teach them Nursery Rhymes.
- Don't solve all your child's problems, try and get them to work it out first, particularly squabbles between friends.
- Practise activities such as, if your child asks for something or wants to say something, ask them to sit down with their legs folded and wait until you are ready.
- Give your child some independence. Let them pick out their own outfit once a week when you are just staying home, get them to pack their preschool bag and put their things in the right place when they get there. My children take their folded washing up to their rooms on their bed and help me put it away. I know that won't last forever I'm no idiot, but it's more about learning the skill.
- Put aside 15 minutes once a week to join in your child's play. My kids love role play and even though I can't usually be bothered (don't judge I'm not alone here) I will join in every now and then and subtly teach them things during it. "Let's get out the animals and build a zoo". We play zoo and then we pack it back away. A few invisible lessons in there! Playing with toys properly, turn taking, packing away.
- Involve children when writing a shopping list or organising your week. They usually remember swimming lessons and most of the other things they come up with are bizarre like 'we need to fly to Adelaide', but they enjoy being involved.
- Have a conversation with them. It's how I learn best about my kids and it's thoroughly entertaining.
- Enjoy the short years you get to have with them before they go off to school. It completely took me by surprise how quickly it turned up!
- Make up a lunch box as you would for school and watch them unpack everything. Sandwich clipped boxes are harder than you think for little hands to open. And the biggest tip of all!!! show them which is recess and which is lunch. So many kids will eat all the contents of their lunch box at once and sometimes even before school starts! As for buying lunch boxes; It's an overwhelming choice and everyone claims certain ones are best. My only advice to you is, don't buy anything with a thousand openings. They don't need a maze and don't have time to find their lunch in all the surprise pop ups. The teachers hate them to and some usually end up asking you to send in a normal one wasting the $30 you just spent. A lot of classrooms also separate fruit break, morning tea and lunch into different baskets in the classroom so if they are all joined together, you may have one very stressed child.
- Stop helping them to wipe their bottoms if you are still doing that. Don't feel worried if it's something you still do and didn't think about. Here is your chance to teach them now.
I could really go on forever and if you want to ask me anything about getting ready for school or activities at home pop it in the comments or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
©The Realistic Mum
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