Preparing Children for ‘Big School’ – Top Tips for Parents
Dr Mary O'Kane, Associate Lecturer at the Open University
Back to School signs and sales signal the end of summer for thousands of children and their parents every year. They also signal a huge moment for 4 and 5 year olds across Ireland – the progression to ‘big school’. Change can be difficult for both adults and their children but there are many steps parents can make to smoothen this transition.
So in what way should parents help to prepare their children for school? Teachers report that if children have good self-esteem, show some degree of independence in the classroom, have the social skills to interact well with each other and with adults, and have the language and communication skills to express their own wants and needs, then teachers can teach them the other academic skills they need to be successful in school.
What does this all mean for parents in terms of best preparing for the transition to school? We've put together some tips below on how to help your children to develop the skills mentioned above and smoothen this transition for children.
- Talk about school, read them books about children starting school.
- Speak positively about school at all times, if you are nervous about them starting school, don’t show it!
- Teach your child to put on and take off their coat themselves. (Ensure they recognise it!)
- Are they confident in using the bathroom? (Make sure that your child is wearing clothes that they can easily manage when using the bathroom.)
- Ensure they can open and close their schoolbag and lunchbox (let them practice this).
- Can they easily handle their lunch?
- Role play a ‘pretend school lunchtime’ with your child at home.
- Familiarise your child with the school, classroom and teacher before the big day.
- Make sure children are familiar with where the toilets are, the playground is, etc.
- On the first morning at school, do not linger too long in the classroom. Be positive with your child.
- If your child is anxious, try to engage them in an activity, or with a child that they know.
- Encourage your child to mix with children outside of their own family.
- Introduce your child to any children living nearby who are starting in the same class.
- Teach your child tidiness and encourage them to tidy up after playing with their toys.
- Encourage them to say please and thank you and to apologise when needed.
- Help your child with turn taking. (Board games can be very useful in this regard.)
- Give your child chores to do around the house.
- Praise their good work and praise the effort they put in to a task rather than the outcome.
- Show an active interest in their activities but let them work at their own pace.
- Don’t criticise your child’s efforts.
- Allow them opportunities to explore and make mistakes.
- Spend quality time with your child; find activities that you enjoy to do together.
Language and communication skills
- Try to make time for daily reading sessions with your child – encourage them to take part in the process by turning pages for you.
- Talk to your child about their daily activities. Encourage them to talk about themselves/their experiences.
- Give them time to discuss their world with you, and show them you value their opinions by listening to them.
- Discourage baby-talk – ‘she is a big girl now’!
Concentration and listening skills
- Reading sessions, as noted above.
- Board games or card games help concentration.
- Encourage your child to finish jigsaws.
- Stick to activities they enjoy, don’t try to force activities.
- Keep in mind that sometimes diet can be linked to concentration difficulties.
- There really is no need to teach your child to read or write before they enter school.
- Help develop their fine motor skills, with lots of colouring, using scissors, lego games, threading beads, etc.
- Help them to recognise size, shape and colour.
- Develop their vocabulary by asking them questions and talking to them about what you are doing.
- Use words that they will be using in school (e.g. more/less; higher/lower; bigger/smaller; over/under) does your child understand these concepts?
- Help your child to develop a love of learning, this will stand to your child much more than trying to develop formal reading and writing skills at a very young age.
- Remember once the child has developed the skill sets described above the academics will come more easily!