If you have a child starting ‘big school’, these skills might help them to take this exciting and challenging time in their stride.
Dr Mary O’Kane is a Consultant in Early Years Education and, after speaking with 500 preschool and primary teachers in Ireland, she has compiled a list of six skills a child needs for starting school and some top tips for parents.
1. Independence Skills:
- 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.
2. Social Skills
- 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.
3. Self Esteem
- 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.
4. 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’!
5. 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.
6. Academic Skills
- 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!
Dr Mary O’Kane BSc, MPhil, PhD, is a Consultant in Early Years Education and an Associate Lecturer in Psychology.