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29th Aug 2016

Does Your Child Possess These 6 Skills For Starting ‘Big’ School?

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.