The following is a short excerpt from my ‘The Starting School Book‘:
A question that seems to crop up again and again among discussion groups is “what do I need to teach my child so that they are ready for school?”, this is commonly followed by questions such as “do they need to know their ABCs?”, “do I need to teach them to read?”, “should we practice phonics?” and “should they be able to write simple sentences?”. I’ve even started to see advertisements for ‘pre-school coaching’, private tutoring sessions to get children up to speed with English and Maths skills before they start school. The good news is, your child doesn’t need to be able to do any of these things. Preparation for schooling is much more about the everyday practicalities; skills that will enable your child to cope independently in the school environment and help them to feel happy and relaxed.
So, what should you be focusing on doing with and teaching your child over the next month?
- Read to them lots. Get them to love books, by allowing them free choice and making story time a fun, interactive and enjoyable experience. Don’t stress about teaching them letter recognition, just read, read and read to them some more.
- Talk with them lots. Encourage them to have conversations with you about things that interest them and how the world works. The thousand “why?” questions they seem to ask every day can be exceptionally annoying, however this is a great example of their natural curiosity, which in turn is a great learning attribute. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, then say “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together! Maybe we can find a film, book or website about it”. This natural learning that happens every day, purely organically, is much more powerful than trying to teach them formally.
- Get out into nature with them. Enjoy these last few weeks of being able to spontaneously get outside for the day and plan trips away. Whether this is enjoying time in your garden, or that of a friend or family member, visiting local forests, woods, fields or nature reserves; the time spent outside is a great primer for school.
- Prepare food with them. Cooking together can help to foster a love of good food, but it’s also a great way to teach maths and science skills organically (what temperature is the oven? Why do you add baking powder? What happens when you whisk or sieve something? Encourage them to weigh items in your kitchen scales and so on). Cooking also encourages fine motor skills and tool control.
- Messy play and painting. Messy play is important to encourage creativity and sensory experiences, whereas painting is a great way to express emotions, to learn about colours and shapes and again to encourage them to hold the paintbrush, pens and pencils correctly.
- Work on their fine motor skills. This follows on from the previous point. Children don’t need to start school knowing how to write, but they do need to know how to hold a pen and pencil. With less focus on arts and crafts and nature play, children are frequently starting school lacking in motor control skills, this in turn inhibits their ability to write.
- Teach them to recognise their name when written. Don’t worry about teaching them to write their own name, teaching them to recognise their name written is important though – so that they can pick their name out of different labels, for instance on their coat peg, or draw. If you do teach them to write their own name, however, make sure it is not all in capital letters. Instead teach them to use a capital letter for their first initial and the rest in lower case, writing everything in capitals is a tricky habit for teachers to break.
Physical Skills Needed for School
There are quite a few specific physical skills that new school starters would ideally possess, each of these skills helps children with their independence and helps teachers and teaching assistants by reducing the amount of time they need to do tasks for children. This is a big list, please don’t be alarmed if your child can’t do all these things by the time they start school. It’s more a list to work towards, rather than a ‘tick every box’ list.
- Teach them how to put on a cardigan/jumper (whatever they will be wearing school uniform wise) and coat and take it off again.
- Teach them how to do shirt buttons up, or the few top buttons on a polo shirt if they will not be wearing a traditional collared school shirt.
- Teach them how-to put-on gloves and put them into their coat pockets when they go in at the end of break time.
- Teach them how to sit on the floor with their legs crossed and hands in their laps.
- For children with long hair, teach them how to put a hair tie and/or clips in and take them out (so that they can fix their own hair before and after PE lessons).
- Teach them how to undress, change into their PE kit, and then put their uniform on again afterwards. Plus collecting their kit and putting it back into their PE bag.
- Teach them how to blow their nose and what to do with the tissue or handkerchief afterwards.
- Teach them how to hold a pencil.
- Teach them how to put up their hand if they want to ask a question.
- Teach them their teacher’s name (when you know it) and the names of any teaching assistants (TAs).
- Teach them to go to the toilet independently (including wiping, flushing and washing hands afterwards).
- Teach them how to use a lock on a public toilet door (especially if you can find out what style of lock the school toilets have and find one like them to practice with).
- Teach them how to put on and take off shoes (on the correct feet – use the heart trick to identify left and right feet, see illustration at the end of this list)
- Teach them how to identify their lunchbox and how to open and close it.
- Teach them to recognise their own belongings (e.g. their coat, bag, water bottle and so on, this includes recognising their name on any name labels you use).
- Encourage them to drink water at home (as squash and milk won’t be available during the day at school) and make sure they know how to open, close and refill their own water bottle.
- Teach them to peel satsumas and bananas if you will be putting them in their school lunch.
- Make sure they can take the top off any yoghurt pots or pouches you will be giving them to take for school lunch.
- Teach them how to use a pair of scissors.
- Teach them how to spread glue with a spatula and use a glue stick.
- Teach them how to eat with a knife and fork and carry a tray with a plate of food on it.
The book is a comprehensive look at how to choose the best school for your child, how to prepare them (emotionally and physically to start), how to prepare yourself, how to settle them in and deal with common issues that arise over their first year.