Many childcare environments help children with school readiness but there is also a lot you can do at home to help give your child the best possible start to life in ‘big school'. Remember, this is an exciting time for everyone and the less anxiety your child feels around it, the better the outcome on day one will be.
Consider this list
- Talk to your child in advance and tell them where they will be going and what they will be doing
- Talk openly about school and tell them stories about your most enjoyable moments at school
- Take your child to visit the school. Show your child where they will be going and where the important people and places are in the school; classrooms, teachers, other children, toilets, canteen, office staff etc.
- Answer any questions or concerns they may have openly and honestly reassuring them that everything is OK
- Attend orientation sessions, buddy and transition programs at the school if these are available to better prepare your child and they are happy with starting child care
- Talk about friends; about saying goodbye to old friends and making new friends
- Explain that there will be rules to follow - like getting to school on time and common daily routines will need to be enforced
If you know any other families starting at the same school, think about arranging a play date for the children. This helps children feel more confident and will significantly influence those early experiences.
Get the right information and resources
We all feel better when we have the right 'tools' to do the job and this is especially true with children. Most of us have some recollection of school feeling scary by not fitting in as well as we would have liked at school and some children have more anxiety than others. Help your child feel like they fit in and find out what types of uniform, bags, lunchboxes most children will have.
Find out the obvious things:
- What time does school start and finish?
- What is the teacher's name? Will there be more than one teacher?
- Is there before and after school care and vacation care? If so, how do you enrol in these programs?
- Where do I take my child on the first day and where do I collect them from?
- What do the children need on the first day?
- What is the standard uniform and where can you purchase uniforms?
- How does the school involve parents?
- What happens if my child gets sick at school?
- What extra curricular programs are on offer?
Helping in the transition - what services do at care
Early childhood education and care services do lots of things to support your children in the transition to school. In fact, most childcare services offer comprehensive school readiness programs for children in the year before school to help you and your child settle in to the new setting. Typically these ramp up in the last three to four months of the year and may include:
- Uniform day when children can wear their new uniform to preschool
- Lunch box practice
- Increased focus on literacy and numeracy with kindergarten style worksheets
- Asking children to come at 9am and answer a roll call
- Visits from older children or ex students who are already at big school
Helping in the transition - what you can do at home
It's a great idea to work through the skills that typically help children transition easily into a school setting a few weeks before they start. These include the ability to:
- pay attention for extended periods and focus on tasks
- adapt to a new environment and new rules
- ability to work independently
Reading is a great way of increasing your child's attention span. Take cues from your child as to how long they can pay attention to one thing. As a guide, teachers may expect in the beginning that children will attend a group activity for about 20 minutes. Towards the end of the 1st year, the expectation maybe up to 30 to 40 minutes.
Introduce your child to new experiences - attend a children's play, visit your local museum, give guidelines on the rules such as when it is appropriate to talk, when you have to wait your turn.
Give your child responsibilities at home. Start assigning chores for your child to complete independently. Things like setting the table, helping with the laundry, unloading safe items from the dishwasher. All of these tasks will help your child take on a sense of responsibility and be accountable for when they don't perform their chores.
Practice Writing - invite your child to write new words, copy letters and numbers and draw pictures. This will also help with reading stories in class.
Make sure your child is comfortable introducing themselves and reciting their name, address and phone number.
Help by reinforcing skills and participate in counting and measuring activities; practice using computers.
Build your child's co-operation skills, play games that involve taking turns.
Role play being at school.
Encourage your child to talk about experiences with you.
As much as possible, offer your child natural opportunities to build skills that enhance his or her readiness for school and at the same time keep it fun.
Practice, practice, practice
Get bedtimes set so that your child wakes up in plenty of time before school. Rehearse packing lunches in the morning so you can get a sense of how much time this will take. Do a 'dry run' of the morning routine, breakfast, getting dressed, walking to school or driving - whatever the mode of transport, see how much time it will take. Remember it always takes longer than you think.
To get the day off to a good start, develop a special fun routine to make the mornings happy. Start off with a cuddle and independent play and follow with a nutritious breakfast and then maybe a special soundtrack for singing songs in the car on the way. When children can predict what's coming next, they feel confident and are more likely to co-operate.
Establish a routine after school. If possible, take them straight home as they will be tired. Get them to wind down by changing into some comfortable clothes, have a healthy snack and relax with some simple play activities that are familiar and will make them feel happy.
Your school is part of your community so if you can, take part and volunteer for working bees, canteen duty, excursions, sports days and fetes. Your child will find the transition to school easier if they know you're involved and taking an interest in spending time with them and the world around them.