Preparing For School
Preparing for School
Even during pregnancy, parents worry about the best sort of education for their child. It might be that the child will go automatically to the school his parents attended, it may be that the area is new to you or that you want so much more for your best beloved. You choose a school and then you worry that this tiny child might not be ready. He is little more than a baby, how will he cope with the educational and social expectations of a school? You know this child intimately, how will he be treated by adults and children who can not possibly love him as you do? What can you do to give him the critical pre-school skills so that he can maximise his opportunities? With the right sort of preparation, school becomes an exciting place, full of chances to learn and make friends. How can you make this happen?
We probably expect more of our young children in Britain than in any other country in the world. Our children go to school very early and face continual assessments. How can parents help?
Rate of development.
It is important to understand that although children develop skills in the same order, children who develop ‘normally’, do not all develop at the same age.
Some children learn to walk at ten months, others at fourteen – both are normal! Some are born with teeth, others are totally gummy at twelve months. Again, both normal! Apparently Einstein didn’t speak till he was three. My daughter was a fluent reader at four and a half, my son didn’t read till he was seven – both went to good universities. My daughter couldn’t pronounce all her sounds until she was five, [‘k’ is one of the last sounds to come and she sounded sweet asking for ‘a tup of toffee’]. My son never had a problem with making sounds correctly. Try also to understand that young children are developing in several different ways. Small children are developing physical skills, as well as language skills and reasoning.
You will have noticed that each strand develops separately so that a one year old will, perhaps, struggle to stand up and walk, and then another skill – perhaps the fine motor skills needed for feeding – will be practised, and then some language will develop, and then perhaps there will be a growth spurt. Remember that a small child is only able to learn something when he is ready to learn it. A famous experiment taught one identical twin to climb the stairs. The other was able to do the same within two days, with no specific teaching at all.
Helping them along.
But what activities will help with pre-school skills? Firstly:
Remember that children are not able to concentrate for long,
Most things a child does are new and will teach something,
Children enjoy learning for its own sake but very much value the approval and praise of people they love. Children can only learn what they are ready to learn – so physical development means a just-four year old might not be able to hop on both left and right feet, or catch with one hand; brain development means that most four year olds have some difficulty distinguishing visually between b/d, t/f, n/u, 2/5; or counting 7 things, or remembering a visual design, or drawing a proper triangle or square.
At this stage, many parts of the brain are still developing. The ‘normal range’ includes children who develop more quickly as well as those who develop more slowly – almost all teenagers no longer wet the bed, are able to read well, catch with each hand, tell the time etc, but there might be a few years between the first and last to develop these skills.
Useful pre-school activities include helping the children to learn their colours – the child will first recognise and be able to group objects with the same colour: here is a green sock, can you find me all the other green socks? Next, the child should be able to give you the green sock when you ask for it; and finally, when you ask what colour it is, the child should be able to tell you the sock is green.
Number work is good, but some children will not be ready for complicated stuff. Many children can count, fewer are able to count on a 1:1 basis; if you ask the child to count by putting his finger on each item, he might be able to count accurately to about four, but then put his fingers over the objects vaguely, or even touch the items but count wrongly. Even when they can count accurately to 10, many children become very confused with the way numbers work after that. It is good, too, to help children recognise their numbers. Start with those wonderful books and games which show numbers very clearly, possibly alongside balloons or cats or ice creams. Wall charts are useful to remind of the shapes that numbers make.
Numbers also make patterns and children from the age of 3 might enjoy playing cards and dominoes, particularly those with a picture on one side and a number on the other.
Dominoes will also help children to match pictures and patterns and later to match simple words too. Most children seem to begin by recognising shapes, often word shapes rather than letter shapes. You may have noticed that your child can recognise some brand names from advertising on television. The child’s own name is a very good place to start.
Most importantly though, the child should be encouraged to want to read, to enjoy stories rather than to see them as a chore where they are required to identify letters and words. Use your finger to underline where you are reading so that your child learns that we read from top to bottom and from left to right, and take time to talk about interesting parts of the story, and to discuss the pictures.
Use anything and everything – put the child’s name on little cakes or pastry, draw a name or a number or a shape with soap on the side of the bath, use the child’s finger to trace a word on sand-paper or in salt or flour or foam. We all use different senses to learn: your child might particularly benefit from feeling the shape of letters and numbers.
Your child also needs to develop physical skills. Help him to catch a big ball in two hands and to throw it. He could play at rolling a ball to you and catching it when you roll it back. Encourage him to kick a ball. He could practise walking carefully along a chalk line or a skipping rope laid on the ground, and walking backwards. Jumping with two feet has to be mastered before he can jump on one, and few children can hop on both feet before they are five.
But the social side of school is important too. Teach your child to take turns, teach him to play different games. Teach him to lose sometimes – even though winning is better. Some children are naturally very shy and will need a lot of encouragement to feel at ease in a group situation; don’t let school be the first time he is in a group larger than his family. Give your child some experience of managing without you for a little while so that school is not such a shocking experience.
Try to teach him to use the toilet properly, to wipe his bottom, to flush the toilet and to wash and dry his hands; make sure he can blow and wipe his nose. Make sure your child is able to put his socks on and pull his pants up if possible.
Of course, teachers expect to help small children but the more he can do for himself, the more confident he will feel.
Tease your child gently so that he learns to be laughed at sometimes. If your child is someone who smiles or laughs nervously when told off, help him not to – this is often misinterpreted as insolence.
The first days.
Taking your child to school for the first time can be highly distressing, however much you have anticipated the freedom of your child going to school and even if your child has already attended Nursery. Starting proper school seems to bring an understanding that your child is now on the long road to Adulthood. This little child in smart clothes, standing up straight and proud of the new status, is going to be a Grown-Up. Of course you know that children grow up, but this is often the first time reality really strikes. Your child is going to be doing things without you, have friends you don’t know, perhaps fall in love with his teacher. This small child is going to become taller and separate from you. It’s frequently a much harder break for the parent than for the child. And when he does go to school, don’t grill him on his achievements. Be pleased to see him come home, and interested in what he has to say. Most children can not answer the question ‘What happened at school today?’ with more than – possibly – a description of what they ate for lunch. Your child is much more likely to be willing and able to tell you stories about school later, possibly as you tuck him in at bedtime. Be proud of what he achieves, but mostly be pleased that he is happy.