Advice on how to prepare your child for school

MICHELLE McADOO, a Cork teacher for 27 years and the author of a book on starting school, gives advice for parents whose children are about to enter the classroom for the first time
Advice on how to prepare your child for school
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IT was mid-May this year when I spotted the first of the ‘Back to School’ advertisements emblazoned across a shop window.

Like Christmas, it comes earlier each year — the stacks of pencil cases and school bags, the rails of mostly navy or grey uniforms jostling for position alongside the summer stock of fluorescent swim-suits and fluffy beach towels.

As a teacher, when I saw the advert, I shook my harried head and walked on — I had hardly the time to contemplate the new school year as I was knee deep in the current one!

In one sense, however, the retailers have it right — there is nothing wrong with being prepared for going to school, particularly if your little one is among the thousands of Junior Infants about to embark on their primary school journey this September. You, as your child’s parent and primary educator, can do lots to set your child up for success at school.

The Junior Infant classroom is initially an extension of your child’s pre-school experience where play is an integral part of the day. Play is often described as the ‘work of children’ and it is an essential part of developing your child’s physical, emotional, social, cognitive and language skills.

Games such as ‘Shop’ and ‘House’ give your child opportunities to extend their imaginations, simple toys such as Lego, jigsaws, play dough or building blocks give them the chance to work on their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills.

Playing with other children helps your child learn life skills because they are problem-solving, negotiating, and decision-making, taking turns and sharing as they play.

By providing your child with the space, opportunities and materials needed for play, you are equipping them for life.

At school, your child learns to be part of a group where he/she has to wait for attention at times. Encouraging them to be independent — putting on/taking off his/her coat, washing his/her hands, wiping his/her own nose, taking care of him/herself in the bathroom — are vital self-care skills your child needs in readiness for school.

Teach them these skills and encourage their attempts at independence, all the while remaining as patient as possible as they try to master them!

While it is the school’s job to teach your child to read, write and work with numbers, the experience your child has at home before school can make a huge difference to their learning.

One of the most wonderful gifts we can give our children is the gift of reading. READ TO YOUR CHILD EVERY DAY. Join the library; expose your child to a wide variety of texts — picture books, comics, simple chapter books, audio books... etc. Provide books at home and let your child notice you reading.

Draw attention to words on the street (STOP, McDonalds, Smyth’s,) and words around them in their environment. Teach your child nursery rhymes and simple songs to develop his/her memory and rhyming skills.

The primary school curriculum is language- based and having good language skills is vital to learning to read. Speak to your child frequently, talk about things they are doing, drawing, and watching. Look at pictures in books and talk about them. Talk about things you see on car journeys and listen to them as they make sense of the world around them.

Limit your child’s screen time. I read a frightening statistic recently, that two-thirds of parents in the UK give their child a tablet or I-pad at bedtime instead of reading a bedtime story. (I really hope the same isn’t the case here). Young children should not spend more than an hour on a screen each day. If your child has access to technology in their bedrooms, remove it immediately and use that moment before bed-time to read to them.

Learning about numbers is another skill your child will develop and many pre-school children can count easily and recognise numbers. Help your child to begin thinking mathematically by pointing out numbers around the house (clocks, house number, etc.) and using words such as big/little, long/short, heavy/light, more/less. Involve your child with household chores — matching pairs of socks, putting out one plate for each family member at dinner time — all of these tasks encourage your child to work numerically.

At school, your child will learn to write so when you give them the chance to make a mark you are motivating your child to want to write. Give them crayons, paint, markers, paper, mini-whiteboards, the pavement (and chalk!) and praise their attempts to draw and write. Make your child’s hands strong by encouraging them to play with play dough, squeeze sponges into a basin of water, pick things up with clothes-pegs, thread buttons. Have fun tracing giant outlines, designing in the mud, doing dot to dots, and playing with jig-saws, and feel confident that you are developing motor and visual perception skills.

Develop your child’s physical abilities — go outside for a walk or cycle, try swimming, get a rope and learn to skip, or kick a football together!

Remember, this is a fleeting moment in your child’s life and you have the opportunity of a lifetime to BE PRESENT and take the time to be part of your child’s life — read the story, make the jigsaw, go for the walk (dollies and all!) The dishes in the sink will be there, the Netflix show can be paused but this glorious time as your child stands on the threshold between babyhood and childhood won’t wait.

For more advice, see ncca.ie and helpmychildlearn.ie

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