How to prepare your child for starting school

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The transition from preschool to ‘big school’ is a huge milestone for any child and can be a very emotional time for them as well as for parents.  

Preparyour child for starting school by continuing to support their ‘school readiness’ skills and being proactive with your planning as this is crucial in allowing this transition to be as smooth as possible. 

When a child is well prepared they gain self-confidence and are more likely to succeed from day one. Here are a few strategies that you can try in the lead up to the new school year. 

Help them get used to the school environment

Visit the school before their first day and make sure they are familiar with the environmentChildren feel more comfortable if they know where to find the classrooms, toilets, bubblers, school office, the bus stop and any other important part of their new school. 

Ensure to attend orientation days and allow your child to explore their new school so that they’re excited to start kindergarten. 

Talk about school routines with them. Discuss school bells, lining up for class, assembly, morning tea, lunch and playtime. Mention things like what to eat from their lunch box at morning tea and what to save for lunch. Talk about what to do if their lunch falls in the dirt or their drink tips over. 

Don’t save their lunch box, drink bottle and even school uniforms for their first day, however tempting it might be to make these special. Let your child get used to opening the lunch box and the drink bottle, so they feel confident with using these when you’re not there. 

Let your child try on their school uniform, making sure they feel comfortable and can take their jumper or jacket off or put it on easily. 

Talk to them about looking after their own belongings and try to help them recognise their own name on their clothes, lunch box, drink bottle and anything else they take to school. 

In the holidays before school starts, go for walks past the school, or drive by, so they continue to get familiar with the environment and trip in. 

Communication is key

Make sure your child knows what they’re going to be doing in kindergarten. Answer their questions truthfully and honestly. Calm their nerves and stoke their interests. You’ll want to prepare them with as much information as they need.  

If they have additional needs or a medical condition, talk openly to the school ahead of time. Make sure the school and the relevant teachers know the strengths and difficulties that make your child unique. The more your child’s school and teachers know about them the better they can teach them.  

Mark important school dates, like sports carnivals and school holidays, down on a calendar and even start a countdown with your child so they see those things on paper. It can help children visualise things better.  

You child might be feeling anxious and that nervous energy might come out in anti-social or negative ways. Use empathy and listen to their concerns. Don’t dismiss, but rather acknowledge and comfort them.  

Get excited about starting school and learning

Having an excited tone in your voice and talking about the fun things they will learn and do at school are simple strategies to prepare your child for school. If you are fearful about your child commencing school, or you or their siblings speak about school in a negative way, your child may also be apprehensive about this new experience. 

The first few years of a child’s school life will determine their attitude to learning and will affect a child’s self-esteem and success. 

The development of cognitive skills such as learning the alphabet is an important goal of early childhood. However, instilling within a child a love of learning is even more important. 

You can do this by incorporating learning into your life as fun, day-to-day activities. Children are quick to work out what is a chore and what is fun. If you make learning a chore by forcing your child to sit and recite words when it’s clear that they don’t want to, you could jeopardise their future motivation, interest and effort. 

Encourage conversations with your child as they build a child’s vocabulary and help listening and concentration. The more you talk, the better they will be able to communicate. 

Talking also lays the foundation for pre-reading skills. 

Children are curious about the world and will ask lots of ‘why’ questions. Try to engage in rich conversations about a range of topics of interest to the child. If you visit lots of different places, you can talk about the visits. 

Read for pleasure in front of your child. Buy your child books as presents and go to the local library, making sure you read to your child and talk about the story. 

Let them do things for themselves, teach them responsibility and give them confidence in their abilities. 

Start a new routine early

Practice makes perfect so starting a new routine before it even becomes necessary will work wonders in preparing your child for school 

Establish a morning routine with breakfast, bag packing and teeth brushing. If you’ll be walking to school, start incorporating the route to school in your morning or afternoon walks.  

Sometimes a to-do list or image cards can help a child remember the routine better. Consider printing off a list and putting it on the fridge or on the back of their bedroom door, ticking each item off as you do them every morning. 

Importantly, practice any after school routines that you’ll want to set up. Often after school routines are forgotten but they’re just as important. Maybe even introduce some variation of homework so that your child can get into the mindset of doing homework, like spelling or reading. 

Let your child play 

Playing enhances a wide range of skills that are essential for school success. Not only does it provide an opportunity to interact with other children and practice social skills and effective communication, but it also allows them to practice gross and fine motor skills through games and movement. 

Children develop a greater understanding of their world as they explore and question their surroundings. Play enhances a child’s emotional skills as they build confidence through activity. 

If your child is going to school with preschool friends or meets someone new at orientation, try and schedule in some play dates in the weeks leading up to school so they have some familiar faces to look for on the first day. 

And remember, everybody cries when starting school!

No matter how well you prepare your child for starting school, there will be a lot of emotions when they walk through the gate or wave goodbye for the first time. 

Don’t worry – tears are part of the journey (both them and you!) and you’re certainly not alone.  

If you take your time with this major change, give your child opportunities to practice their different skills, expose them to a range of experiences and encourage them with praise and love, you will help give your child the best start to this very important part of their life.