The long summer holidays are drawing to a close and the time now approaches for parents to prepare their children for their return to school (hopefully refreshed and energised for the year ahead), or a ready a new cohort of Kindergarteners to attend school for the first time. And let us not forget our pre-schoolers who are about to start their learning journey, where literacy skills significantly contribute to a child’s future success at school.
Children returning to school after the long break usually have a sense of anticipation as the start date looms. Their attention will typically be focused on the progress of their friendships and social life, rather than the advancement of their learning. Though their education is paramount as a measure of outcomes achieved by attending school, remember that if your child enjoys going to school and is happy there, they will be more likely to succeed academically.
Alongside the excitement, children will undoubtedly feel nervous and uncertain at the start of a new school year. They will have a different teacher (or teachers), new classmates, new subjects, and new challenges. With all these unknowns, your child will feel better knowing that they are equipped and ready to tackle their daily challenges. This includes ensuring that they have all their required equipment to support them. Also, parents might bear in mind that each year brings its own ‘must have’ stuff and each year is likely to be different from previous one.
Take Year 4 (children aged around 8+), for example. This is the year to encourage children to embrace their curiosity as they observe and analyse the world that surrounds them. Even though Year 4 is often the start of prepping students for later school, it’s important to remember that developmentally, fourth graders are still children. Play remains important and creating a classroom that’s nurturing is always vital. Technology plays a bigger role in the Year 4 classroom, too, as students begin to hone their research skills. Make the most of the march to middle primary as you prepare your child for Year 4. Your child will likely know the ‘must haves’ so have a chat with them to determine what you as a parent or caregiver is prepared to allow.
If your child is returning to school, it will help to:
Make sure they have all the essentials. The school should advise on writing implements, required books, etc. Your child will feel much more confident if they feel fully prepared and well-equipped.
As a parent or caregiver, you probably have a good idea how your child feels approaching their return to school. Their anticipation will most likely reflect the success or failure of their previous experiences. Children with a store of positive memories will approach their return differently from children who have not had positive experiences previously. It’s best that you do not minimise your child’s concerns, but talk to them, listen, and offer strategies that will help them to navigate and manage situations that may arise.
Be positive and encouraging by focusing on things your child enjoys about school. Primary aged children (ages 6-12) have little sense of the importance of learning and are unlikely to take seriously the importance of being literate or numerically competent. They are starting to develop social connections as their prime requirement.
Appreciate areas where your child might require extra support such as with reading skills.
When children are preparing to commence school for the first time around age 5, again their expectations will determine how they anticipate this event. Your child may feel excited, nervous, worried, or most likely a combination of many emotions.
To help your child take starting school in their stride, you certainly should be:
Upbeat about the adventure and chat about the many wonderful things that could happen: things like making new friends, enjoying reading, gaining some writing skills, sport, etc.
Reassuring about what to expect. If your child is anxious about their first days at school, it might help for them to know that everyone else in their class is also just starting. It’s a brand new day! There will be many things to celebrate at school and tell them that you’ll be supporting them so they are free to share their days with you. However, if you ask children, “What did you learn (or do) at school today?’” don’t be surprised to hear “Nothing”. So don’t make it an interrogation. Keep it light and chatty.
Enabling connections. If your child already knows another child or children that will be going to the same school, try to arrange some playdates so they will feel more comfortable when they arrive that first morning. They will likely make their own friends once they settle in but seeing a familiar friendly face or two in the early days will help them feel more at home.
Below is a list of things which educators generally believe your child should be able to manage. You can help prepare them by:
Making sure they can write their own name. Use pencils, not pens. You can get them in the mood by doing lots of colouring with them. Learn what an effective pencil grip looks like.
Talking to them about the sounds of the alphabet. They could be learning the alphabet which might be helpful. Play the ‘I Spy With My Little Eye’ game with them.
Learning simple songs and rhythms helps children develop learning skills. Don’t be embarrassed about singing to your child, and do it often.
Encouraging social skills – the earlier your child learns to get on well with others, the better. You can start by congratulating them for sharing toys with other children. A selfish child will never be popular.
Teaching them basic mouse skills and allowing them to a computer under supervision. If you don’t have a computer, go to a library where they can use one.
Ensuring they know the difference between right and wrong. They need to be told from a young age that hurting another child is not acceptable or appropriate.
Boosting their confidence by taking them to activities, or to the park where there will be other kids around, to help them get over any shyness.
Making up stories (even if they make no sense). You can do this while you’re driving, on the bus or before bedtime. It helps develop their language and communication skills, and you may be amazed at how much you enjoy making up a story.
Encouraging independence – you need to let your child do things for themselves. If they’re trying to build something with Lego don’t be tempted to help, unless asked.
Spending time together. Family time is important, so have dinner with your child as often as possible. If you’re too busy on weekdays, get the family around the table at the weekend. And let children help prepare the food. At a young age, children have a short attention span but if this does not change as they get older, they will suffer at school.
Encouraging them to do activities they enjoy, such as painting. This will help them learn to concentrate.
Making maths fun. For example, put three potatoes on your plate, have your child eat one and ask how many are left. Try counting everything for a day, including all your steps to the supermarket and the number of trees you walk past on the way.
Helping your child understand the concepts of past and future. Ask them about what they did yesterday and what they are looking forward to at the weekend.
Giving them the attention they need. Kids go through a phase of asking why all the time, but never ignore them; be patient and reward their curiosity. And if you think they’re asking why for the sake of it, then ask them a question in return. This engages them, and gets them thinking about the world.
Asking questions that refer to different categories. For example: “Why are some of these trees losing their leaves?” “Which animals eat meat and which don’t?” Your child will learn about groups and categories without realising.
Working on Jigsaws together, which are great for developing logic skills. If your child gets tired of them, box them up and resume another day.
Talking to your child about different healthy and unhealthy foods and allowing them to eat a variety of foods in moderation. If they know they can eat sweets, but not every day, you will be amazed how often they choose to eat healthy fruit or veg instead. Let them get involved with cooking too.
Encouraging your child to play a musical instrument. This gets them moving and it’s good for spatial, reasoning and motor skills.
There may not be one particular approach that will guarantee your child’s success at school, but every child has unique qualities and individual talents. Show your children how every imaginative act is creative and inspiring. Share stories and show them how you value education and they may come to value it too.
As literacy specialists you would expect us to highlight reading as one of the most important factors in your child’s education, but all parents, teachers and children themselves understand how reading accomplishment drives their learning. Once a child masters reading skills, school becomes much more manageable for them.
Encourage reading skills from an early age, starting with letter sounds. It’s important to focus on sounds initially and avoid trying to match them with letters to aid phonemic development. Enrolling your child in a pre-school reading programme will get them off to a great start at school. You can also access our free Literacy Guides and work through the exercises at home.
If you would like to learn more about our unique Total Literacy Learning System, and core programmes, you can read course outlines here.