Absolutely, positively ready for school

Stacy McIvor vividly remembers her very first teacher. Her name was Mrs Burgeson and she was warm, cuddly and just adored five year olds. So it wasn’t surprising that a couple of decades later when it was time for Stacy to decide on a career, she decided to not only become a teacher, but to teach new entrants. Just like Mrs Burgeson, she likes to create a classroom that is welcoming, stimulating and the perfect introduction to school life. “I love this age group,” says Stacy. “You see them grow and mature so much in a short time. You see them make huge jumps in learning to read and write, and in numeracy. Plus, they are just so funny.”

With more than 25 years of teaching behind her, Stacy acknowledges that the transition from preschooler to school kid is a big one not only for children, but for their parents. “In some ways you need to let go of the preschool child, and instead see them as an independent school child. It’s only natural to feel some anxiety about your child going off to school, but it’s important you don’t let your child feel that.“ We asked Stacy to share her top tips for getting kids ready for school. Early childhood education helps children get ready for school, but there is plenty parents can do at home too. “Remember your child is unique,” she says. “No two five year olds will be at exactly the same level academically, socially and physically. Everyone has different starting points and rates of progress. Give them time to come to terms with different aspects of learning. “Teachers are fully prepared for children to be at different levels, but here are some things you can work on”.

Social and emotional skills

  • Encourage children to treat themselves and others with care and respect, using good manners.
  • Teach them about sharing, waiting and taking turns. Talk about listening and speaking respectfully and not interrupting adults while they are talking.
  • Help them take responsibility for their own actions.
  • Five year olds should be well on the way to developing these skills. Parents can help by providing lots of opportunity for social activities and games. Give them the opportunity to play with a variety of children of different ages, not just siblings.

Academic skills

“Giving your child a rich variety of life experiences helps them to develop academic skills and a love of learning,” says Stacy. You can encourage this love of learning in the following ways –

  • Be curious and inquisitive about the world as a family.
  • Ask and answer questions, and draw conclusions about what you discover.
  • Enjoy unstructured, exploratory free play when children can enjoy using their imagination and discover and learn on their own. Play things that encourage this include dress-ups, construction blocks, items for sand and water play. It’s good to get messy!
  • Go to the library and encourage children to choose their books. Read books aloud and talk about them, get children to retell the story to you.
  • Teach your children rhyming games, how to sing the alphabet, the days of the week and the colours of the rainbow (technology can’t replace you here!). Count to 10 as you walk up stairs, then count backwards as you go down again.
  • Practise using felts, pencils, scissors and glue. Make them pros at these before the school art table beckons!

Personal independence

At school children are learning to be self-reliant, manage themselves and be independent. Parents can help them on this path by encouraging them to be able to do these things –

  • Use the toilet appropriately by themselves (If your child needs help with this, let the school know)
  • Blow and wipe their nose
  • Be able to put on their jumper and shoes themselves. Laces and buckles are tricky – embrace Velcro!
  • Cope with their schoolbag. Test drive their bag before their first day – can they open and close it and manage all the zips and straps? A school bag needs to be much bigger than a kindy one. Make sure it can hold book bags, lunchbox, drink bottle, hat and togs.
  • The same applies for their lunchbox. Can they open it and their snack containers? Do they know what food to eat for morning tea and what to save for lunch?

The first few days

“If your child is upset, trust the teacher and their experience gained from working with children,” says Stacy. “They know how to help.”

  • Start the day with a good breakfast – it’s fuel for the day.
  • Make sure you read all the information the school gives you when you go on the school visits before your child starts. It’s important to understand their polices on allergies and what food may not be allowed.
  • The first few days will be easier if your child is really familiar with the school. Go at the weekend and play in the playground and walk around, pointing out the library and the office.
  • They will be exhausted, especially in those first few week. Make allowances for that and let them adjust to the new routines.

“School is exciting and it’s an adventure,” says Stacy. “It’s helpful to positively prepare your child for what’s ahead.”