My youngest starts school this year, but unlike when his older brother started, I’m not stressing about all the ‘things’ I need to do to get him ready this time.
I know now what the priority order is, and buying textas and velcro-strap school shoes are pretty low on the list. I can do that in one quick shopping trip just before school starts.
But there are five things I want to instil in him now that I know will help him become school-ready. If you also have a preppy on your hands, then I hope you find them useful too.
1. Some self-help thinking
My little guy is pretty used to me ‘filling in the blanks’ for him. I instinctively swap his left sandal with his right when he has it on the wrong foot. As such, he has a bit of learned helplessness. It’s a hard parent-habit to break!
So these days I’m trying to encourage him to think for himself before asking me, or waiting for me, to do something for him.
To teach this, I have been resisting doing EVERYTHING for him. It’s amazing when we step back how much our little ones step up. Does he actually need me to fetch his clothes in the morning? As long as they are put away in his drawers, then no, I’ve discovered!
2. A love of reading
My son can’t read yet but I know he’ll be keen to when the time comes next year.
Instilling a love of words and a joy around books is the secret to helping our kids learn to read at school, says Megan Daley a teacher librarian and author of Raising Readers (she also blogs over at Children’s Books Daily). Megan says she can always spot the kids who have been consistently read to before starting school.
“They are not overwhelmed by the sight of Readers – they are primed and ready to fly!” she says, adding that these kids just LOVE books.
In light of this information, I’m also borrowing library books for my son about starting school. This is helping my boy to feel prepared and giving him a vocabulary around school life. He’s excited!
3. Confidence to ask for help
My little guy isn’t that socially forward with other grown-ups. But I know he needs to gain the confidence to speak to teachers and to ask them for help. There will come a time next year – when he needs to use the toilet in the middle of a lesson, perhaps – when he will have to raise his hand in class. Or he will need to ask the playground teacher to help him open his muesli bar wrapper, instead of wishing for me or going hungry because he can’t do it himself. He needs to speak up!
His lovely childcare educators tell me he’s getting better at ‘using his voice’ with them, so I will keep encouraging him in this area. Chatting to educators about the things you and they feel your kid needs to work on is always valuable, right? And never more so than when you’re busy preparing them for the next big stage in their little life.
4. How to make a new friend
For some kids, making new friends comes naturally and is easy; others need explicit instructions and social scripts when trying to do this. They might ask, “What do I do?” or “What do I say?”
My little guy falls into the second camp. With this in mind, I have taught him that if he wants to play with a new friend, he should go up to them, smile, and ask what they are playing and if he can join. Or just join in! Kids don’t always need to ask.
He has worked hard on doing this this year and has even developed a ‘trick’ for making new friends. He shows them a toy and then asks if they would like to play with the toy with him. As there won’t be toys at school though, I’ll pop a tennis ball in his bag (with his name on it!) so he can use this as a ‘friend trick’ in the playground.
5. How to self regulate
My son is pretty good in the self regulation department. He’s not quick to anger or lash out at others, but if your child is (and this was my eldest), then this is one area to work on well before school starts. Helping our little ones deal with their big emotions is a work in progress, but one we should consistently help them with.
Teaching calming strategies such as five big breaths and techniques like saying, ‘I’m so angry’ instead of hitting is a great idea. Also, whatever your child’s regulation issue is, there WILL be a book for that. So look it up!
So until that day comes where their little hand lets go of yours (sob), let’s help them now to prepare for Big School – because preparing for school is so much more than shoes and stationery.