It’s never too early to think about school

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By Wendy Mason

For many children across the country, the countdown is on. They are winding down for the end of the school year and diligently crossing off the days until Santa arrives.

While you, as a tired parent may also be thinking about the holiday season, now is however the ideal time to start preparing your child to start school.

There are thousands of four and five-year-old cherubs eagerly awaiting their first day and there are steps you can start taking now to ensure a smooth transition from pre-school to primary school.

Empowering children with self-confidence is the key to a successful transition. There is bountiful research into how to make this transition smooth for children, and the consistent finding is that it’s not so much about academics such as writing the alphabet or how to count to ten.

The vital thing is feeling confident in the relationships that they have with their family and friends, and having well-developed social skills.

It’s important to remember that going to school isn’t about making sure children are ready to learn how to read and count. This will happen in good time when children have a strong sense of well being and belonging.

It has been well documented that if a child has real difficulties adjusting to the social environment they’re more likely to encounter difficulties.

School is such an abstract idea for young children so they learn best when they are in a positive state of mind.

At every stage of life we are required to think about what the next step will be, and how to best prepare for the change ahead.

Year 12 students have now set their sights on the future, Year 9 students are thinking about Year 10 and various subjects that will shape their future prospects. Year 6 students will be preparing for the changes that face them in Year 7.

These transitions are recognised as significant – students at all levels benefit from intentional transition programs.

So what can you do to ensure a smooth transition from pre-school to primary … here are some tips.

  1. Build relationships.

It’s so important between parent and teachers, child and teachers, and between the children as well. Arrange a play date over the summer break, which can be helpful toward fostering friendships.

  1. Practice being able to operate in larger groups.

When children are playing with others they build awareness that they won’t always have the first go, and they may have to wait to get attention or have their say. Learning how to do this well is key. When you are speaking to someone teach your child to patiently put a hand on your arm to remind you they want a turn to speak. Regular family dinners sitting around the table is the perfect opportunity to have back and forth conversation, share eye contact and model reflective listening. This is where children pick up the social cues to not only wait for a person to finish speaking before they can speak, but also to listen to what is being said. Teach children how to ask a question, to be curious about the world but also about friends. This is an important social skill; it shows us how to be interested in others and what’s happening around us.

  1. Build independence.

Give children responsibilities such as setting the table, packing their own bags, feeding the family pet, etc. Children are learning to follow instructions and a process, something they will continually need to do at school. Often they may be required to do this at a time that may not suit them!

  1. Manage their expectations.

I know some children who were disappointed after their first day at school because they didn’t learn to read! Drive past the school during summer break; tell stories about being at school so that children build a picture of what it will be like.

  1. Build confidence.

With confidence comes a willingness to learn. If children believe they are smart and can learn things then they’ll reach out to new knowledge and be prepared to take risks in their learning, because learning is a risk. It’s reaching out into the unknown. It’s also about being OK with making mistakes, as this is how we learn.

One more recommendation, no matter how old your child is; read, read, read together (or in the case of older students discuss what’s been read). Read stories, tell stories, sing songs, make up and have fun with rhyming words and look up information about areas of interest. Reading and hearing stories and having conversations with adults are the best language building experiences, and language; speaking and listening, underpins everything a child needs to do at school.

Transitions can be and usually are really exciting and positive times. However it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when we change environments, it can help our anxiety levels if we have a bit of preparation. It’s a big step in life, but we’ve all had to take it! It’s always easier if there’s someone there to support us.

NEXT WEEK in Connect: How to help your child transition from primary school to high school.

Wendy Mason is the Director of Early Learning at an independent school in Melbourne. An early childhood specialist, she is the driving force behind the development of the Early Years programs.  She has been an educator in early childhood settings, TAFE and primary schools for more than 30 years. She is passionate about developing resilience, social skills and building a strong sense of wonder and curiosity about the world we live in. Wendy is married to Roger and has two adult children.

To purchase her books go to www.kidslightup.com.au

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