Preparing for School - Article Tumbler Ridge News/SBy6

Preparing your Child for School

The day Bree headed out to her first day of kindergarten, bag packed with the few items required and so excited to be joining her big sister at school, was a big moment for both of us. The older kids, including Bree's sister Zoe, had already began school a day earlier, leaving a sad and lonely Bree behind in limbo for the day.  That next day both girls walked to school together for the first time, and for the first time Bree would be without her mom, who she had always had access to during her stay at preschool and daycare.

Whether you have a child who is entering school for the first time, or a preschooler who is staying at home or heading to preschool, you as a parent can have a positive impact on your child's preparedness for that eventual day when they trundle off to their first day of full time education. This begins far before the ads come out singing the praises of back to school to parents and the virtues of their cool school items to kids. And while appropriate shoes, outfits and school supplies are definitely important, it's the time you invest in your child, not the cash that makes the biggest difference.

Julie Tobin Kindergarten teacher of 14 years speaks about some of the challenges children face when starting school for the first time. "They are at that generation where it's total video games" she says "or DVD's in the back seat of the car." She explains that many kids have less social interaction and spend less time in conversation than previous generations. Julie suggests family board games help to give children structure, encourage communication and show children rules like taking turns and playing fair. "As the real world, you don't get to win all the time." 

Today touch screens and game controllers have taken the place of crayons and scissors for young children and small motor skills such as how to hold a pen, write their name or cut out a shape do not get practiced. "Don"t be afraid of giving a child scissors, under supervision" Julie advises. About printing Julie says both lower and upper case should be practiced when writing names.

Julie also recommends reading to to children every night, she suggests pointing out simple words, and having children sit and listen and turn off everything else. "You can tell the kids who love stories or who make that a ritual in their house versus the kids who can't sit still at story time. In kindergarden, I always have after lunch as quiet time and I have cushions and they can close their eyes if they want to. I introduce them to chapter books, and they just love to be taken to different adventures."

Preparing your child for school can start early. From the time you begin to play with your child, you are teaching them the first steps of math, science and literature. By engaging with your child in their daily activities, stimulating interest in their surroundings and making learning a part of life, the fundamentals of school begin to form. 

Reading and art boost imagination and creative thinking; puzzles and stacking toys with shapes, and music and rhythm stimulate the mind mathematically; bath toys that float and sink, and playing outdoors in the dirt helping in the garden teaches the concepts of science; and pretend play encourages abstract thinking.

At elementary school your child will have certain expectations beyond academic. Your child will be meeting new friends, expected to show independence, and follow a full day class structure. On the School District 59 Early Learning website (earlylearning.sd59.bc.ca) there  are resources which suggests simple steps like helping your child accept emotions, instilling independence through small chores and encouraging curiosity and imagination. 

Julie includes routine, structure and regular bedtimes in her list of key steps to prepare a child for the school season. "And lunches, pack what you know your child can eat, and get rid of the junk." I recall Bree, who would rather chat then eat. Julie laughs "The ten minutes I am there, [before the buddy supervisors take over] they're not talking, cause I'm like: EAT!" 

I am lucky to be surrounded by school teachers as friends, who were able to give me guidance and recommendations when my kids were growing up. If your best friends aren’t teachers and you have a few years before your child is heading to Kindergarten, consider attending a parent child interaction programs such as StrongStart, Story Time, or AlphaBits Crawls, or registering your child in preschool. Julie says it can make a difference. "They're not academically superior, or anything, cause I've seen both. But they're the kids who can share, they're the kids who have imagination when it comes to centre time usually, the ones who can sit and listen to a book - not all the time, of course."

Julie says speech problems are are on the rise for young children. She recalls a time when she had eight in one class going to speech therapy. She asked the speech and language therapist about this : she thinks [this is due to] lots of TV time, sitting in front of video games, movies, not a lot of talking, and busy lives.” Julie suggests that if you see your child is struggling getting help before entering the school system will make a difference.

Robert Fulghum lists some of life's basic rules in the oft quoted All I Really Need to know I Learned in Kindergarten, and they mostly have to do with how to play nice, be aware of your surroundings and work within an organized environment, oh and that warm cookies and cold milk are good, naturally. Interestingly these are the very traits, skills and behaviours that show a child is ready for kindergarten, and maybe the title should have been All I Really Need to know I Learned before Kindergarten.

Colette Ernst is the Success by Six Coordinator in Tumbler Ridge.