By Dr Sarah Alexander
Did you know that too much structured activity and formal teaching before a child starts school is likely to do more harm than good?
So, what can parents and caregivers do to help their preschooler develop the abilities, attitudes and knowledge to be successful in adjusting to school life and doing well during the first 12 months?
At the Office of ECE we researched this question by talking with parents and new entrant teachers and drew on our team's understandings of child development to form a list of seven essential skills for being ready for school-level education and suggestions for parents on ways to foster these skills.
The secret to later educational success is to give your child a rich variety of experiences, along with language and play opportunities in the years before starting school.
Here is a short guide to giving a child the best possible start to education. The OECE's recommended "7 Essential Skills for School Readiness" and suggestions for ways to help your child be ready for school are:
1. Knowledge of the environment and the world
Give children lots of varied experiences. Get out and about, visit different places, travel on different vehicles (e.g. paddle-boat, bike, bus, train), talk with different people, see and try different things.
2. Self-help skills
Support children to learn to dress and undress themselves, go to the bathroom and wash their hands unassisted and without being reminded, tidy-up after play, and hang up and fold their clothes.
3. Listening skills
Talk with children about things and focus children's attention on what they are seeing and hearing. Don't forget to read to children on a regular basis.
4. Curiosity and questioning skills
Respond to your children's questions, invite children to ask questions, and share in your child's curiosity by discovering answers and new information together.
5. Fine motor and coordination skills
Give children lots of opportunity to build their hand muscles by providing drawing and cutting activities, puzzles, water pouring, play-dough and clay, threading large beads and hammering activities, etc.
6. Independence and responsibility
Foster independence by arranging for children to visit their friends and extended family members, and stay for a short time without you (their parent or caregiver).
Also notice and praise when children do something that shows independence (e.g. gets their own coat when it's time to go out). Let children hold and take care of their own bus ticket, decide what lunch they will have, or create other safe opportunities for children to practise being independent and exercising self-responsibility.
7. Academic knowledge
Bring in academic knowledge within everyday activities and also in the context of supporting children's own interests. For example an interest in the superhero Spiderman can lead to you looking together at learning about how spiders make their webs.
Interest your child in seeing the basic shapes in letters and numbers and noticing how shapes are different. Point out and discuss road, shop and other signs and letter box numbers while walking, driving and shopping together. Notice the different sizes of coins and that coins have different value amounts/numbers.
Lots of early academic knowledge along with learning of different concepts can be developed simply through participation in everyday activities and discussions with peers, older children and adults - and exposure to information through books and other sources.
Make an appointment to talk with the new entrant teacher
Ahead of your child's first proper visit to their new school phone or visit the new entrant teacher and ask about what he/she specifically likes children to have competency in doing. Classrooms differ, teachers differ and so their expectations can differ. Asking this question of the new entrant teacher is also a good way of getting some understanding of what the teacher's particular teaching approach might be so you are in a better position to understand and help your child to cope with the transition to the classroom and to a new teacher.
Good luck and best wishes from us.