AS the start of a new academic year approaches, hundreds of thousands of families across the UK will be busy preparing for their child’s first-ever day of school.
It’s not just about buying a uniform, backpack and lunchbox, though – parents want to know that they’re sending their little ones through those school gates armed with all the skills they need to thrive in the classroom.
Dr Amanda Gummer, psychologist and founder of GoodPlayGuide, says: “Self-sufficiency and social skills are the two biggest areas that I think are overlooked by parents when thinking about getting their children school-ready.”
Here are the top nine skills she says are most important to prepare your child for a successful start at school.
Dr Gummer says: “There are lots of other children in the class, so if a child has the social skills to communicate, share, take turns and collaborate with other children, they will have so many more opportunities to learn.
“They will also find it easier to make friends and so enjoy school more which is a critical factor in longer-term success.”
Taking turns is a pre-cursor to sharing, so introducing games like building towers blocks together from a young age can be an effective and fun way for your child to get well-practised before school.
Play might look like kids are just having a good time, but important social, physical and cognitive growth is going on behind those smiles and shrieks.
It will also help your child to make friends if they can play well with their classmates.
Co-operative play involves children working towards a common goal, but it can be difficult for them to get to grips with and most will need help.
Construction games, follow the leader and collaborative art and crafts activities are all ways you can encourage your child to learn to work together.
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Focus on a task
Dr Gummer says: “Being able to concentrate without getting distracted is a challenge for most four-year-olds, so don’t expect too much, but helping children develop their concentration is valuable in helping them access the learning once they are in a classroom setting.”
Getting a young child to sit still and focus can seem impossible, but to improve your chances of success, start practising with fun puzzles that will hold their attention.
Once a child gets to school, they will be expected to follow basic instructions like ‘sit on the carpet’ and ‘go find your coat’.
A great way for them to practice following instructions is with games like Simon Says, or by asking your child to copy clapping patterns.
You could also try following simple recipes together where they take the lead.
Go to the toilet independently
Dr Gummer says: “The more children in a class who can take themselves to the toilet and manage their own personal hygiene, the more time they have for teaching so everyone benefits.
“It’s also a confidence boost for a child who is already independently using the toilet as it’s seen as something ‘big girls and boys’ do.”
Look through a book independently
By having plenty of books at home and inviting your kids to enjoy them, they will learn to know which way up to hold it and to turn pages from left to right.
This will help children grow up to love reading – which will stand them in good stead for their studies in later years – but also to access the new books available to them at school and support their learning of phonics which will start from reception.
Being able to leaf through books on their own also encourages things like noticing illustrations, making up a story from the pictures, or repeating words and phrases which flex their creative skills and language development.
Talk in a group setting
Some children are naturally more shy than others, but it can affect your little one’s learning and experience of school if they won’t ask or answer questions in class.
Shyness doesn’t always go away over time so it’s a good idea to support your child in social situations before they start at school.
For example, you could stay with your child at playgroups while encouraging them to explore, gradually moving away for short periods as they become more comfortable.
Avoid over-comforting (as this can reinforce the message that your child is in a scary situation) and praise ‘brave’ behaviour like responding to others or playing away from you.
Children also copy their parents’ behaviour, so you can try to model social confidence – like when someone says hello, always say hello back.
Get dressed independently
Dr Gummer says: “The child who can put on their own coat and change their indoor shoes to outdoor shoes will get longer playtime, feel more confident and will be seen by the teacher or teaching assistant as more able and therefore be more likely to be given leadership roles.”
Recognise their own name written down
By the time your child starts school, you’ll have ironed on more name labels and branded more items with black markers than you care to remember.
A bonus reward for all that effort is if your child can then identify their own lunchbox from their name.
Dr Gummer says: “This is helpful for confidence-boosting and for saving the teachers/teaching assistants time.”
“But it happens quickly when children start school and isn’t something that I’d worry too much about before they start,” she adds.
In other parenting news, we told you about a mum who isn’t planning to send her children back to school.
Plus I’m trolled for letting my three-year-old use a dummy – it’s fine, she’ll just get braces when she’s older.
And I’m a triplet mum & get trolled for BREASTFEEDING my babies – saying I’m harming their development & to stick to bottles