One of the most common questions I get asked as a Prep teacher is, “What does my child need to know before they start school?” It really is a worry and concern for many parents, and I can appreciate that. I can also give an answer based on what I have seen in my many years of teaching Prep and the large amount of research I have read and participated in over this time. I welcome comments, questions and other people’s views on the topic.
As far as I am concerned, children do not need to be reading and writing before they start school. Great, I hear you yell! Case closed, job done, good night…
But you see there is so much that your child does need and I have no doubt that you are already doing things that you don’t even realise!
Let’s start with independence. Yes, your child’s ability to do things for themselves. There is a quote that says, ‘don’t do for your child what they can do for themselves’. Pause before you jump in, give them time and space. I know this is one that we don’t need to worry about with our own Master H, in fact, we’ve had to teach him that it is ok to ask for help and that he doesn’t have to do everything by himself, sound familiar?!
Emotional self-regulation is a challenging one but something to work on with your child. What do they do when they are upset or angry? How do they respond if they can’t have what they want? If your little one is anything like Master H, we can see a response anywhere from, “ok Mumma”, to a volcano erupting complete with fire! Refer to my previous blog about Kids Big Emotions… Talking to your child about their feelings and their responses is so important and helps your child to learn appropriate ways of dealing with them. We all feel angry at times and we need to know what to do.
Talk, talk, talk! Conversing with your child helps to enhance their vocabulary, link concepts and hear correct language structure. I know those, “why?”, questions can drive you a little nuts but they are such an important part of your child trying to unpack the world around them and formulate theories and ideas of their own. This is also why our cards in each of our packs have questions and talking points. There is a lot of research that points to the amount of words heard in a home linking to the literacy development of a child. Which is also why talking leads me into reading…
Reading to your child at every opportunity. Read books of course, but also read signs, maps, menus, shopping catalogues, newspapers, anything and everything! Exposing and explaining to your child that reading is part of our everyday life will help to encourage them also to want to participate in these activities and they will very quickly start recognising patterns in symbols and letters. You will be surprised how quickly young children can pick up things in their environment when their attention is directed to it. I’m pretty sure Master H learnt the Nike tick at 1! Once they start seeing patterns in their world they will start recognising letters and numbers that are important to them. Master H is always pointing out the letter H!
Writing naturally follows on with reading in most people’s minds and I do want to reiterate that I don’t think children need to be writing before they start school. However, pre-writing skills are really important, such as strength in their fingers and an ability to use scissors, hold a pencil, or other writing implement, with 2 or 3 fingers (we call this the pincer grip). Your child will have confidence if they can write their own name and some familiar letters such as D for Dad and M for Mum. As your child grows in their skills and confidence you can build more letters and numbers. You will be surprised how quickly they will start writing familiar words once they have confidence!
Fine motor development is a big one and supports your child’s writing capabilities when they do start school! Did you know that fine motor skills have sub skills? There’s the strength element of the muscles in the hand, the coordination of brain-hand-eye, the fluidity of movement, the manipulation of pincer grip and the adjustment of strength depending on the item that is being handled. That’s a whole lot to take in, isn’t it?! The good news is that these can be developed over time through fun play and carefully designed activities.
Listening skills… What did you say? I repeat, listening skills. A complex one but again, something to chip away at. Encouraging your child to listen and respond to questions and focus on the conversation is important. Helping your child understand that when someone speaks to them they need to answer is a skill that will support them in their learning.
Focus and attention is often thought of as developmental, and it is. Children can generally only give undivided attention for their age plus or minus 2 minutes. So while we can’t make children focus for longer we can assist them in understanding that it is important to pay attention, complete things that they start and don’t jump from activity to activity.
Number awareness is the final area that I would like to highlight. No your child does not need to start school being able to solve mathematical equations. But an awareness of numbers helps and is such an easy thing to build into your daily encounters with your child. Counting objects at the supermarket, saying numbers as you walk up or down steps, collecting items from around home and saying how many altogether, how old you are and how many candles on your next birthday cake.
Now before you panic and become so overwhelmed with this we’re here to help. Over the next few weeks, I will break each area down and provide suggestions on what you can be doing to support your child in their journey towards school.
And you guessed it, our Happy Explorer Boxes are full of activities and experiences that have been specifically designed to assist your child in this journey.