All Parents worry…and as my little girl is going to Primary School soon, lots of questions come to my mind….
One of my most pressing questions is:
How do I prepare my child for Primary School?
Recently, I met up with Fiona Walker (CEO of Julia Gabriel for Learning, Chiltern House Child Care Centres and Julia Gabriel School of Education), and I asked for her opinions on this topic:
How well a child copes with the transition into Primary One will depend on how well they are prepared for that move.
There are a number of factors for parents to consider.
Firstly how do YOU feel?
Your attitude will greatly impact your child’s attitude towards the new school.
You must be confident this is a positive move for your child, and one that with support he is ready for. If you are shaky about the transition your child will pick that up and lose faith in the belief that she will be just fine there.
When faced with a new and unknown situations, children will naturally look to their parents for cues on how to behave.
Talk to your child about the fun and joy you remember about your school days, the friendships you forged and the happy memories you have of that time.
Secondly, remember we are the sum of all our experiences.
Children will face a new situation with the knowledge and experience gained from previous activities, experiences and feelings. The more positive experiences your child has had outside of the home and away from immediate family the more confident they will be when faced with a new environment and people.
By enabling our children to attend activities they enjoy and arranging social play-dates and sleepovers we build up their confidence in managing in unfamiliar situations.
More than academic learning it is the life skills of confidence, positive communication, high self esteem, problem solving and creative thinking that children need to make a success of new situations. As parents we can help children develop these skills by developing trusting bonds, playing with them, enabling them to play with peers, modeling positive discipline at home, by reading together and listening to their ideas and thoughts.
Prepare your child for the transition by talking about the expectations in primary school, the need to buy food from the canteen, the need to be able to ask for help and directions when feeling unsure or lost. Some preschools visit a nearby primary school in Kindergarten Two and this can be a valuable trip for many children who are unsure of what primary school will mean.
You cannot prepare a child for P1 by putting them into intensive tuition programmes in the last term of K2. Yes, children do need to be academically ready but the expectations are not nearly as high as some parents remember them to be. If your child is able to read basic sentences, write basic sentences and do relatively simple mathematics they will be fine, as long as they have a sense of enthusiasm and look forward to making new friends and can adapt to new environments.
Thirdly, ensure you have realistic expectations of your child.
Each child is different and some children take on the new challenge with enthusiasm and hardly a backward glance, others will need a longer time to warm-up and may require more support and understanding from you and their teachers before they are really comfortable in their new school. Some children will find the academic work easy but may struggle with the organizational skills needed to be independent or the confidence needed to make new friends.
If you know what your child is likely to find more challenging you can help them accordingly. It is a common fact that children, and adults for that matter, learn more readily when they are happy.
So take the time to arrange play-dates and help them organize their school bag and books. Once they have friends and are confident in their new routines the learning will most likely fall into place.
Lastly, keep it all in perspective.
School is important, of that there is no doubt. But it is not everything!
There is a tendency to become somewhat consumed by ‘preparing’ your child for Primary One. But what you ultimately have to remember is school is not everything and not everyone will excel in all areas of school life. What we must remember is that our children heading off to ‘big school’ are only 6 years old and they have a right to a happy childhood.
Don’t become so consumed by making sure they are successful in school and the academic subjects taught there that we forget to ensure our children have a balance in their life.
As parents we must do all we can to make the transition to primary school as smooth as we can, we must be there to listen to their concerns, to help them understand what is expected of them and at the same time to make sure they have a balanced life. A childhood in which there is time to play, time to focus on other subjects they can succeed in, including art, music and sports, and a childhood in which they feel loved and valued.
As with any big change there will be a period of adjustment. Moving into primary school is one of the bigger transitions we face in our school life but it does not need to be traumatic; together you can face the new challenges with a sense of excitement, confident in the knowledge that there is much to learn and new friendships and opportunities just waiting to unfold.
The best thing you can do for your child as they prepare for the next step in their educational journey is to remain positive and available for them emotionally. It WILL be fine.