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Preparing Your Child For School

Children develop at different rates, and most children are more advanced in some areas than in others. There is no one quality or skill that is most important, but a combination of things will contribute to children's success. These include good health, physical well-being, social and emotional maturity, language skills, an ability to solve problems and think creatively, and general knowledge about the world.

Being ready for school depends partly on what the school expects, notes the U. S. Department of Education. One school may think it is very important for children to sit quietly and know the alphabet, while another may believe it is more important for children to get along well with others. You will want to visit your child's school to learn what the teachers and principal expect, and discuss any areas of disagreement.

Schools may have different priorities, but most educators agree that the following areas are important for success: good health and physical well-being, social and emotional preparation, and language and general knowledge. We will discuss how to prepare your child in each of these areas.

Good Health and Physical Well-Being
Young children need nutritious food, enough sleep, safe places to play, and regular medical care. These things help children get a good start in life and lessen the chances that they will later have serious health problems or trouble learning. Good health for children begins before birth with good prenatal care. It continues after birth with a balanced diet. School-aged children can concentrate better in class if they eat nutritionally balanced meals. These should include breads, cereals, and other grains products, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, beans, and dairy products. Avoid too many saturated fats and sweets.

Children aged two through five generally can eat the same foods as adults but in smaller portions. Your child's doctor or clinic can provide advice on feeding babies and toddlers. Federal, state and local aid is available for parents who need food in order to make sure their children get a balanced diet. For information and to find out if you are eligible, contact your local or state health department.

Pre-schoolers require regular medical and dental check-ups and immunisations. It's important to find a doctor or a clinic where children can receive routine health care as well as special treatment if they are sick or injured. Children need immunisations beginning around the age of two months to prevent diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Hib (a type of influenza), polio, and tuberculosis. These diseases can have serious effects on physical and mental development. Regular dental check-ups should begin at the latest by the age of three.

Pre-schoolers need opportunities to exercise and develop muscle co-ordination. To learn to control large muscles, children need to throw balls, run, jump, climb, and dance to music. To learn to control small muscles, particularly in the hands and fingers, they need to colour with crayons, put together puzzles, use blunt-tipped scissors, and zip jackets. In kindergarten, they will build upon these skills.

Social and Emotional Preparation
Young children are often very excited about entering school. But when they do, they can face an environment that is different from what they are used to at home or even in pre-school. In kindergarten, your child will need to work well in large groups and get along with new adults and other children. He will have to share the teacher's attention with other youngsters. The classroom routines may also be different.

Most five-year-olds do not start school with good social skills or much emotional maturity. These things take time and practice to learn. However, children improve their chances for success in kindergarten if they have had opportunities to begin developing these qualities:

Confidence. Children must learn to feel good about themselves and believe they can succeed. Confident children are more willing to attempt new tasks-- and try again if they do not succeed the first time.

Independence: Children need to learn to do things for themselves.

Motivation: Children must want to learn.

Curiosity: Children are naturally curious and must remain so in order to get the most out of learning opportunities.

Persistence: Children must learn to finish what they start.

Co-operation: Children must be able to get along with others and learn to share and take turns.

Self-control: Children must understand that some behaviours, such as hitting and biting, are inappropriate. They need to learn that there are good and bad ways to express anger.

Empathy: Children must learn to have an interest in others and understand how others feel.

Parents, even more than child-care centres and good schools, help children develop these skills. Here are some ways that you can help your child acquire these skills:

1. Set a good example. Children imitate what they see others do and what they hear others say. When parents exercise and eat nourishing food, their children are more likely to do so. When parents treat others with respect, their children probably will too. If parents share things, their children will learn to be thoughtful of others' feelings.

2. Have a positive attitude. Children come into this world with a powerful need to discover and to explore. As parents, you need to encourage this curiosity if your child is going to keep it. Enthusiasm for what your child does helps to make her proud of her achievements. Children also become excited about school when their parents show excitement. As your child approaches kindergarten, talk to her about school. Talk about exciting activities, such as going on field trips, and making fun art projects. Be enthusiastic as you describe what she will learn in school, such as how to read.

3. Provide opportunities for repetition. It takes practice to learn to crawl, pronounce new words, or drink from a cup. Repeating things until they are learned helps youngsters build the confidence needed to try something new.

4. Use appropriate discipline. All children need to have limits set for them. Children whose parents give firm but loving discipline are generally more skilled socially and do better in school than children whose parents set too few or too many limits. Here are some tips:

  • Direct your child's activities, but don't make unnecessary restrictions or try to dominate.
  • Offer reasons when asking your child to do something. For example, say, "Please move your truck off the stairs so no one trips over it," instead of, "Move it because I said so."
  • Listen to your child to find out how he feels and whether he needs any special support.
  • Show love and respect even when you are angry. Criticise your child's behaviour, not your child.
  • Help your child make choices and work out problems.
  • Be positive and encouraging. Praise your child for a job well done. Smiles and encouragement go much further to shape good behaviour than harsh punishment.

5. Let your child do things alone. Young children need to be closely watched, but they learn to be independent and to develop confidence by doing tasks such as dressing themselves and putting their toys away. It's also important to let your child make choices, rather than deciding everything for her. Remember to give her a choice only when there really is one.

6. Encourage your child to play with others. Pre-schoolers need these social opportunities to learn how to see the point of view of others. Young children are more likely to get along with teachers and classmates if they have already had experiences with different adults and children.

Language and General Knowledge
Kindergartners participate in many activities that require them to use language and to solve problems. Children who can't or don't communicate easily may have problems in school. There are many things you can do to help your child learn to communicate, solve problems, and develop an understanding of the world. You can:

1. Answer questions your child asks. Also ask her questions, particularly ones that require more than a "yes" or "no" response. While walking in a park, for example, most two and three-year-olds will stop to pick up leaves. You might point out how the leaves are the same, or how they are different. Questions can help children learn to compare and classify things. Answer your child's questions thoughtfully, and whenever possible, encourage her to answer her own questions. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. Then, together with your child, try to find the answer.

2. Evaluate your child's abilities and interests, and be realistic. Children usually do best in school when parents estimate their abilities correctly. As parents, you must set high standards and encourage your pre-schooler to try new things. Children who aren't challenged become bored, but ones who are pushed along too quickly, or are asked to do things that don't interest them, can become frustrated and unhappy.

3. Give your child opportunities to play. Play is how children learn. It is the natural way for them to explore, to become creative, and to develop academic and social skills. Play helps your child learn to solve problems--for example, if his wagon tips over, he must figure out how to get it upright again. Children learn about balance, geometry, and shapes when they stack blocks. Playing with others also helps children learn how to negotiate.

4. Listen to your child. Children have their own special thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. As her language skills develop, encourage her to talk. Listening is the best way to learn what is on your child's mind and to discover what she knows and doesn't know, and how she thinks and learns. Listening also shows your child that her feelings and ideas are valuable.

5. Make reading materials available to your child. Children develop an interest in language and reading much sooner if they have books and other reading materials around their homes.

6. Monitor your child's television viewing. Next to parents, television may be our children's most influential teacher. Good television can introduce children to new worlds and promote learning, but poor or too much T.V. can be harmful.

7. Provide opportunities for your child to do and see things. The more varied the experiences that children have, the more they learn about the world. No matter where you live, your community can provide new experiences. Go for walks in your neighborhood, or go places on the bus. Visit museums, libraries, zoos, grocery stores, and other community resources. If you live in the city, spend a day in the country, (or vice versa). Let your child hear and make music, dance, and paint. Let him participate in activities that help develop his imagination and allow him to express ideas and feelings.

8. Read aloud to your child daily. You can begin when she is a baby and continue on throughout the pre-school years. Even though she may not understand the story or poem, reading together gives your child a chance to learn about language, enjoy the sound of your voice, and be close to you. You don't have to be an excellent reader for your child to enjoy this time together. You may also want to take your child to a local library that offers special story hours.

9. Talk to your child, beginning at birth. Babies need to hear your voice. A television or radio can't take the place of a parent because it doesn't respond to coos and babbles. The more you talk to your baby, the more he will have to talk about as he gets older. Talking with children broadens their understanding of language and of the world. Every day activities, such as eating dinner or taking a bath, provide opportunities to talk about and respond to what is happening to your child.

What About Kindergarten?
The U. S. Department of Education suggests you find out as much as you can about the school before your child enters it. Learn the principal's name, your child's teacher's name, when to register and what forms to fill out, what immunisations are required for school entry, the class program, kindergarten yearly calendar and daily schedule, transportation procedures, food service arrangements, and how you can become involved with your child's education and in the school. Some schools will send you this information, or they will hold an orientation meeting in the spring for parents who expect to enrol their children the following fall. If the school your child will be attending doesn't offer this, call the principal's office to arrange a visit.

Visit the school with your child so he can become familiar with it and so that it won't seem scary. Walk up and down the hallways to learn where things are. During your visit, make positive comments about the school. Talk about the teachers and how they will help your child learn new things. Explain to your child how important it is to go to class each day. If possible, consider volunteering at your child's school.

When the long-awaited first day of kindergarten arrives, go to school with your child, but don't stay long. Be patient. Many young children are overwhelmed at first because they haven't had much experience in dealing with new situations. Your child may not immediately like school and may cry or cling to you when you say good-bye each morning. But with preparation and support from you and the teacher, this will rapidly change.


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