How To Get Your Child “School Ready” During Lockdown
How you to support your child as the start of their reception year approaches.
Whatever you expected your child’s transition to big school to look like, it’s probably all been thrown into the air as COVID-19 and lockdown wrecked havoc around the world.
Disappointing as it is not to be able to visit school and meet the teachers before the summer holidays, there is still plenty you can do to help prepare your little one for their reception year.
Lucy Patrick, a former Primary School head teacher and owner of North Kirklees Mumbler, discusses how you can support your child over the next few months.
Part 1 – Positive Beginnings
Traditionally, children have settling in sessions at their new school and meet their new teacher or key worker before the summer holidays.
These visits play a vital part in helping children see the setting as theirs and for you to begin to develop a positive relationship- not only with the school staff but with other parents, too. The importance of making sure children see their new settings as safe and happy spaces cannot be emphasised enough. So, in these unprecedented times use what is available to you:
Have a look at the school website and any other literature you have been given. Use these resources to prompt conversation about the school. Pictures of the classroom and key parts of the building and grounds are useful talking points. Google street maps is a great tool for this too. Ideally, your child will be keen to tell you what they think; “that is where we will have lunch”, etc. Through this important conversation, you may stumble upon any worries your child may have and can begin to address them. In contrast, you’ll be able to see what they are excited about and can share this with the adults in school – they will want to know.
Take the time to walk past and see the key worker children enjoying playing at lunchtime. This might provoke a positive reaction from your child, and help them see what school life might look like.
Make contact with parents of children who will be in their class – Mumbler chat groups are a good way to reach out here, and some schools set up Class List or similar mobile phone software as a method of communication. Arranging meetups through the summer, though virtual, can still help you feel less anxious as a lone parent in the playground, and give your child the opportunity to see their classmates’ faces.
Talk to school staff about any emerging concerns as soon as possible. You aren’t a fussy parent and won’t be seen this way; you definitely won’t be the only parent having concerns. It is perfectly normal and acceptable for mums and dads to feel an element of anxiety given the current situation, but projecting anxieties onto your little person will do nothing but make them think the school is not a positive place. Hide your worries from your child but address them with the school – fears can be quickly quelled by experienced and kind school staff. Remember, they’ve heard them all before and are used to supporting anxious parents.
Part 2 – Independence, Independence, Independence.
Children are so able. They have skills and abilities that amaze us on a daily basis. Their resourcefulness and creativity far exceed that of adults and their ability to problem solve is simply incredible.
My opinion? Because we don’t let them, we don’t expect them to and, dare I say it, we don’t realise that they can. So why, despite all this, can the majority of children not put on their own shoes and coats by the time they begin school?
I was in the library recently leading a craft session with some mask making. My instinct as a teacher is always to look for the learning taking place in any activity, so, as usual, I stood back and observed for a short while. Many of the children were happily scribbling and cutting out their masks to various degrees of accuracy. Alternately, one child had a beautifully-made mask, cut out perfectly and ready on a stick for her to wear as she left the library; her mum had done the lot. That little girl had been given no chance to practise holding scissors, choose colours or use some fine motor movements by carefully colouring inside the lines; a wasted opportunity. I hope that I can convince you here that one of the best ways you can prepare your child for school is actually by doing less for them. And let’s face it, in lockdown we do have more time to let them try!
For children starting school, one of the key factors in readiness is their level of independence. If you bring up your child to make choices and think critically, this will have a hugely positive impact on their learning from a young age. They will be able to access the school learning environment well, choose appropriate resources and overcome barriers without the need for adult intervention.
Slow down. Find time to:
Begin a before – bedtime routine of packing a bag (with, not for your child) for the next day. Doing this now forms a habit which will reap the reward when school starts, making mornings less pressured. Encourage your child to make decisions about what should be added by talking about where you will be going, what kind of weather is expected etc. It won’t be long before they will be doing this with minimum intervention.
Guide them to choose their clothes for the next day and lay them out on the floor, ready for them to attempt to put on in the morning. Let them dress as much as they can instead of dressing them yourself. It is entirely possible for a four-year-old to completely dress themselves if they have done from a young age.
Insist that they help tidy away after playing with their toys. There is much valuable learning to be had in terms of sorting, plus you are teaching them to look after and respect their environment. A significant amount of time is spent on establishing routines in a reception class at the beginning of the academic year and tidying up is a key part of this.
Ask them to set the table and help clear away at mealtimes. Let them pour their own drink.
Give them thinking time after you have asked them a question. This will help develop them as critical thinkers. Answering your own question before giving them a chance to will not. It’s surprising how many people seem to talk on behalf of their children.
Making just a few extra minutes every day to support your child in one of these ways will almost certainly have a positive impact in a short space of time and increase their level of independence, and independent children make strong learners. Fact.
Part 3 – Mind your Language.
According to a report published by Save the Children* the number of words your child knows by the age of five is a key indicator of their reading success at age eleven, and the impact of children’s early language development can extend far into adulthood. A child with weak language skills at the age of five is much less likely to be a strong reader at the age of 11 than a five-year-old with a strong vocabulary. Not only this, but their outcomes in mathematics are influenced too. Many other studies have come up with similar findings.
Needless to say, language is a biggy when it comes to readiness to learn.
One of the indicators of school readiness is whether a child can speak in full sentences, pronouncing the majority of (age-appropriate) words correctly and being able to offer appropriate responses when asked a question or as part of a dialogue. However, statistics show that an increasing percentage of children starting Reception cannot do these things and the burden is falling on schools and other agencies to correct poor or inadequate language skills.
The Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum recognises the importance of language; of the seven areas of learning that make up the curriculum, there are three ‘Prime’ areas of learning – so named because they are perceived to be the most important -of which Communication and Language is one. Much thought is given to Communication and Language during the planning of a reception classroom. Areas of provision such as role-play, performance, and reading; tables laid out in such a way as to encourage conversation between children; the use of ‘talking partners’ and circle times to develop speaking skills are just some of the ways in which schools maximise opportunities for their children to extend their vocabulary.
Language acquisition begins in the womb with the recognition of mum’s voice and continues each and every waking minute as the subconscious takes in sounds that slowly form the child’s vocabulary bank. Therefore, being exposed to a constant flow of clear and accurate dialogue and language from birth and throughout early childhood is imperative – it is our responsibility as parents to support the appropriate development of children’s language and to be mindful of the words and phrases they hear.
Speaking and listening skills are critical when it comes to accessing learning across the curriculum and to help children access the daily routines of the classroom.
If you are interested in supporting your child’s developing language you could do this by;
Exposing your child to high-quality language every day. Whatever age your child is, whatever their first language and whatever their chosen method of communication, commit to talking and listening to them properly. Look them in the eye when you speak with them, focusing entirely on what they are saying as much as is possible. Value their comments and questions which in turn will give them the confidence to speak in longer and more complex sentences. Allow processing time for children to comprehend and choose how to answer you and try not to answer on their behalf.
Turning off your phone. Put social media away when the children are around and make them your priority. Talk to them, question them, respond to them and ask open questions of them. Limit TV time and be picky about the programmes you allow your children to watch at a young age. Not all children’s TV makes for positive language acquisition. Choose books with continuously new characters and vocabulary when you read the bedtime story (please, please read them a bedtime story every day) and discuss the book as you go through each page. You’ll be amazed how much vocabulary children remember and reuse in their own diction. (this, of course, includes any words you’d rather they weren’t sharing that they’ve picked up from home!)
Reflecting on your own use of language with your child. Do you talk to them as an equal, using full sentences and a steady, adult voice that shows respect to them as competent learners? There is a danger in talking to babies like, well, babies. Do children not deserve to know that a train is called a train and not a ‘choo-choo?’ And at what point are you intending teaching them that the correct term is ‘thank you’ instead of ‘ta?’ There seems little point in teaching the incorrect word for something and then having to retract it later on, doesn’t there?
Consider when the best times of the day are for extended conversations. Children are tired at the end of a school day yet we all seem to greet them at pick up time with the inevitable ‘ what have you done today?’ question. We shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t always want to relive every moment of their school day (would you?) straight away. The clue is in the seemingly stock answer of ‘nothing.’ Instead, consider giving your little one some time to process the day and revisit the conversation later over tea time. Play a game called ‘what have you enjoyed today,’ taking turns to say one thing about your day during your meal. Games like this teach children to listen courteously and take interest in others’ comments as well as to share an opinion about something.
Correcting misconceptions without making a big deal of them. Simply repeat back the word correctly
‘Mummy I eated all my tea’
‘Yes you ate all your tea, well done’
without pointing out the mistake. The correct word will soon, subconsciously, sink in.
It does not matter whether you and your child communicate through talk, sign or gesture, the same advice applies. Talk and listen to each other as much as you possibly can. It will pay dividends in terms of confidence in the classroom and, ultimately academic achievement at a later stage.
*Source: Save the Children -THE LIFE CHANCES STRATEGY report.