Preparing your toddler for junior primary Part 2
Upon starting school, your child should be able to play for short spans of time by themselves or with other children. At home, start encouraging your child to play alone. Set them up with activities and craft materials. You could give them challenges and musical toys or present them with a pretend-play scenario. Ask questions, but let your child invent their own scenes. Arrange a scavenger hunt in the garden. Give your child a balloon and see how long they can keep it from falling to the floor. Play show and tell with family photographs
Arrange for your child to play with others
Children learn how to interact through play dates or being put in situations where they interact with others. This is early socialisation where they will ultimately learn about problem-solving, co-operating, expressing their feelings and sharing. Get your child used to sharing and taking turns. Read to your child — it will get your child used to listening, asking questions and also sitting still for a period of time.
Get your child used to following instructions
If your child can listen to directions and follow them thoroughly, they will be accustomed to this when a teacher gives them instructions. Lots of children have trouble with focus and attention. Tell your child what to do, rather than what not to do. Shorten the way you give instructions. After telling your child what to do, ask them to repeat what you said so you know your child has heard you and understands.
Encouraging your child to explore their creative side will be fun and will also help your child develop gross and fine motor skills. Colouring in, watercolours and drawing will help your child an assortment of decorations and stickers.
Encourage your child to communicate
Your child needs to be able to talk to their teacher in an understandable way about what they need. Start encouraging self-awareness by asking them if they're grumpy because they're hungry. Or what they’re feeling when they're displaying strong emotions and what happened before it — this encourages self-reflection. You may know how to read your child, but their teacher won't necessarily be able to immediately. At night, ask what made them happy or upset during the day.
Make school less daunting
Prepare your child. If your child knows what to expect, they will feel less anxious. Tell your child they'll be able to make new friends, play, sing and listen to stories. Reassure them that although you won't be there, a teacher will be looking after them and that is the person they can ask for help, or whatever else they need. Make the teacher your ally. Ask if your child has any questions. Read them books about going to school, talk about what you remember about going to school. Reward their efforts, it's not all about achievement.
Your child needs to feel emotionally stable about staying away from home for lengths of time. If your child has experienced babysitting sessions, or been away from you for short periods of time, they will know you will be back for them and be less dependent on your continuous presence. Tell your child when school starts and ends. Let them know all children are nervous about starting school. Let them know you will come and pick them up afterwards.
Your child is about to deal with a new classroom, teachers and peers. Some adapt swiftly to new situations and others experience anxiety and need extra support. Talk to the teacher, who will have had experience in dealing with the situation. Develop a strategy to help. Put a happy note in their lunch box so they know you're thinking of them. Linger a little on the first day, but no clinging or tears. Give your child plenty of hugs and reassurance, but learn to let go. Leave with a cheery, "I'll see you later." Take a picture to commemorate the occasion.
If your child has already seen the school, they are more likely to be enthusiastic after looking at the space, toys, books and activities. It helps if your child knows the layout of the school and where to find the classroom, bathroom and where meals will be eaten. If your child has already met the teacher, or any of the children who will be attending the school, they will at least recognise a friendly face on their first day. Let your child know about any rules that are in place.
You can drive by the school when break time is happening and your child can see where they will be going and get more accustomed to the idea. Talk about it with enthusiasm and the child will anticipate the fun. Get the class schedule so your child knows what to expect beforehand.
Get your child more used to making choices
Take your child shopping with you. Letting your child choose their own lunch box, pencil case or backpack will get them anticipating school. You can also get them to pick what snacks will go into the lunch box. Belongings can be personalised. Label your child’s belongings. Get your child to do a practise run on getting dresses and putting their lunch box in their backpack. This will help your child to learn about organisation.
Take some time to think about strategies for teaching your child how to deal with difficult situations, for example, when they are mocked, angry or frustrated.
Your child should also be aware of bullies and the importance of not going off anywhere with a stranger.