Preparing your pre-schooler for school

As an Occupational Therapist who worked in paediatrics before having kids, I knew that I had this!

As my first daughter moved out of babyhood and into the toddler years, I worked hard to fill her days with all the right activities to promote her development and get her ready for school. We painted, played with playdough, used scissors, read countless books, explored nature and talked about letters, numbers and colours daily.

I even worked out a schedule to ensure that I covered multiple learning areas each day. And it was exhausting.

As two more children entered the mix I found I had less time to work on formal learning opportunities because, honestly, we were just trying to survive. But as she entered kindergarten I was proud. My daughter knew how to write her name, hold scissors properly, and her drawing of a person far surpassed those of the other kids.

Fast forward four years and there I am, kissing my youngest goodbye on his first day of kindergarten, unable to write his name, scribbling instead of colouring and with very little interest in counting to anything, let alone 10. And the truth is this…it was ok.

As parents we often feel that our children need to be able to do x, y and z before they start school. But the truth that I have discovered is this…if your child doesn’t know x, y and z before they start school, they will learn it at school. There are incredible people in the world called teachers who teach our children amazing things. They share the burden we carry to develop a range of skills in our children every day.

Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your children with others because each and every one of them has different strengths and are beautifully unique. If Suzy can write her name at age 4 and Jack can’t, that’s ok. Because Jack will eventually learn to write his name too. Don’t put yourself or your child under pressure to be able to do something just because someone else can.

So what do our children need to be doing at home to get ready for school? How can you help them prepare? Spend time with them. Sing songs. Play with playdough. Get messy with paint and glitter and textas. Play outside with bare feet. Read lots of books. Give them child safe scissors to practice with. Build puzzles. Spend time with other children so that they learn to share and communicate with others their own age. Play together on the mat.

The pre-school years are for playing. Play is a child’s work. And it’s the foundation for all the school work they will one day be doing. Have fun with your children and get down on their level. They will learn more by making something out of play dough with you than they will from being made to write their name repeatedly. These years are so short and we have the blessed opportunity to be their first teachers, playing alongside them. And when the day finally comes for you to kiss them goodbye at the school gate, there will be others to teach them and help them grow too. And they will make friends, and things, and bring home countless works of art for you to praise. There will be things they find easy and things they find hard, and you will be there through it all, to love them and teach them, through the crazy journey of school.

And one day you will be faced with saying good bye on their first day of high school, with the pressure of exams and puberty and dating … but let’s not worry about that just yet. For now, let’s play!

Catherine Begley
MOPS Field Leader

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