Young children’s earliest experience and environment set the stage for future development and success in school and life. Therefore it is of great importance that you prepare and develop your child’s potential to ensure school readiness.
Early experience influence brain development, establishing the neural connections that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem-solving, social skills, behaviour and emotional health.
Here’s what you can do to develop their potential and ability.
1) What are the signs that a child is not yet ready for school?
A child’s readiness for school is multi-faceted, encompassing the whole range of physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive skills that children need to thrive. School readiness is a measure of how prepared a child is to succeed in school, cognitively, socially and emotionally. It also implies that the child has reached a certain stage in their development where formal education will be advantageous to the child.
Readiness is a stage where a child’s development is when they can learn easily, effectively and without emotional disturbance. It is not a specific point of development because growth is a steady continuous process, always ongoing. Rather it is a condition, or state indicating that the child is ready to learn.
There are 4 distinct domains of development which are important when considering school readiness. These domains are separate and distinct, but interact with and reinforce each other. In other words, a child need to develop in all 4 of these areas and specific difficulties in the different developmental domains may be indicative of an overall school readiness problem
1)Physical and Motor development and physical health
Problems in this developmental domain may include:
- Gross motor development problems: when a child struggles with coordination. For example, difficulties climbing, walking, running, catching a ball and standing on one leg.
- Fine motor development problems, for example, difficulty using a pair of scissors, pencils or cutlery.
- Problems with perceptual development, in other words, when a child struggles to interpret information in a meaningful manner. Difficulties with visual perception might include struggling to learn the skills of reading, writing, copying and pasting. Auditory perception problems will include difficulty listening.
- Problems with basic self-care tasks, such as dressing oneself, tying shoelaces and buttoning a shirt. Difficulties completing a hygiene routine such as using the toilet, washing hands and brushing teeth.
- Physical ill health might also make it difficult for a child to cope with demands of the school environment.
2)Emotional and social development
Young children’s social and emotional development is the foundation for their cognitive development. Children are more likely to do well in school when they have a positive sense of personal well-being, developed through consistent, caring relationships in their early years. Emotional support and secure relationships build a child’s self-confidence and the ability to function as a member of a group. Research indicates that a child’s emotional and social skills are linked to their early academic standing. Children who are emotionally well adjusted have a significantly greater chance of early school success, where children who experience serious emotional difficulty face grave risks of early school difficulty
Problems in this area might include:
- A dislike to play with other children
- Difficulty integrating with a group of peers
- Unwillingness to share toys
- Inability to carry on a conversation with a friend
- Difficulty controlling his or her emotions
School readiness depends as much on emotional maturity as it does on scholastic ability. This is partially influenced by parenting but also depends to a large extent on the individual child’s natural development process.
How do you know if your child is emotionally mature enough to go to school?
- Independence: Can your child complete most tasks on his or her own, or are they constantly running to their teachers’ side for approval or assistance?
- Confidence: Is your child confident enough to speak up in a busy classroom when he or she is uncomfortable or needs help? Children also need to let the teacher know when they need a bathroom break, are feeling ill, or need something.
- Separation: Does your child separate easily from you when drop them off in the morning or are the goodbyes long and teary? Some crying in the beginning few weeks are normal and even expected but should stop after a while. Teachers don’t have the time to console a tearful child the rest of the day.
- Responsibility for his belongings: Does your child remember to put their box back in their bag after school, do they remember their jersey, school clothes etcetera? Or is their teacher constantly running after them with their belongings?
- Problem-solving: Is your child able to solve the majority of basic little problems that pop up on a daily basis? For example, will they know to borrow a ruler from a friend if they don’t have one or ask their teacher to phone mummy?
This developmental area refers to a child’s thinking and problem-solving, knowledge about particular subjects and the way the world around them works. The best foundation for later learning is provided when children have multiple and varied opportunities to interact with their environment and are encouraged to be creative. Cognitive development encompasses mathematical knowledge, thinking, creative expression reasoning and problem-solving.
Problems in this area might include:
- difficulty learning basic numeracy concepts
- difficulty creating drawings
- struggling to participate in imaginative play
- a difficulty with role playing and story telling
This includes communication and literacy. Communication includes listening, speaking, and vocabulary. Language proficiency is a key predictor of school success. Early literacy skills (size of vocabulary, recognizing letters, understanding letter and sound relationships,) at nursery school are good predictors of children’s reading abilities throughout their educational careers.
Some problems in this domain might include:
- Difficulties conversing in their mother tongue
- Problems expressing themselves fluently and meaningfully
- Inability to remember details from stories in a logical sequence
- A small vocabulary, insufficient words to describe the attributes of objects (like colour, shape and size)
- Inability to recognize letters, particularly those in their own name.
- Difficulty comprehending concepts of time, like before and after.
2) What can parents do?
A child who enters the grade 1 classroom without the necessary skills is likely to develop problems emotionally, behaviourally or academically. A parent can help by equipping themselves with knowledge of the child’s strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge may also be utilised to develop strategies to facilitate effective learning in the child. For this reason, parents may find it helpful to have their child assessed for school readiness at a psychologist.
Parents, day-care providers and paediatricians play an enormous role in the preparation of a child for school. Research shows that learning begins long before a child even enters nursery school. Initially, it is the parents’ responsibility to provide the necessary stimuli. Infants and young children thrive when parents and families are able to surround them with love and support and opportunities to learn and explore their world.
It is important therefore to choose a pre-primary or play school environment that will aid your child in reaching developmental goals in preparation for the grade 1 environment. It is also of great importance to form a good relationship with your child’s paediatrician since they are often able to identify possible developmental difficulties at an early stage.
It is also of vital importance that parents have realistic expectations of their child. As individuals, we all have a unique skill set that we have been blessed with. Encourage your child to develop their own interests and provide them with the opportunity to try different hobbies, sports etc where you can. Let them know it is OK to be great in some things, and not so great in others. Place the emphasis on having the courage to try your best. Always assure your child of your unconditional love, regardless of their performance in various areas.
The following list includes some general practical guidelines parents can follow at home to assist their children’s development in specific areas:
- Sing nursery rhymes with your child
- Make up nonsense sentences to make your child laugh and encourage them to correct the sentence (the frog was riding a bike in the sky)
- give instructions (start simple and make them more complicated)
- talk and laugh with your child
- tell familiar stories and also make up stories together (cut pictures out of magazines and stick them in a blank book to make an own story)
- encourage your child to talk about himself and how he feels
- play rhyming games with real and made up words
- tell your child what you are doing, answer their questions as accurately but age-appropriately as you can
- Make use of colours in the environment (home and garden) when teaching your child, link colours (for example what colour is this? Give them time to answer, then prompt with it’s the same colour as the grass, what colour is the grass? As they get older and know their colours, ask them what else they can think of that is the same colour)
- Write his name on paper, a board, in the sand, with biscuit shapes or magnetic letters, on pizza with food, etc. in many creative ways
- read to and with your child, initially follow where you are reading with your finger so they understand how we read and that what you are saying is linked to those funny marks on the page
- encourage them to talk about pictures in books and ask them to predict what will come next in the story
- Talk about the different sizes of everyday objects
- use daily activities to discuss concepts such as wet/dry, hot/cold, bigger/smaller, etc
- build jigsaw puzzles together
- give step by step instructions so they know how to do things
- encourage them to ask questions, ask them questions to prevent them from merely accepting things as they ask, ask ridiculous questions to get them to expand their imagination and curiosity – what if you had 4 arms, what if we had a magic carpet, etc.
- look for shapes every way, make them out of biscuits and bread, cut out shapes and make them into pictures
- copy patterns with blocks
- tell them a known story in the wrong order and they must correct it
- give them a variety of different pictures that they must put into the correct groups, such as animals, food, clothes etc
- ask questions like: birds fly, fish …? What can we eat? What can we ride on? You see with your…?
- create patterns where your child has to add the next in the sequence, can be numbers, shapes, letters, colours, etc
- encourage them to complete maze puzzles
To enhance organisational skills:
- Don’t say clean up all your toys, rather tell them to put their books away, once this is done put away the puzzles and so on, this is much less daunting for them. This teaches them to break down tasks into manageable steps.
- encourage them to help around the house – taking their plates to the sink, putting their clothes away
- have a set tidy up time each day
- have a daily routine in place
- count together – how many times do they jump, how many cars parked next to the house, how many petals on the flower
- count how many arms and legs they have as you wash them, and how many fingers and toes as you dry them
- make up rhymes about numbers or sing familiar counting nursery rhymes
- separate blocks into different coloured piles or different size piles
- remember to use please and thank you
- set the example for how to take it in turns when speaking or doing things
- let them see you being polite and positive to people
- expose them to social time with other children
- tell stories so they learn to sit, listen and pay attention
- Set an example for bathroom hygiene (this should be a non-negotiable)
- play together in the garden with throwing, kicking and catching balls of different sizes and textures
- have hopping races (make sure you fall more often than they do)
- encourage them to jump and leap in the garden
- let them colour, draw, paint, cut out, play with play dough, ice, mix cakes, cut biscuits
- let them mimic you crossing the midline – bend down and touch feet with opposite hands, touch left side with right hand
- draw large figure 8’s and circles on a board or in the sand or window with both hands
- Parents’ focus is usually on the child’s physical and intellectual milestones and the social and emotional development is often forgotten.
- All emotions are acceptable but not all behaviours are
- teach them how to ask for help
- encourage them to work by themselves sometimes
- answer their questions and help them when they ask for it
- give suggestions rather than commands
- give them methods of dealing with their anger and frustration – draw an angry picture, screw it up and throw it away
- play swingball, hit or kick a ball against a wall, pop balloons, dance, hit cushions, have plastic bats to hit with,
- encourage them to make friends and provide the opportunities to do so
- teach your child to solve her own problems
- teach her to make choices and let her learn from the consequences of her choices.
If your child’s teacher has identified specific areas that he or she is struggling with, these kinds of exercises and games, listed above, can be very valuable. They are also low-cost ways that you can aid in their development at home. However, some children might still need professional help, and then a formal assessment at a psychologist will be of great value. Some government hospitals offer psychological services such as these, like the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. There is also the Child Guidance Clinic at the University of Cape Town where families can access affordable psychological services.
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