Preparing for big school is quite a task. As your child heads towards a certain age you will start to ponder the primary school question. Choosing the right school and making sure your child is ready to attend is a daunting task as it will affect your child for many years to come.
They will be spending a large portion of their younger years at school, and it is very important that they are fully prepared for it. Having spoken to many parents of children headed to big (primary) school there seems to be a common thread of questions. Is my child ready? If not, how do I get him ready? What’s best for him? And will my school choice suit him and our family values? As with most parenting questions these are all far easier to answer when you are fully equipped with information.
Is My Child School Ready?
Many parents struggle with school readiness knowing that sending your little one to primary school too soon can cause severe long term developmental and emotional effects. It can cause self-esteem problems and delay your child’s development and learning abilities. Here are a few things to look for to ensure that your little one is ready for primary school;
- Social Interaction: It is very important that your child demonstrates the correct level of maturity in his social interactions. You can establish this by watching your child with his peers and see whether he is able to separate from you. Your child is not ready for primary school if he finds it difficult to interact with children his own age or suffers from anxiety when he is separated from you for an extended period of time.
- Communication: Your child should be able to use verbal communication effectively in order to start primary school. He should have a well developed vocabulary and a confident understanding of the language he will be taught in. Children with under developed communication skills are likely to resort to bad behaviour in order to express themselves. This will not make their first impression of school a good one.
- Problem Solving Skills: Your child will need to display an acceptable level of cognitive development in order to be school ready. He should be able to understand that if a round peg does not fit into a square hole he should try and place the peg into a round hole. There are many toys available that will test this skill. Your child should have basic counting skills before he starts primary school.
- Motor Development and Health: Your child should be able to use scissors to cut around a basic shape and should be able to colour in a picture with crayons. Do not panic if the cutting and colouring is not perfect, it is the fact that your child knows how to use them that is important here. If your child lacks the appropriate motor skills he may have problems participating in a full variety of activities, this can result in set backs when it comes to self-esteem development. If your child is sickly and prone to chronic health problems you might want to spend the year prior to him starting primary school correcting these issues so that they do not interfere with the learning process.
- The Joy of Learning: Your child should demonstrate an inherent curiosity and joy for learning before he begins primary school. This is very important because a lack of interest in learning will mean that your little one won’t take full advantage of learning opportunities and may be left behind.
How to Get Your Child Ready for Primary School
There is no hard and fast way to get your child ready for primary school, in some cases your little one is just not ready despite the fact that all of their peers are heading off to big school. There are however some ways to help your child catch up if they are slightly behind.
- Lacks Social Skills: If your child lacks social skills it might be because he hasn’t had much opportunity to mix with other children his age. A great way to overcome this is to enrol your little one in a pre-school or a play group that is aimed specifically at his age group. He need not attend everyday, but two or three times a week will help him to get used to other children and also ease any separation anxiety he might feel. You should allow your child to attend grade 0 if the option is there as this will make the idea of “big school” seem less daunting. If your child seems to have an unreasonable disinterest in other children or an extreme attachment to you or someone else you might want to visit a child psychologist to make sure that there are no underlying issues.
- Communication Problems: If your child seems to be behind with his verbal communication it is probably a good idea to take him to see his paediatrician who will be able to assess any problems he might have. If he finds that your child has any significant developmental or communication problems he will refer you to a speech and hearing therapist or occupational therapist. This is unfortunately not a problem that you can fix without expert help, but one that needs to be solved before your child attends primary school.
- Cognitive Development: If your child has problems with problem solving and cognitive development you should take him to see his paediatrician who will be able to establish whether your child has a developmental problem. Once you have worked out whether or not there is a problem you will be able to work out the best way to overcome it.
- Motor Development: It is a good idea to encourage your child to draw or cut things out with a pair of scissors. This will encourage his motor development and hand-eye co-ordination. You should also enrol your little one in a ball skills workshop or get him interested in a ball sport. Throwing and catching a ball is a great way to for a child to develop motor skills. If you notice a significant lack of motor skills in your child speak to his paediatrician and ask him whether you have something to worry about.
How to Choose the Right School
Choosing the right school for your child is no easy task. You will need to go through a list of schools and shortlist the ones that seem to meet your needs. It is highly likely that you have had a few schools in mind since your little one was a baby and more often than not you will have put your child’s name onto a waiting list while you were pregnant. Once you have gone through your options and created a shortlist it is a good idea to visit each school the year before your child is due to be enrolled, as a lot can change in the 7 or so years since you initially chose the school. Try to visit schools one an average day instead of an “open day” as schools tend to pull out all the stops when they are open to the public, while you are more likely to get a proper feel for the school on a normal school day. You will obviously need to call the school and set up an appointment for a tour, make it clear that an open day will not suit you and that you want to see the school on a week day during school hours. A bit of assertiveness may be necessary, but remember that this is your child’s future and it will be well worth it. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before making a final decision;
- Private or government? The first thing that you need to do is narrow your choices down by deciding whether you want to send your child to a private or government school. This is a personal choice and very often dictated by finances. Do not feel guilty about sending your child to a government school, the good ones offer a good, balanced education. Many parents choose to send their child to a government primary school and save up to send them to a private high school. Either way this decision will form the basis for your final school list.
- Traditional or modern? The teaching method of the school that you choose must suit your child and offer an approach that works in conjunction with your family ideals. If you are a strong disciplinarian who believes in traditional values a school offering modern teaching and disciplinary methods will not suit you and your family.
- Religious or Ethical Beliefs? The religious or ethical beliefs of the school should match those of yourself and your family.
- Cost? Private schools can be a good deal more expensive than government schools. This will unfortunately have an influence on your choice. Make sure to find out what the fees for the year ahead will be and what the payment terms are.
- Extra-murals? Some children are interested in sports and rough and tumble activities while others may be more interested in gentle extra murals like choir and art. Research the activities offered at your chosen schools and try to match these up with your child. A school that forces children into activities that they do not like may cause self-esteem problems. It is better to offer your child an array of activities that suit your little one’s personality and interests. A small, scholarly child will not appreciate a school where rugby and cricket are forced upon him.
Whether you like it or not your child is growing up and will start spreading his wings into the big pond that is primary school. As he gets ready to face this big step you are bound to feel emotional, wondering where all of the years have gone. The best thing for you to do is not to show your little one any negative emotions about school, even if your tears are happy ones. He needs to have positive happy associations with his first day at school and you crying your eyes out might have the opposite effect. Rather save your tears for after you’ve left your child in the safe hands of the school. Remember, that as your child learns, so will you, it’s amazing how interesting the honey making habits of bees are through the eyes of a 7 year old. Enjoy this time with your child it is one of those milestones that will change him and you forever.