When is the right time to send my child to school? Every mom I know asks themselves this question as there is no specific age, each child is different. When looking back at being a first time mom to my now 5-year-old, I had more than a few sleepless nights weighing up the pros and cons over when the right time would be to send her to school.
You always want to make sure that your child, and you for that matter, are ready for such a big step! All I wanted was my child to be happy and have a strong start in life. So what better way to find out about what we should be looking out for than chatting to the people that see children every day and understand what signs to look out for. Preschool teacher Beverly Bouton gave me some great tips and advice that I thought I would share with you.
Is my child ready for school?
Most preschools accept children between the ages of 2 ½ and 3 years old, but that doesn’t mean the child is magically ready for preschool at that age.
“Being ready has much more to do with where your child is developmentally. The question is, are they emotionally, socially, physically and intellectually (cognitively) ready to leave you, ready to participate in a daily, educational and structured program with a group of other children?” says Beverly Bouton, Preschool teacher and Clamber Club Expert.
Here are some of the important factors to consider:
Is your child fairly independent?
“Most preschools want your child to be potty trained, able to wash their hands after painting or going to the toilet, able to eat their lunch without assistance and sleep on their own. As parents we need to equip our children with basic self-care skills such as nose wiping, hand washing, manipulating simple clothing fasteners, wiping their own bottoms etc.” explains Bouton.
Have they spent time away from you?
Children who haven’t had many opportunities to be away from parents could have separation anxiety. Beverly suggests organising one or two days with a familiar family member. “If a child has been cared for by an aupair/babysitter, a domestic worker or relative, they could be better prepared to separate from you. The trick is to help your child adjust in small, short doses.”
Instill Organization Skills
Work with your children on ways to keep their clothes and toys organized in their room. After a play session, tell your child “it’s tidy up time” and show them how to do it and where each item belongs. Make it fun by singing clean up songs together and help them tidy up. Once your child knows the routine, have them clean up on their own. Never forget to give them descriptive praise when they have finished.
Develop Social Skills
A socially ready child should be the priority, not academic (intellectual) readiness. Consider these questions: Can your child be away from you? Are they talking about going to school?
Liz Senior, Occupational Therapist and founder of the Clamber Club suggests that parents take their littlies to extra mural classes such as the Clamber Club Baby and Toddler programmes, before starting preschool. “Attending classes with your baby or toddler helps to prepare them for the general class routine and social aspect of preschool. In these classes the parent or carer is with the child, so there is one on one attention and it is a gentle introduction to the social play environment.”
Bouton explains: “The social skills that are necessary for preschool include turn taking, sharing, waiting, playing with peers and beginning to participate in pretend play.”
Encourage Emotional Readiness
Learning to manage and express emotions in a healthy manner is not only important for preschool, but is also an essential life skill. A preschool child has difficulty verbalising, understanding and putting labels on feelings and can feel out of control. Allow your child to express his emotions in a safe situation and help him to verbalize how he feels by saying “Oh, I can see you are feeling irritable and cranky because you are tired.” Let your child know that you will talk to them when they have calmed down.
Cultivate Communication Skills
Listening and talking are very valuable for school success. Parents have many opportunities to develop their child’s language skills, whether it’s discussing what’s in the room, what they are having for dinner or talking about daily routines. Grow and expand the child’s vocabulary by introducing new words and expressions. The things that we see and do throughout the day may seem mundane to us, but to our children they are wonders.
Focus on the Basics
Before your child starts preschool, teach them their full name, their parents’ names, their age and even possibly a telephone number or address.
Remember not to address all these skills in a boring drill format. It’s much more fun to provide immediate, natural opportunities to expose your child to the basics, such as colours and numbers. Point out numbers, colours and letters on street signs, shop names, and sing lots of counting songs with them.