To watch the video version of this Ready for School post, click here.
Back to school is barely over, and already I’m getting inundated with parents who are anxious about how to get their toddler or preschooler ready for school for NEXT FALL. I’m seriously impressed by the get-up-and-go and proactiveness, so I figured it’s time to create a post about it to make sure we are focused on the right things.
Pre-School Panic Is Not Necessary
Your child does not need to know their letters, numbers, or colours. They do not need to be able to read or do basic arithmetic before starting either preschool OR kindergarten! There is absolutely ZERO need to suddenly light a flashcard fueled fire under your ass when you realise that your 3 year old can’t count to 10 by rote. Those are skills that are taught in kindergarten. Kindergarten is by definition preparation for grade 1. That’s what it’s for. They do not need to know these things going into it- remember- earlier isn’t better.
What Skills Do They Need For School?
Research has shown that working on academics early can really destroy a child’s love of school and learning and have a detrimental effect on long-term academic success. So then…what skills does your child need to start either preschool or kindergarten? Both of these programs ought to be play-based, but they do require a certain amount of self-sufficiency. Preschool is typically a lower ratio- but it’s still higher than daycare. Usually, it’s about a 1:4 or 5 ratio. Kindergarten gets much larger- typically 1:15ish which means that the skills children really need to go into school are largely social, self-care, self-regulation, and executive. So let’s look at each of those.
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They Need Social Skills for School
Children need basic social skills like understanding how to stand in line and wait your turn, knowing to put your hand up to ask a question and knowing what a question is. They should understand when and how to say no thank you, set boundaries, and respect boundaries. Work on knowing how to introduce themselves to established play- this is a BIG one. They also should be working on conflict resolution! These are all social skills that are essential to a smooth transition into the classroom socially. There will still be social concerns- especially at the preschool level- but they’ll be the more complex ones vs the basics. And this is where social programs can be really helpful. Playgroup was ESSENTIAL for both my kids and my past clients when I was in early intervention.
Self-Care Skills For School
Second, are self-care skills. When I talk about self-care I mean toileting 100% independently. Your child should be able to get their own pants and underwear down, toilet, clean themselves, get them back up, and wash their hands without any help from an adult. They should also be able to change themselves if they have an accident- because it happens. So prepare them for it. Most preschools and kindergartens can’t touch your child to help them remove clothing. So they should be able to do it solo. And that goes for outdoor clothing too! Make sure your child can get on their own indoor and outdoor shoes, snow boots, and rain boots. Teach them how to put on a tuque and mitts. Teach them how to open and close their own backpack, their own lunch kit, and their own bento box. Again- if your child can’t open their own lunch containers…they’re going to waste half their eating period waiting for a teacher to help them. I’ve talked about my love for Bento boxes before– and I stand by it. These are all self-care tasks. And your child needs to be able to competently do them prior to starting preschool or kindergarten.
Self Regulation and Executive Skills
Self-regulation skills are the ability to recognize when what you’re feeling, and know what to do about it. Self-regulation is all about staying calm and it’s really bloody hard. I’ve talked about the gas tank analogy before- how we all have a metaphorical tank of energy that gets depleted throughout the day every time we spend energy on something. Self-regulation is about recognizing when something is sucking too much energy, we’re getting depleted, and we need to fill that tank back up…and how to do it. And that feeds into executive skills.
Executive skills mean our higher mental tools. It has to do with controlling our impulses, recognizing our emotions, starting tasks, remembering things, planning and prioritising, being organized, keeping track of our things and how we interact with people and thinking flexibly…these are all mental processes that suck a lot of energy if we aren’t proficient at them. They’re the “soft skills” that make a big difference. Executive skills, coupled with self-regulation skills, are how a child stops themselves from punching that kid in the nose. Executive skills are how we get going and start something…so when the teacher asks us to clean up, we can. They’re also the skills that let is STOP doing something- so that when the teacher asks us to clean up, we can stop building the castle. So if your child is weak in these two areas: executive skills, and generally by extension- self- regulation skills, then a lot of the intangible stuff that makes you competently move through your day is just impossible.
Getting Proactive In the Right Ways
And that’s why this is what we focus on in ParentAbility. Because these skills infiltrate every corner of our lives. They are the skills we will literally use for the rest of our lives. While research has shown that while working on academics early can really destroy a child’s love of school and learning and have a detrimental effect on long-term academic success…working on executive skills has the OPPOSITE effect. It creates children who love to learn and therefore thrive in their academics when it’s developmentally appropriate to do so. So if you’re going to be proactive- BE PROACTIVE and make sure you’re putting your energy in the right place to set your child up for success.