30 Jan Big School, Big Deal
For many parents, the words ‘school readiness’ usually means knowing letters and sounds, counting to 20, correct pencil grip, or developed social skills. Of course, those skills matter, but there are also a few little practical skills, (or functional skills, as we occupational therapists like to call them), that you can work on with your child to help their first days at school run smoothly.
#1 The School Bag
Young children love familiarity, and chances are ‘big school’ is going to feel like a pretty unfamiliar place for them. There will be new people, new clothes and a whole new set of rules to follow. If your child had a familiar space at school, that was all their own, it could make all the difference to their confidence and security. Enter the school bag!
Your child’s school bag will hold all their personal belongings and will be the only thing they get to bring from home, so it functions as a ‘home base’ for them. If you can, let your child take the same bag they’ve had at pre-school to Kindergarten. If you’re purchasing a new bag, (or your school has a specific bag as part of their uniform), consider making the purchase early and allowing your child to take it to pre-school/daycare or on outings with them. Your child will feel more confident if they know exactly where to find their hat at recess, a jumper when they’re cold or spare pair of pants if they have a toilet accident. If you can, include your child in the bag selection process, or let them choose a special nametag or keyring to put on a regulation school bag so they can easily tell theirs apart.
#2 Lunch Boxes and Drink Bottles
Lunchtime at ‘big school’ is usually a bit less structured then what your child might be used to at pre-school; where there is likely plenty of help to open tricky packets or lunch box lids, and most pre-schools have tables for children to eat at. At primary school playground duty, teachers have to stretch their attention over many more children; they may not have time to put the straw into your child’s popper for them. Your child will also likely be eating out of a lunchbox balanced on their lap. To give your child a chance to practise these new skills before the big day, try packing their lunchbox for a picnic using the types of containers and packets they’ll be using at primary school. If you notice your child struggles with this action, consider finding easier containers and pre-opening packaged food into them.. You can also put lids on loosely; leaving clasps open or a corner of a plastic box easy to pull up. Wrappings such as cling wrap or sandwich bags can also be a bit difficult – try wrapping sandwiches in baking paper instead, it’s easy to open and has the added benefit of being friendlier for the environment.
#3 Using the Toilet
If your child is in pre-school, you will no doubt have come across the pre-school bathroom; a row of tiny toilets against the wall, maybe separated by low partitions. Toilets in primary school are more like the ones at shopping centres; larger or full sized toilets in separate stalls with doors that lock, different areas for boys and girls, with urinals or troughs in the boy’s toilets. By the time you’re sending your child off to kindergarten, they should be pretty proficient at using the toilet on their own, but may never have had to deal with locking themselves into a stall or standing at a urinal. Try taking your child to the shops a few times and have them practise using the stall, having them close and lock the door while you stand outside. Boys will need to learn how to use the urinal and some social etiquette about not bothering other boys who are also using the bathroom. Extra reminders to wash hands might prevent some yucky bugs coming home (there won’t always be teachers reminding them to do it).
Got any ‘sanity saving’ back-to-school tips or tricks? Share them with us (@childmags) on Twitter or Instagram #CHILDmagsbacktoschool
Alena Haines is an occupational therapist and mum who runs her own paediatric OT business, Hope Occupational Therapy, servicing preschool and school aged children in Sydney’s North West
Words by Alena Haines / Image by Mari Pi