Published On: Sun, Dec 1st, 2013

Ready Set School – Your guide to being school ready

Danielle Mantakoul

Danielle Mantakoul

BA of Ed Early Childhood and Editor at Mummy Weekly
She's described as one of the most engaging & dynamic speakers in the early childhood industry today, now having educated hundreds of thousands of parents & teachers. She has lectured for organisations such as KU Children’s Services, Only About Children, Qantas, National Australia Bank, Child Protection Australia, Goodstart and hundreds of council & private centres. She also developed and ran the popular parenting series for the Australian Financial Review.
Danielle Mantakoul

Can’t recall all those h20140722_154824-1andy hints and tricks from Danielle Mantakoul’s Ready Set School evening?   No worries, we got you covered. If you have not attended a Read Set School talk, here you will find unique strategies on how to get your kids ready for their next big step in life.

The three biggies kids worry about when starting school & other helpful transition strategies
By knowing what these three biggies are, we can start to throw strategies at our kids before they get to school. These were the three main concerns that kept popping up when I would speak to my preschoolers. Lunch, toilets and friends.

Lunch
Lunch must be teacher maintenance free. Some lunch boxes can be difficult for younger children to open. Choose a lunch box that has ease of opening and closing, and take your child with you when you purchase it, so they can test its ease of use. Plastic wrap is also tricky for little fingers, so go the grease proof paper, sandwich bags or smaller containers that fit inside the lunch box.

Don’t pack too much! We can tend to pile the lunch box high, but this can only make our kids feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and actually eat less. Three different items in the box is more than enough. Kids tend to eat less and less as the kindergarten year progresses. This is because they start to make friends and would rather play than sit and eat. Involving your child in what goes inside their lunch box will encourage them to eat more.

Some kids when starting kindergarten get constipation. This tends to be because there is no longer an early childhood teacher there to tell them to drink. You need to remind your kids about the importance of drinking, and ensure you provide a drink bottle for both morning tea and lunch. Kids tend to use the bubblers at school which can make the monitoring of how much they are drinking tricky. Just remember loads of reminders, especially if your child is not a great drinker. Also try to stick to water for school, it aids in dental hygiene.

Lots of schools have something called Munch and Crunch or Crunch and Sip or Nibbles, actually it has a variety of names. This is an additional container of fruit or veg you pack along with morning tea and lunch that the children have around 10am. I love this idea. Many kids who come from long day care environments are not used to waiting till 11am for morning tea!  By 10am they are starting to get fidgety and hungry. Munch and Crunch solves this problem. If your school does not do it, try to leave breakfast as late as possible, or put something in their hand as they walk out the door to keep hunger at bay till morning tea.

Toilets
Make sure there’s undies in the school bag every day along with socks, cause the wee goes somewhere and it tends to be in the socks. Schools always have spare uniforms so you don’t need to go as far as to pack an entire uniform, but  kids prefer to wear their own things so the undies and the socks from home helps with this.

At orientation, show your kids where the toilets are, and point out that there is a girls AND a boys toilet. In early childhood environments, boys and girls use the same toilets, so this can be a new concept for preschoolers. Encourage them to go and use it while you are there, and to have a go at that latch on the back of the door. Keep in mind as parents you may not be allowed to enter the children’s toilets, as adults in school toilets can be a child protection issue.

Kinder teachers understand where your children have come from. As preschoolers they have been able to go to the toilet whenever they wanted. While having this understanding, kinder teachers do try to wean kids off going to the toilet whenever they want, as this can be disruptive to classroom activities. But in the early days of kinder, there is lots of reminding to go to the toilet during breaks, and even additional trips throughout the day to the toilets.

It tends to be the shy kids that have a wee accident. The ones who find it difficult to put their hand up and say “I need to go to the toilet”. A wee accident is no biggie as long as its more of a one off than a regular event. The poo accident is though a bit of a different story. If your child has a poo accident at school, the school will more than likely call you. Two reasons being. Firstly your child could be unwell resulting in this accident, and it can be too difficult for schools to be wiping bottoms. Child protection comes into play here.

Come autumn some schools have stockings as part of their uniform, and many preschoolers are yet to have had experience with them. Girls need to be shown how to pull down the stockings and undies separate, so they don’t roll over each other and become difficult to unravel. A little bit of stocking training is helpful before they start.

Kindergarten boys see others using the urinal and want to use it. The problem is no one has given them any strategies on how to use the thing!  So what kindergarten boys tend to do is pull their pants all the way to the bottom of the floor. School bathroom floors as you can imagine can get pretty grubby. There are lots of tips and tricks when using the urinal, and boys need to be taught these preferably by someone who uses them! Helloooo daddy.

Friends
Link up with other kids from your preschool that are going to the same school. Its nice to see familiar faces. But if your child doesn’t know anybody, it does not matter, they will make friends soon enough. Don’t make the mistake though of jumping on your kids too soon about who their friends are. It is unlikely they are going to have made friends the first day or even the first week. Avoid your “f” word, “friends” for at least three weeks. Focus on their designated Buddy (if your school uses the Buddy System) as their friend for those early weeks.

Ensure that you give “making friends” enough time. It can take kindergarten kids most of term one to work out where they fit in the classroom. Constant questions to your kids about who their friends are can create stress. When you do start to hear those names come home, don’t be surprised if they change fairly quickly. Kinder kids can hop from friend to friend as they work out who they best fit with.

If your child is coming home term one and saying they have no friends, reassure them, and make a few suggestions to them on how they can build peer relationships. Simple things such as asking someone what their name is, or if they can play their game.  Term two if your child is coming home and saying they have no friends, go and see the teacher. In most cases children should of made friends by term two.

Make an effort to get to know other kinder parents. Things such as afternoon teas and play dates helps your child to foster relationships, and shows them you are interested in their school life. You also have just as much of a chance at making life long relationships with other mums.

Uniforms
Let your child wear their uniform before they start school. Don’t treat it as a party outfit. Let them eat in it, sleep in it, wear it to the shops, the park and to preschool. Its going to get dirty anyway! We want kids to start school feeling comfortable in their uniform and feeling ownership of it.  Remember to label all uniform items, especially hats and jumpers which tend to easily go missing. If you have an option between a jacket and a jumper, go the jacket, its easier for kids to take off and put on again. Start to teach your kids about inside out sleeves and how to put them back the right way. This will give them far greater chance of being able to put their jacket or jumper back on themselves.

Go the velcro shoes. Velcro shoes are stress free to kindergarten kids. In a room of 20 preschoolers by the end of the year, early childhood teachers might be lucky if they have two children in their class who can do their laces. For most preschoolers laces are way too tricky. For lots of kinder kids it’s still too difficult, and even for some year one’s it’s not achievable. I recall a colleague of mine pondering on why every time she tied shoelaces they were always wet. Wee soaked shoelaces, that’s why! Shoelaces come undone, your child goes into the school toilets and there you have it. Wee soaked laces. If that in itself is not enough of a reason to go the velcro, I don’t know what is.

Extra Curricular Activities
Don’t start your child on any new experiences when first starting school. Your child will be exhausted at the end of their school day, fall asleep in the car kinda stuff, and money that you have spent on activities can very quickly be wasted. Kindergarten just in itself is enough. I wouldn’t though want to deter anyone from swimming lessons, as this is important. I recommend you do however, pick some sort of activity up come year one.

Communication with Teachers
Teachers are not as readily available as preschool & long day care staff, but they are always happy to make a time to chat with you.  Schools will usually tell you how they prefer you to communicate. Some schools provide communication folders for notes to travel to and from school, or provide you with your teachers school email address. Most teachers are happy to chat to you in the afternoon.  The mornings are a busy time for them making teachers difficult to catch. If your chat is going to take a little longer than a few minutes they may want you to make an appointment. Other ways to communicate can be to phone the school and leave a message. Don’t make that mistake of seeing your child’s teacher on playground duty and seizing this as an opportunity to discuss your child. Teachers on playground duty need to be supervising, so ring the school, send in a note, email, or see the teacher in the afternoon. Schools also have designated times throughout the year where they open appointments up to parents to discuss children’s progress.

What did you do Today?
When our kids emerge from their first day of kindergarten we are bursting at the seems to know how it was and what they did. So full of excitement we throw at them “what did youdo today?” Unfortunately most of us end up with the “nothing” response. Want more information about your child’s school day, you have to ask more detailed questions. “What library story did you have today, what did you do for sports, who did you sit next to at lunch?” The best time to ask kids about their day is afternoon tea, bath, dinner and the ultimate… bedtime!

Kindergarten Homework
Your child will be given kindergarten homework usually consisting of a small reader  and a word card. If you do nothing else with your child in regards to homework, find the time to do their reader with them.

When is the best time to do homework? Unfortunately I can’t say it’s 6.42 because everyone’s family lives are so different, but there are three things you should be thinking about when deciding on the best time.

  • Make sure they have had a break after school.
  • Make sure they are not too hungry.
  • And make sure they are not too tired.

Good luck with the last one. Kids tend to be really tired after school and the last thing they want to do is sit and do more work. For some families the best time for homework can be the next morning, especially if your school has a 9.30am start.
To help ensure homework does not become a battle ground, remember to praise and be patient. The last thing you want is for your child to start to see homework as a negative experience.

To Send or not to Send
Some kids are ready to go to school at four and a half years old, but not many. From my experience it tends to be the four and a half year old boys in general that tend to struggle. Why? Because being ready for school is little to do with your ABC’s and your 123’s. It comes back to the social maturity of the child. Kindergarten teachers are much more concerned with questions such as can they separate from you well, keep it together if they drop their lunchbox, not fall to pieces if they lose that game, and work out that problem in the playground without wacking that other kid on the head! Academics are far easier to teach than social maturity.

Talk to your early childhood teacher who will be able to assist you in making the decision. They cant make it for you, but can certainly help. If your child’s preschool teacher is not confident in advising you to send, then I tend to want to jump to my motto.  “If in doubt, keep em out”.
Sometimes we have to send four and a half year olds to school that we are unsure about. Financial restraints or family dynamics can play a big role here. If that’s you then my advice is to ensure you have great communication with your child’s kindergarten teacher, and that you are on top of that homework.

Choosing a School
The best thing you can do to work out if you are going to like the school your thinking of sending your child to, is to obviously visit the school. You can start doing this at school open days.This is when the school opens their doors to parents interested in attending. Contact the schools you are interested in to find out when their open days are. Many schools are also happy to give you some 1:1 time to meet the Principal and chat.

When you do go to the school, take note of how the kids interact with each other and how the teachers interact with the children. Look at displays in the classrooms and find out how much involvement the parent committee have in the running of the school. But the best thing you can do to give you an indication if you’re going to like the school, is to listen to the Principal. If you like the Principal, there is a good chance you will like the school. Why? Because Principals tend to set the tone of the school.

As for the public and the private debate its all about what’s important to you in a school and finding the school based on your criteria. Is class size what’s important to you, or is it religious education, location, or if they have after school care on the grounds? Many factors can come into play. But whatever school your child attends be it public or private, your child’s greatest chance for success is firstly, their level of social maturity, and secondly, the kindergarten teacher they get, and public or private you can’t choose who your child’s teacher will be. You could certainly have a good crack at it, but good luck with that.

School Expectations
It must be understood that schools are different, therefore presenting parents with slightly differing expectations.
Below you will find general information in relation to what skills schools like to see children start with.

An Interest in Print
If you have a boy don’t panic! Boys in general tend to pick up this interest a little later than the girls. In Early Childhood environments across Australia around June/July, the drawing & writing table is full of girls. Where are the boys? Mostly off doing other things. It can be for many that Christmas holiday period when you may first spot this interest. There is nothing wrong with encouraging an interest in print, just ensure you are doing this via the child’s interest and that it is meaningful to them. If your child is not interested, take a step back and try again a little down the track. If you push an interest in print onto your kids you can only chase them away. Nothing wrong with testing the water, but listen to what your kids are telling you.

Hand Preference
Your child should have developed a hand preference before they start school. This means that they should of worked out what hand they are going to consistently draw or write with. If your child is struggling with this, speak to your child’s early childhood teacher who may suggest an Occupational therapist.

Most schools would like to see that your child is beginning to write their name. I’m not talking about poor old Anastasia writing “A n a s t a s i a”, but schools want to see that even good old Anastasia has made a start. Your child should be able to identify their first name in print, not their surname, just their first.

Taking Care of Belongings
New school children have lots of bits and pieces they now need to take care of. In preschool this task was automatically easier due to the fact that every bodies hat, lunch box, drink bottles, shoes, jumpers and bags looked different and were easier to identify making them less likely to get lost. Kids also need to be able to take care of their own lunch such as being able to unwrap or undo items in their box. Kids need a teacher maintenance free lunch and lunch box with ease of opening and closing.

Sitting and Concentrating
Before your child starts school they should be able to sit in a group situation and be busy at an activity such puzzles or blocks for around 15 minutes. If you have no idea if your child can sit for that long, ask your child’s early childhood teacher. Group time is probably at least 15 minutes at their current centre, so this can be a good place to start looking. The most important thing you are wanting your child’s teacher to say, is that during that 15 minutes of group time they are sitting and listening, not necessarily joining in on the conversation, but obviously concentrating on what is going on up the front.  Early childhood teachers that report back that your child spends a lot of group time rolling around on the floor, can be an indicator they are not ready for the structure of the school environment.

Toileting
Children need to be toilet trained before they start school. Make sure though you do pop spare undies and socks in a plastic bag in case of an accident. If your child has an accident, it is usually no biggie. Teacher will simply send them to change.  If your child has the poo accident though, schools will more than likely call you. Poo accidents can mean a child is unwell and it gets too tricky in regards to Child Protection for schools to assist with wiping bottoms.

Relationships
Schools would expect that your child has learnt how to deal with conflict without getting physical. Compared to the early childhood environment the ratio of staff to children differ drastically. This is why it is important that your child has learnt skills in turn taking and negotiation.  We should be aiming for our kids to first try to fix a problem themselves rather than go straight to the teacher for every little niggle. Teach your child that if they can’t fix something themselves after having a go, to then go and see the teacher. Its great to try to teach kids to be independent, but we must remind them that at all times there is an adult at school around who can help.

Term one is very much a settling in period, with kids working out who they fit with. Try to avoid too many friend questions. It can cause kids unnecessary stress. Many kids are simply lucky enough to remember some of the names of the kids in their class let alone to have made friends with them. Most kids tend to learn their designated Buddies name rather quickly so perhaps focus on questions in relation to their buddy rather than their classmates… for at least the first few weeks anyway.

Fine Motor
In kindergarten there is lots of cutting, colouring and pasting. Good fine motor can be essential to be able to complete tasks such as worksheets on time. If your child is in an early childhood setting before they start school, then more than likely they are being provided activities to assist with fine motor. At home you too can assist your child. Have at their disposal a shoe box with items such as pencils, scissors, paper and paste.

Separation
Your child should be able to separate from you with relative ease. It is understandable that even those that are more than ready for school can become clingy on starting. This though should settle, and while there is no magic number of days that it will take for them to feel comfortable, I would certainly be looking at them being able to wave at you rather than hanging onto your leg by term 2.

The Newsletter
It is a big no no to not read this! It informs you on all school happenings and sometimes it may be the only way you find out about matters you need to know. Many schools have it on their website or will email it to you.  Put school happenings in your diary, as there will be many to remember.

Talk to your Child’s Early Childhood Teacher
While you may know more about your child, preschool teachers see your child in a large group situation, we as parents don’t tend to see this too often. School is very much a social experience with social maturity being the number one thing that will assist your child to have a happy and successful school experience. Ask your child’s Early Childhood teacher to share their thoughts with you on your child attending school the following year.

Special Needs Children
I would recommend that you start looking into schools a little earlier than with a regular child as there is usually far more that needs to be considered. Once my son turned three, I started to look into what my community had to offer. With so much to consider you will need the extra time. Your circumstance usually means more paperwork, more professionals involved and more meetings.

Now what was that MOST import thing of the evening?
You have forgotten haven’t you! And yes velcro is important but that’s not it! Don’t make school out to be a great place, just a different place. It may not live up to your child’s expectations of being “great” and it can be very easy for us to give them an impression that school is fun fun fun. Yes you should be talking about school but be factual with that you say. At school there is a bell, you sit at a desk, you make lines, there is a library”. To build up an excitement about school. Pull in on the child’s interest  “you like computers, guess what, at school they have computers”.

Danielle Mantakoul
Copyright 2007
www.mummyweekly.com.au

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  1. Christine says:

    Hi Danielle,
    My husband and I attended your workshop last night at North Ryde Community Preschool. We learnt so much, laughed and now feel more confident that we can get our son ready for school. We were unable to stay right to the end and ask questions as Grandma couldn’t get our son to sleep. Our son has childhood apraxia of speech, was globally developmentally delayed but through 3 years of speech therapy and OT has caught up with his peers except in speech. I remember you saying you help with children’s behaviours and know a lot about special needs children. Do you do a workshop on how to get these children ready for mainstream? Our son is now too advanced for special unit classes but his language will be a struggle for him in mainstream.

    Thanks

    Christine

    • Danielle Mantakoul says:

      Thank you for your kind words Christine!Yes one of my sons is special needs so was thrown into the deep end with schools and special needs myself.

      If he is too advanced for a special unit this doesn’t mean he wont be able to receive help in a regular class and while it may not be very much, for my son is has made a difference to his school life as they place the assistant with him at the times where he needs to concentrate the most such as maths.

      The best thing you can do is to talk to the school about support and to do this asap especially if he is to attend next year. Get that conversation going now with them so they can prepare as it all takes time… it seems everything regarding special needs kids takes more time 🙂 The school will want to see lots of documentation on your child so be prepared for that. They will certainly want to know more about his communication skills to help access if he will be able to cope in a regular class.

      Good luck with it all Christine!
      Danielle

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