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Getting kids school ready in the time of COVID

By paediatric Occupational Therapist Debbie Isaac, a Melbourne-based practitioner with many years experience with young children in the preschool and school years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit our 2020 plans for six.

Children starting primary school next year and their parents are no exception, with some parents concerned that their child may not be ready for school, with disruptions to preschool programs this year.

Yes, preschool plays an important part in the transition to school. But parents do too – as our children’s first (and in fact, forever, teachers). Teaching our kids to communicate, play, get dressed and eat independently as we ordinarily do puts children well on the way to being school ready.

In this post I identify three important areas that parents can focus on to get their child ready for school, supplementing whatever preschool experience they have had and typical home-based preparation. Some practical examples and ideas are also included.

But first a word on preschool…

Preschool

Preschool is exactly what it sounds like – preparation for school.

Accordingly, parents need not be concerned to have their child learning things in their preschool year that they will be learning at school. For example, learning how to write letters. Children do not need to learn how to write letters before school. While some children are keen to know the letters of their name (and I have no objection to this), engagement in drawing and being able to draw a variety of scenes and imaginings is more relevant preparation for school.

Drawing to promote school readiness

Drawing is a leading activity in school preparation, as the expressive tool that comes before writing, and an eye-hand task involving imagination. It does not always come naturally to children, but it is worth working on.

COVID school readiness blog - Rachel drawing

An important starting point is to find a drawing tool that suits the child’s hand. Short stubby or round crayons or pencils that fit neatly into a little hand work well. Comfortable grasp means that the child is more likely to produce a controlled mark on a piece of paper.

Some children might need help starting a drawing. In my clinical practice, I have found that an adult joining in can encourage engagement. Try starting them off by drawing something that interests them and then encouraging them to finish – add the wheels on a car or a tail, eyes, mane and legs on a horse.

Another tip is to mix up drawing tools and materials – rotate using coloured paper, paint sticks, pastels. New materials can inspire new ideas – blue paper may lead to an underwater scene, black to the night sky.

covid school readiness blog - Silas image

Fine motor and gross motor activities to promote school readiness

So many day-to-day activities count towards school readiness. If you are playing with playdough, making bikkies and building Lego at home, you’re well on the way to doing what is needed in this area.

Activities using two hands are important to encourage finger dexterity, strengthen arms and promote language and imagination. Try also sand play, planting blubs and seedlings, ripping paper for a collage and threading beads.

Cutting with scissors is an everyday two-handed activity that is important for school. Building scissor skills can take place in a practical way – in opening food packets and cutting out pictures in catalogues. The goal is for the child to develop consistency with a scissors hand and a helping hand. Look for scissors designed especially for children.

COVID school readines blog - Construction by Evie

A common concern of some parents of preschoolers is that their child does not have an established hand preference. This is a variance in maturation and often runs in families. From observation, the 6-9 months before school are a time of rapid physical and emotional growth and skill acquisition, with resolution of hand preference being one aspect.

Exposing children to a wide range of physical experiences encourages strength, confidence, balance and body awareness. Important skills include:

  • learning to catch or kick a bouncing ball (basketball size). It is easier to learn to kick a ball than to catch one, and round balls are easier than Aussie Rules footballs. Kick at a target or knock down some skittles. Try novel games like cricket with a tennis racquet and a beach ball.
  • climbing.
  • galloping and skipping (in that order). Try skipping together – hold your child’s hand and move together in slow motion – step, hop, step, hop.

Knowledge of right and left can be reinforced with these activities. Show the child they can make an “L” with the left thumb and forefinger as a guide.

Self-care tasks to promote school readiness

 Competence in everyday tasks develops the child’s confidence that they can look after themselves. School relevant tasks to practice at home include:

  • getting a drink of water from the tap, preparing a bowl of cereal and buttering toast.
  • carrying a backpack on outings with a drink and snack they can open themselves.
  • getting to the toilet in time.
  • dressing skills – at school the key tasks are getting a jumper on and off, managing clothes when toileting and taking shoes and socks on and off – socks without a heel are a big help.

Wrap up

Children recognise that starting school is a step up from being at home, with a sense of pride in this achievement. As parents, it is our achievement also.  Despite interruptions to the preschool year, what happens at home sets the foundations for learning and is not to be underestimated.

Yes: your child can do it!

Yes: you can too!

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