By paediatric Occupational Therapist Debbie Isaac, a Melbourne-based practitioner with many years experience with young children in the preschool and school years.
A year ago I wrote a piece about getting your child ready for school in the midst of lockdown. Here we are again. Thankfully, up until the end of August, kindy kids in Victoria were able to keep attending preschool, but now there is a disruption. What I wrote last year still applies, but I wanted to make some additions – I’m very aware of our own and the general community’s fatigue and emotional strain, after nearly 18 months on the COVID roundabout.
Many parents are at home now with the extra task of providing activities for their pre-schoolers, on top of looking after a needy baby, toddler or school age students with tasks to complete, not to mention salaried work. While offerings from preschool or other providers may include story time, singing and a craft activity, the days are long and exhausting, with constant divided attention.
Getting started each day can be big hurdle. Each day can feel like Groundhog Day.
Here are a few tips to help manage:
- work out a plan for the day: Map out the activities for the day around the expected routines of getting dressed, lunch, bath time, dinner and bed time. Write it up on a piece of paper and stick it on the fridge. Or use a white board if handy.
- build exercise into your plan: Exercise is central to managing better in this current situation of uncertainty. There is something about the magic of being outdoors that stimulates humans to look outwards. Exercise stimulates the feel good hormones and helps release tension. Getting outside twice a day can mimic the exercise patterns of preschool and school with morning and lunch play. Encourage your children to collect items of interest – leaves, pebbles, bark, feathers. Look for nests, opening flowers, different colours. Identify the many routes to walk from your home. They can be the same – children can find the familiarity a comfort.
- encourage drawing outside with chalk: Drawing with chalk extends outside play time. Drawing has many benefits for preschool children (see below for more). I’ve observed chalk drawing as a lead into imaginary play – pirates, airports, railways and cars on journeys. There shouldn’t be too much off limits either – see pavements and house exteriors as the child’s expansive canvas!
- introduce “Own Play Time”: We all need to learn how to be on our own and entertain ourselves. We need our kids to learn this, to also give us some head space. This does not always come easily but is an essential life skill for all children, in developing a sense of self containment, feeling that they can be “OK” on their own. Helping children to identify what they are going to do in Own Play Time is key. Start slow, perhaps two minutes, as labelled in the daily plan, and extend over the week(s). Praise the child for however long they manage.
- get the kids involved: Encourage them to help prepare their own food, pour drinks, set up cereal and milk, butter bread for a sandwich or toast. There is a great sense of pride in managing these tasks, along with other independence skills. See below for more about self care to promote school readiness.
With children at home and without the everyday routines of kindergarten and school, this reinforces our role as our children’s key teachers, on top of Family CEO/Chairperson roles. It’s a huge strain, but we need to remember that we can’t do it all. There will always be something that we haven’t done. What is key is that we accept that and be kind to ourselves. There is no such thing as the perfect parent, just good enough.
And, as one chalk artist put it:
And now for last year’s blog!
Getting kids school ready in the time of COVID
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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!