Lucy Patrick is a Primary School Headteacher and co–owner of the new North Kirklees Mumbler (which covers the area between Leeds and Bradford). She has written some short articles about how you can support your child if they are starting school this week…….
1) Independence, independence, independence.
Children are so able. They have skills and abilities that amaze us on a daily basis. Their resourcefulness and creativity far exceeds that of adults and their ability to problem solve is simply incredible.
So why, despite all of this, can the majority of children not put on their own shoes and coats by the time they begin school?
My opinion? Because we don’t let them. We don’t expect them to, and, dare I say it, we don’t realise that they can.
I was in the library recently leading a craft session with some mask making. My instinct as a teacher is always to look for the learning taking place in any activity, so, as usual I stood back and observed for a short while. Many of the children were happily scribbling and cutting out their masks to various degrees of accuracy. Alternately, one child had a beautifully made mask, cut out perfectly and ready on a stick for her to wear as she left the library; her mum had done the lot. That little girl had been given no chance to practice holding scissors, choose colours or use some fine motor movements by carefully colouring inside the lines; a wasted opportunity. I hope that I can convince you here that one of the best ways you can prepare your child for school is actually by doing less for them.
For children starting school, one of the key factors in readiness is their level of independence. If you bring up your child to make choices and think critically this will have hugely positive impact on their learning from a young age. They will be able to access the school learning environment well, choose appropriate resources and overcome barriers without the need for adult intervention.
Slow down. Find time to;
- Begin a before bedtime routine of packing a bag (with, not for your child) for the next day. Doing this now forms a habit which will reap reward when school starts, making mornings less pressured. Encourage your child to make decisions about what should be added by talking about where you will be going, what kind of weather is expected etc. It won’t be long before they will be doing this with minimum intervention.
- Guide them to choose their clothes for the next day and lay them out on the floor, ready for them to attempt to put on in the morning. Let them dress as much as they can instead of dressing them yourself. It is entirely possible for a four year old to completely dress themselves if they have done from a young age.
- Insist that they help tidy away after playing with their toys. There is much valuable learning to be had in terms of sorting, plus you are teaching them to look after and respect their environment. A significant amount of time is spent on establishing routines in a Reception Class at the beginning of the academic year and tidying up is a key part of this.
- Ask them to set the table and help clear away at mealtimes. Let them pour their own drink.
- Give them thinking time after you have asked them a question. This will help develop them as critical thinkers. Answering your own question before giving them chance to will not. It’s surprising how many people seem to talk on behalf of their children.
Making just a few extra minutes every day to support your child in one of these ways will almost certainly have positive impact in a short space of time and increase their level of independence, and independent children make strong learners. Fact.
2) Mind Your Language
According to a report published by Save the Children, the number of words your child knows by the age of five is a key indicator of their reading success at age eleven, and the impact of children’s early language development can extend far into adulthood. A child with lower language skills at the age of five is much less likely to be a strong reader at the age of 11, than a five-year-old with strong vocabulary. Not only this, but their outcomes in mathematics are influenced too. Many other studies have come up with similar findings.
Needless to say, language is a biggy when it comes to readiness to learn.
One of the indicators of school readiness is often whether a child can speak in full sentences, pronouncing the majority of (age appropriate) words correctly and being able to offer appropriate responses when asked a question or as part of a conversation.
Speaking and listening skills are critical when it comes to accessing learning and helping children join in with the daily routines of the classroom. Therefore a lot of thought is given to communication and language during the planning of a Reception classroom. Activities such as role play, performance and reading; tables laid out in such a way as to encourage conversation between children; the use of ‘talking partners’ and circle times to develop speaking skills are just some of the ways in which schools maximise opportunities for their children to extend their vocabulary.
Ways to support your child with language development
Language development begins in the womb with the recognition of mum’s voice and continues each and every waking minute as they take in sounds that slowly form their vocabulary bank. Therefore, being exposed to constant flow of clear and accurate conversation and language from birth and throughout early childhood is really important. As parents, we’re best placed to support the appropriate development of children’s language and to be mindful of the words and phrases they hear.
If you are interested in supporting your child’s developing language you could do this by;
Exposing them to high quality language every day.
Whatever age your child is, whatever their first language and whatever their chosen method of communication, commit to talking and listening to them properly. Look them in the eye when you speak with them, focusing entirely on what they are saying as much as is possible. Value their comments and questions which in turn will give them confidence to speak in longer and more complex sentences. Allow processing time for children to comprehend and choose how to answer you and try not to answer on their behalf.
Turning off your phone.
Put social media away when the children are around and make them your priority. Talk to them, question them, respond to them and ask open questions of them. Limit TV time and be picky about the programmes you allow your children to watch at a young age. Not all children’s TV makes for positive language acquisition. Choose books with continuously new characters and vocabulary when you read the bedtime story (please, please read them a bedtime story every day) and discuss the book as you go through each page. You’ll be amazed how much vocabulary children remember and reuse themselves (this of course includes any words you’d rather they weren’t sharing that they’ve picked up from home!)
Reflecting on your own use of language with your child.
Do you talk to them as an equal, using full sentences and a steady, adult voice that shows respect to them as competent learners? There is a danger in talking to babies like, well, babies. Do children not deserve to know that a train is called a train and not a ‘choo choo?’ Sometimes there seems little point in teaching the incorrect word for something and then having to retract it later on.
Considering when the best times of the day are for extended conversations.
Children are tired at the end of a school day yet we all seem to greet them at pick up time with the inevitable ‘what have you done today?’ question. We shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t always want to relive every moment of their school day straight away. Instead, consider giving your little one some time to process the day and revisit the conversation later over tea time. Play a game called ‘what have you enjoyed today,’ taking turns to say one thing about your day during your meal. Games like this teach children to listen and take interest in other’s comments as well as to share an opinion about something.
Correcting misconceptions without making a big deal of them.
Simply repeat back the word correctly without pointing out the mistake. The correct word will soon, subconsciously, sink in. For example
- ‘Mummy I eated all my tea’
- ‘Yes you ate all your tea, well done’
It doesn’t matter whether you and child communicate through talk, sign or gesture, the same advice applies. Talk and listen to each other as much as you possibly can. It will pay be rewarded in terms of confidence in the classroom and, ultimately academic achievement at a later stage.
Good luck to all of the new school starters next week!