Learning is a journey that begins before birth and continues throughout life. As teachers and educators, we have a responsibility in supporting your children and the adults that they will become on this lifelong learning journey.
Moving on to school and experiencing a new environment is the next stage of your child’s learning journey following their time here at preschool. It is a time of change and adaptation for them, your families/whānau and their teachers. This time of change is commonly referred to as a transition and it involves forming new relationships, roles, and responsibilities. It is not something that happens immediately, it is a process that involves preparing for the move to a new environment right through until when your child and family/whānau are established members of the new environment/school and have begun to develop a sense of belonging and feel comfortable within the new environment.
Everyone responds to change in different ways. Your child may be excited and looking forward to it, or they may experience anxiety, and this is OK. Young children can look forward to going to school and they can have some expectations that it will be different, but they often do not always anticipate quite how different the routines, customs and regular events may be. It is important to remember that children do not adapt to, and cope with change in isolation, it is with the support of parents, whānau, families, siblings, peers, teachers and specialist support services (if they are already involved in your child’s learning and development) in the child's world who all play a crucial role in facilitating this process of change for your child. By working together, we can help to prepare them the best that we can by supporting and scaffolding both your child and family/whānau as you navigate your way through this part of their learning journey.
To assist the transition to go smoother it is important to start the enrolment process early. Primary schools suggest the earlier you enrol your children the better prepared we can all be. An ideal time for schools to receive your child’s enrolment information is approximately between the time your child turns 4 years old and 4years 6 months, although they still will not be eligible to start school until their 5th birthday. Children can start school anytime between the ages of 5 and 6 years old. However, once they turn 6 they legally must be enrolled and attend a school every day.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a school and enrolling your child:
If you have more than one school in your local community check these out and see that they meet the needs of your child. Most schools hold open days for parents to visit, to go along and check out the environment, meet the new entrant teacher and principal and ask any questions you might have, such as the school size, class size, their enrolment process etc. These can usually be found on the school website, Facebook page or you can ask your Early Childhood Education (ECE) teachers as they often have, or can get this information with you as they network with the local schools.
Primary schools are reviewed regularly by the Education Review Office (ERO) and these reports are open to the public to read. The reports look at the school's curriculum, any special characteristics it may have, its performance and it includes demographic information. These can be located on the ERO website simply by typing in the school name in the search bar.
Many schools in New Zealand have zones, you need to live in the schools zone for your child to be able to enrol and be guaranteed a place at the school. However, you can apply for your child to go to a school that is outside of your zone but it is possible that they may not be accepted due to limited spaces and criteria for out of zone placements. If a school does not have a zone then any child can apply to attend. To find out if you live in a schools zone you can go to the website Education Counts type in your home address, or the name of the school, and click on the blue search button. Then you can click on the name of the school in the list that appears on the left-hand side, click ‘show/hide enrolment zone’. The yellow shaded area shows the school zones. If you live inside the yellow shaded area that is the schools you are also in the zone for.
Now that you have considered all of these things you can begin preparing your child and equipping them with foundational skills in preparation for their upcoming transition to school. The development of school readiness skills allows school teachers to focus on expanding your child’s skills in specific areas. With basic foundational skills already established upon beginning school your child could find themselves quickly catching up compared to their peers who are already equipped with these skills. Children who begin school with the foundational skills already established find the transition process much easier and show advancement faster towards these more specific focus areas.
These foundational skills do not necessarily mean for your child to be able to read, write, recognise words and numbers etc but more importantly to be able to manage themselves, their independence, their own wellbeing and having a good solid basis of oral language.
Oral language is one of the foundations of early literacy, reading and writing skills. Having skills in listening, talking, observing, drawing and questioning are all important to developing skills in reading and writing. Oral language is needed to be able to negotiate social situations and to connect with peers, teachers and whānau, to create meaning of the world around them, and to be active participants in the curriculum, and in society. Having a solid foundation in oral language will help children become successful readers and strong communicators as well as build their confidence and overall sense of well-being.
However, recent research suggests that children's oral language and literacy foundation skills have declined over the past several years – interesting isn’t it? There is an expectation that this will likely decrease further with the current pandemic and practices of wearing masks to reduce the spread of illness and infection. This is because the masks cover our faces, and mouths and children cannot hear spoken sounds correctly or see the way our mouths, teeth and tongues are positioned to produce sounds and words.
To support the development of your child’s oral language it is important to read with your children as early and as often as possible. Reading together and storytelling are valuable interactions for fostering children's oral language, social and emotional development, self-concept, and sense of belonging. The benefits of reading books is that it exposes children to words and phrasing that they may not normally hear or use in everyday talk and interactions. Using the language learned from book reading through listening and taking conversational turns will assist them in applying it to social conversations, to be able to speak differently when they are conversing with people who are older, younger or who have more or less knowledge than they currently do.
It also assists them to develop the skills for reading and writing these include concepts about the print and books, how a book works, that it conveys a story, it has a cover page, title, page numbers and is read from front to back. Story comprehension, storytelling, phonological awareness skills including identifying and manipulating units of oral language, such as in rhyming, letter sound identification, and breaking words into syllables are all skills they can develop. Children need to hear rich language and have opportunities to connect it to real world experiences in order to first understand it and then to speak it.
In order for a new entrant teacher to be able to expand on your child’s foundational skills it is important for them to be able to take care of themselves and their belongings and to listen to and follow instructions.
There are many factors involved with following instructions for example, hearing, understanding, language, attention, and working memory. How many instructions should your child be able to follow? Children aged 3-5 years should be able to follow 3-step instructions (eg, “Go to your room and get your shoes and bag please”). As a general rule of thumb, sticking with no more than 2-3 step instructions for your child can help to decrease a lot of stress for everyone involved
Some tips for you to keep in mind when giving your child instructions:
Be sure to gain their attention first, if you give them instruction from across the room or while they're busy doing something else, the instructions may not be followed accurately, or not at all.
Be clear and concise- the fewer words the better.
Have them repeat the steps to ensure that they have understood what they need to do.
Use a natural order in your language, eg “first get your bag, then come outside”, rather than “come outside once you've got your bag”.
Don't expect them to act straight away- give them time to process what has been said.
Break it down into one step at a time if they are having trouble. Ensure they know it is ok to ask for instructions to be repeated.
Use visual cues such as pictures and gestures.
Most importantly, have fun and make it a game while practicing these skills, for example “can you hop, jump and then give me a high 5?”
I am sure that you have already noticed by now that young children love to be able to do things for themselves, even when this can often make life a little bit harder for you as parents. I understand myself as a parent that life is busy and it is often faster, and less messy to do these things for our children, it can be hard to watch as your child try these skills as the may become frustrated or disappointed, however if you give them the time, support and encouragement to figure these things out they will soon be able to do them confidently and competently by themselves.
Some important independent skills that you can help support and encourage your child to develop for a smoother transition to school include being able to dress and undress themselves, putting on and taking off shoes, independently toileting and washing hands, carrying their own bag, caring for their own belongings, opening food packaging and to be able recognise and ask for things they need. Learning to follow routines is a good way for your child to increase their independence, for example carrying their bag into preschool, hanging it up, unpacking their lunch and drink bottle and putting them in the desired location. Or routines at home like putting their plate on the bench after eating, rubbish in the rubbish bin, putting their pyjamas on and brushing their teeth. You can build your child’s confidence by giving them choices, and involving them in decisions like what they would like to wear for the day, how they would like their hair, what shoes, if they would like marmite or honey sandwiches or an apple or orange in their lunch. This builds trust and shows them that you believe they are capable of completing these tasks. These moments also provide you and your child with the opportunity to converse about the activity at hand to reach the desired goal, something for them to get excited about.
Another area of development that is an important one for children as they prepare to transition to school is their muscle development and the ability to gain confidence, co-ordination and control of their bodies. Did you know that children’s growing physical skills could support their emerging handwriting skills? Hand writing is something that your child will soon be doing as a regular part of their schooling day. To find out more about how you can support your child’s gross and fine motor development skills to support their emerging handwriting skills check out a recent blog post that further explores this, it's called How can children's developing physical skills support emerging handwriting?
So, as you can see preparing yourself and your child to transition to school is not something that happens overnight. Your child’s learning and development has a natural pathway from birth that unfolds accordingly in the lead up to this transition to prepare and equip them with the right skills and knowledge for this part of their learning journey. It involves a lot of thought and preparation in making decisions that are best for you all. If you have any further questions or you would like to discuss some ideas and strategies of how you can best support your child at home with some of these skills, please feel free to approach one of the wonderful Tuhura teaching team who would be most happy to help you.