I must admit, I didn’t prepare much at all when our first son started school. I wanted to be that laid-back parent, who let my child be a child and let nature take its course. It may have had something to do with the fact that I had a 1- and 3- year old to focus my energy on as well!
Well, with B2 about to start school, this time ‘round, I’ve done a bit more to prepare my child, perhaps because of all the reading I’ve done around school readiness, and the conversations I’ve had with parents, as a therapist.
Now I know I can still be that laid-back parent (who isn’t, with their middle child?!). But it’s also good to recognise how the research evidence intersects with our individual child’s strengths and needs, so that we can support them in the right areas. Some kids really do need a bit of extra help in getting ready for school. So, what can we be doing?
#1: Provide a language-rich environment
Research shows that the knowledge of words and what they mean, the ability to use lots of words in sentences – all of these “language” skills are a foundation for learning to read and write. So, talk often with your child about what he’s doing or looking at, what you’re doing, what you’re going to do, etc, etc. Of course it’s not just about quantity of talk, but also QUALITY of talk. Take opportunities to teach your child about new words and what they mean.
#2: Read books everyday
Fostering a love of books is one of the best gifts we can give our children. Take opportunities to read together. Make it a bonding time by sitting close or having your child on your lap. Visit your local library, to increase your repertoire of books and so keep things interesting for your child. Let him choose the books he wants. Yet, don’t be afraid to read the same books over and over, as repetition can really help them learn.
When you read, check in on your child’s understanding by asking questions. At the end of the book, ask your child about who was in the story and what happened.
Don’t be afraid to change the words or story, or to add in questions or comments.
Since kids copy what they see, allow your child to see you reading books yourself! Where appropriate you can even talk to him about what you read. Just in case you were wondering, I think there’s value in modelling the reading of REAL books, not just what is read on the internet or kindle. Kids don’t need encouragement to look at screens!
#3: Show your child printed words
There are printed words everywhere in our environment – road signs, shop signs, labels on food packaging, labels on toys… Talk about what the words say. B2 is obsessed with road signs at the moment!
Recognising their name is an important skill. This often comes easily to children who have name labels on lots of their personal items, such as drink bottles, lunch boxes and hats.
When reading books, show your child what is a letter and word, by pointing to individual letters and words. You can point to the words as you read them. I also like to point to and read on the front cover and/or title page the title of the book and the author/illustrator names.
#4: Sing and read rhymes
Awareness of rhymes is a basic, pre-literacy skill. Kids also love them! Read rhyming books (eg. most Dr Seuss books) and sing songs (most have rhymes). Talk about which words rhyme and see if your child can think of any other words that rhyme. We sometimes play games in the car where we say words that rhyme with our names.
#5: Introduce the alphabet
If your child has attended preschool, chances are, he’s already been introduced to the alphabet. If he hasn’t, it wouldn’t hurt for you to introduce him to it, even if you don’t teach all of it to him.
Consider reading (letter recognition) versus hearing/speaking (knowing the letter names). Being able to sing the Alphabet Song doesn’t mean a child can recognise the letter “a”.
B2 evidently learnt the Alphabet Song at preschool (since I didn’t teach it to him, but he seems to know it!). I bought some adhesive letters to stick on our wall, so we could talk about the letters. And recently, he chose a toy tape measure from the op-shop – it has the alphabet letters on it, so we’ve pointed to each letter as we’ve sung the Song, so that he can start to learn the letter names. The other thing we’ve done is used a laminated sheet with the letters, which allows him to trace over the letters. This is almost too formal instruction for my liking (he’s 5 years old, after all!), but it came home with B1 in Kindy, and B2 likes to do homework just like his big brother.
#6: Play sound games
Apart from rhyme (as above), there are a number of other aspects of sound awareness that help with early reading. To help with identifying the first sounds in words, you can play “I Spy”. Manipulate sounds in words by changing a sound. Here’s one game that usually ends in great fits of laughter in our house: take a favourite song (eg. happy birthday) and sing it so that each word of the song starts with a chosen sound. So, for example, you get “Bappy Birthday Boo Boo.” The next idea from our household is thanks to Papa (grandpa), who is a captivating story-teller. He has taken each family member’s name and swapped the first sound/letter with “sl”. This makes for some pretty amusing names, but it is teaching our kids how to manipulate sounds in words, a very valuable pre-literacy skill. The final skill that’s worth mentioning is awareness of syllables (parts of words) such as “bu-bbles”, “man-da-rin” and “gla-sses”. You can work on this by clapping (or drumming) once for each syllable at the same time as you say the word slowly, dividing it up into its syllables.
#7: Get help if required
If your child has communication problems – problems with speaking sounds clearly, or understanding others or using words and sentences to express himself – the worst thing we can do is to assume that “she’ll be right”. It is best to address these problems before school starts. If in doubt, talk to your child’s preschool teacher, or look at some communication milestones. And don’t be afraid to have a chat with a Speech Pathologist about your concerns or questions. We’re here to help!