1 December 2019

Creating happy memories

Group of children and kindergarten teacher reading a fairytale book in the day-care center
Picture of Melanie Dooner

Melanie Dooner

Melanie has worked as a teacher in Catholic secondary schools and now works as a writer and editor

With only two months to go until my youngest son starts Kindergarten, my thoughts have turned to how best to spend our remaining non-preschool days together, given that I’m in the privileged position of being at home on the days he isn’t at preschool.

There’s the question of how to prepare him so he’s ready for school mentally, socially, cognitively, and emotionally, but there’s the bigger question of how do I want him (and I) to remember his final days at home before school starts.

Regardless of whether preparing my son for “big school” happens on a weekday or a weekend when family members are more available, the fact remains this time of transition is an important part in the process of my son beginning to become more independent, while learning that the support of his family will always be there.

One of my concerns at this stage is whether he will be completely ready to face those first few days and weeks of Kindergarten and what I can do to help. One NSW Education body stresses that there are a wide variety of factors that influence the transition of a child from the home and early childhood education settings, to school.

The factors that aid a successful transition “include a positive home learning environment; attendance at high-quality early childhood education and care, particularly preschool programs; and collaboration between early childhood services, schools and families.”[1]

Presuming my child has had access to a high-quality preschool setting (which he has) and that they collaborate with our family and his future school (which they do), and realising that even if they didn’t, with two months to go, there is very little that can be done about that now; that leaves us with continuing to ensure that we create and nurture a positive home learning environment.

So, do I think it’s as simple as making sure we drill our son on his ABCs and ensure that he knows how to count to 20? Or 50? That is part of the larger picture of course, but I’m personally less interested in knowledge-based preparation and more interested in practical skills, healthy habits and happy memories.

A national survey carried out in the United States stated that “children being physically healthy, rested and well-nourished; being able to communicate needs, wants and thoughts; and being enthusiastic and curious in approaching new activities were seen as the most essential qualities for children to be ready for kindergarten.” [2]

Looking at this list makes me laugh. If communication of wants, needs and thoughts are a test of readiness, my delightfully stubborn five-year old demonstrated his readiness in this area as soon as he could walk, talk and refuse flatly to pick up his toys or be quiet in church, simply on the grounds that “I DON’T WANT TO”!!!

A friend, who also happens to be an experienced leader and teacher in a primary school, often talks about the need for parents to teach their children to hear the word “no,” and strongly believes that the greatest help parents can give their child to prepare them to learn to read is simply to read to them regularly. The importance placed on reading in school prompted me last year to enrol both of my children in the Summer Reading Club run through participating council libraries across Australia. They had a heap of fun and were motivated to read and be read to throughout the long days and weeks over summer. I plan to do this with them each year.

Apart from reading to my son, I want to make sure we spend some quality time together each week making and recording happy memories. As I did with my eldest in the final months before he went to school, I hope to go on an outing with him once during the week (because I can) – although it’s a bit harder this time around as he goes to preschool three days a week and we’re confined by school drop off and pick up. Whether it’s a drive, a park visit, seeing a special flower festival, or going for a swim, this special time is something we both look forward to.

For our family, the dinner table and eating dinner together is crucial. The table is where both my boys are not only learning to eat properly, but we chat about our day, tell stories, share “mum and dad only” jokes and play a significant number of verbal games, such as eye spy, What am I? and I’m thinking of a colour. The list goes on, and mum and dad’s favourite one in the middle of a stressful week is always, “Who can be quiet the longest?”

I could stress about what I think will best prepare my child for school is right or not. But armed with the intention to do the best I can for my son as he starts school next year, my love for my family and my desire to create lasting memories and a home where learning is something that we all – both children and parents – do all the time, I think we will do okay and he will be as ready as possible for school next year.

And the rest I leave to God!

The book, Building Positive Relationships, is available from Majellan Media for $27.95. See Majellan Bookshop on page 48.

Sharon, the director of my son’s community-based preschool and a woman highly committed to supporting the children and their families in the early years of raising their children, shares her top tips for families preparing their children to transition to “big school”:

*  Encourage self-help skills – toileting, dressing and undressing, eating from a lunchbox, unwrapping food and opening a water bottle.

*  Play games with your children while driving – eye spy, find a “green” car, look for a number plate with the number “5”.

Phonics and pre-literacy skills – encourage sounding out the letters and then linking them to a word e.g. C C Cat,  S S Snake, or F F fish.

Following instructions – Encourage your child to follow a two or three part instruction independently e.g. wash your hands, dry them, and then come and sit at the table for dinner.

* Talk to your child about school – be positive and explain what will happen there.

* If possible, take them to the school – take advantage of orientation visits, but you don’t need to wait for them.

* Encourage them to recognise their name and also write it if possible – the Kindergarten teachers are busy and if their name is not on their work it may be misplaced.

* For the parents – it may be a daunting to be leaving their children – try and meet other parents during the orientation visits, if possible, and catch up for a coffee and a chat after dropping the children at school.

[1] NSW Government Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, The Transition to School, p22.

[2] The National Center for Education Statistics, 1993.

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