My younger child will be starting primary school soon and like every other parent, I worry if she will be able to adapt to the rigours of school academically and socially. If you are like me, you may be wondering how you can prepare your child for smooth transition to primary 1.
Here are some tips to consider:
1. Making Friends
One of the largest motivator of school is having friends. Imagine if your child has good friends in school, you may have less issues getting them out of bed everyday. But before we reach that point, they need to first be comfortable with speaking to others. We can create opportunities for them to make new friends by bringing them to new settings like different playgrounds in your neighbourhood and even the library where they can mingle with others. It is always interesting for us parents to stand in the shadows and observe how they approach others to play with.
2. Dealing with money
I confess. I am one of those parents who went to the school canteen to scout out the prices of meals (while buying school textbooks pre-covid). This gave me a good idea of how much pocket money to give my first child. In our current situation, we may not be able to do so anymore but it is always important for our children to understand the value of money. When we go out together, we can send our children to aisles or shops to find out the prices of drinks, snacks, stationery etc (which they like) before sending them off to buy them. The process of dealing with money by giving and receiving change helps them understand the value of money better.
(I have to also say that I have a back-up plan for my youngest when she goes to p1 – inspired by my first child. I’ll give her a coin pouch and pray hard that she can buy food on her own and if all else fails, she will just have to show all her coins in her pouch to the kind vendors/ aunties/ uncles.)
3. Telling time
I do not know why but my younger child has a very warped sense of time. If your child is fine, please go ahead and skip this section because I did not have an issue with my first child. My suggestion is to give our children a watch and begin by asking for the time periodically. When they get a hang of it, we can set mini-task within fixed time frames (e.g. You have half an hour to play minecraft. Please return the ipad to me at 4.30 pm.)
4. Being responsible for their personal items
I once taught in a primary school before and you wouldn’t believe the number of times a child told me that they lost something. I think that’s the reason why “lost and found” corners were created. Parents with school-going children can probably attest to the number of times their kids have returned home without their water bottle, snack box and even their pencil case. In our current situation, we also need to ensure that they return home safely with their masks on (and not lose them during meal times).
It is helpful for parents not only to label their children’s belongings but to instill a sense of responsibility and have some sort of a system to ensure that they will check their belongings. I believe this starts with the simplest action of packing their own school bags (with a checklist) so that they know what they have placed in their bags and are able to retrieve them and put them back even at pre-school/ kindergarten. When I drop my children off at playdates or at their grandparents’, I have a mantra and a set of questions I like to ask them:
“When you take off your mask in their home, where do you put it?”
“In my bag.”
“After you drink from your water bottle, where do you place it?”
“In my bag.”
“Before I pick you up again, what do you need to do?”
“Check that I have everything in my bag.”
You get the point. It is easy for them to leave them things around especially when they are scattered all around. The idea is to get them to have a focal point so say they go to the basketball court during recess. They should be able to find some obvious landmark (e.g. next to pole) to place their water bottles so they know where to find them again. Again, when all else fails, they should at least KNOW that their items are missing and go to the lost and found section on their own (and not wait till their mum lambasts them for missing items when they get home).
5. Having self-control
What does this mean in primary school? It means knowing when to speak and when not to. It means knowing when to wait for others and how to deal with boredom. The thing about primary school is that it is no longer all about you. In pre-school, the class sizes are usually small and this goes up drastically when they go to Primary 1. The teacher has to take care of the needs of 30 students in a P1/P2 class and this goes up to 40 in P3 – P6 (bless their souls). In my time as a primary school teacher, I have had to learn how to use “the stare” to get students to keep quiet and to maintain discipline so that learning could take place with my voice still intake. So what can you do to help your child navigate the complexities of a classroom?
a. Speaking up and Turn-taking
Some children have very different personalities. Some may love observing and speaking only when called upon while others may love answering questions and
interrupting collaborating with others. Though I find it highly adorable, I recognise that students learn in a social setting and there are times in which one must learn to wait. Depending on your child’s personality, you may have to ask different types of questions to encourage them to reflect on their learning behaviours (e.g. put up your hand before speaking; count to 5 while waiting for others to speak up) and discuss strategies on what to do while waiting (e.g. read a book, doodle)
b. Dealing with not so nice classmates
Self-control doesn’t only extend to learning behaviours but also social behaviours. When they first step into school, some kids also tend to be more sensitive and are learning to deal with the emotions. When something bad happens, do they burst out in tears immediately? Do they retaliate by fighting back? As we observe our children, it’s also helpful to discuss strategies on what they can do to stay in control.
When my first child went to primary school, he would share happy and sad stories with me. There were times when he was upset and would cry in school and we talked about how he could calm himself down when that happened (i.e. count to 20 so his breathing would improve). He would share about kind classmates as well as nasty ones (and I had to control the tiger in me because I know that this was his battle to fight) so we discussed ways to deal with them. With my youngest, I wonder what her journey would be like in primary school and we often talk about her friends and things that happen in school. I encourage you to start your conversations with your children early too by talking to them about their friends in preschool while encouraging and discouraging certain behaviours. Ultimately, we all want our children to have awareness and control over their thoughts and actions.
In a nutshell, preparing for primary school isn’t all about the academics but also about the social and soft skills needed to thrive in the environment. If you would like to read more about our take on the academics, look out for the next article.