Today, the Master of Mischief started school. He left the house this morning bursting with excitement. With his book bag and lunch box in hand, he walked into the school playground no trouble at all. I ugly cried in the car for a solid 5 minutes afterwards. This is the last first day of school we will ever have. It has been what feels like a long time coming, yet also I can’t escape the feeling that this moment has arrived all too soon.
Over the past few months, a large amount of my time, effort and budget has gone into ticking everything off the school starter ‘kit list’. As well as worrying about the uniform shopping, I’ve also done as much as I can to make sure that the Master of Mischief was what they would deem ‘school ready’.
In this post, I share some of the activities and things we have been doing to practice school skills and nurture independence in everyday tasks. By sharing a few tips and tricks that we’ve used with the Master of Mischief I hope that you too can get your children school-ready.
Dressing and Undressing
This is something that we have been encouraging my son to do since he was old enough to try. Unfortunately (for me) my son is both lazy and an amateur comic. In the mornings and at bedtime, we usually get some version of “I don’t know how to do it” followed by him trying to put pants on his head. This is something he finds utterly hilarious. The only thing that has helped us through this is encouragement and an abundance of patience. While the Master of Mischief sits and wails that he doesn’t know how to put socks on (when he does) I simply reiterate that he should try. After a few attempts of me telling him to have a go, he usually succeeds, and all is well once more.
For younger children, shoelaces can be tricky. I prefer to buy Velcro fastening shoes for ease. However, I do try to make time for shoelace practice. There is a range of tools available; however, a practice shoe is easy to make from cardboard.
Motivating your child to dress and undress independently will help them so much when it comes to changing for PE, removing jumpers in hot weather and putting aprons on for painting (not that they ever use that particular skill).
Another thing that your child might need to practice is getting their coat on and off independently. All reception children are given access to an outdoor area, having the ability to get their coat on themselves will mean they can get straight to playing without having to ask an adult for help.
Another aspect of developing this skill, particularly if your morning schedule is a busy one is practising getting up and dressed for a particular time. In the week before starting school, I made sure the children were up, breakfasted and dressed for 8.30 am. Please don’t think I’m like a drill sergeant marching the landing with a whistle and clipboard shouting for my troops to be front and centre. It’s not like that. I simply wake them up earlier to ease them into their new routine. This has been beneficial for both them and me as it prepares us all for the shift in routine. Once the new school year starts again, we will be well seasoned in our early morning routine which will (hopefully) prevent the dragging of heels when we need to be up and out.
Whether you’ve decided to opt for hot school dinners or are sending your child with a packed lunch, it is always a good idea to practice using a knife, fork, and spoon. The more confident they are, the easier it will be for them to eat their dinner. If you’ve decided on packed lunches, you might want to encourage your child to practice opening their packets and containers. Depending on how nice your school’s lunchtime staff are will depend on how much help your child will get. We will all remember that one troll-like dinner lady that was zero help at all when you couldn’t open your damn yoghurt pot!
With all of my children, I have found it beneficial to see how long it takes them to eat their dinner independently. I don’t sit and time them on a stopwatch! As I said, I’m not a drill sergeant. I merely make a mental note of how long they sit and eat for. I also make a note of how much they eat. This kind of information is useful to pass onto the school, so they know what kind of portion to give your child. It’s also good for you to know how much to pack in their lunch. Too much might mean your child misses out on after lunch playtime and too little might mean they are hungry or irritable when they finish school. Nobody wants that!
Names, Letters and Words
I don’t think for a second that teachers expect children to start school having read Homer’s Odyssey, reciting the Latin alphabet, and counting to 100 in French. I believe the Master of Mischief will be taught what he needs to learn at school. Still, for a teacher to build a child’s knowledge, it can’t hurt to have a basic foundation to build on.
We’ve spent a lot of time encouraging the Master of Mischief to read and write his name, recognise the letters in it. This has also helped him practice his pencil grip. Once at school, his vocabulary will grow rapidly. To prepare for this, we encouraged him to learn new words. While out walking we collected items which we then talked about at home. This was a great way to introduce describing words.
Sharing songs, poems and stories is another great way that we encouraged him to recognise sounds and patterns in words. Repeated storytelling seems to have fostered a strong interest in books. This is always a good thing.
You’ll be surprised how quickly reception children start learning to read.
As before, I don’t think any teacher expects a child to march through the door on their first day chanting the 9 times table. Nonetheless, being able to count verbally up to 10 or even 20 is a tremendous benefit to a child.
This is something that we’ve managed to teach the Master of Mischief without even designing to do so. Counting throughout the day with our children is so easy to do. For example, how many cars drive past while you’re walking to the shop, how many lampposts you see on your way into town, how many stairs are in your house, how many windows, how many doors and so on. The possibilities of things to count are practically limitless.
One activity that we did actively do to help with counting (and colour) was graphing.
I made a chart on large floor paper and labelled the sections with colours. I then asked the Master of Mischief to find as many items around the house with the colours. We sectioned them on the chart and then counted how many of each colour we had. I then got him to practice writing the numbers on a separate sheet of paper.
Another way to set a foundation for mathematic skills is to try ordering numbers. One resource for this that has been invaluable for us is a simple deck of playing cards. There are so many ways that you can promote mathematics skills with a deck of cards. Number ordering, shape sorting, adding and counting to name a few.
Sharing and Turn-Taking
This is something that I was quite concerned about with the Master of Mischief. My girls are very close in age so have always had to share. My son, being younger and the only boy, has a range of items that are his and his alone. He also, unintentionally, gets more one to one attention at home. This is particularly true while the girls are playing with their friends. When it comes to sharing and taking turns, he can be a bit of a ‘give it to me gremlin’. He also HATES to lose. Something attributed to his dad, with whom I have had many an argument over games of Frozen Frustration and Ludo. (He cheats, I don’t, it’s now on the internet so it’s true. End of!)
One way to overcome this is through socialising children, which during the COVID-19 lockdown has been near on impossible to do (and at times illegal).
It has been a relief to have multiple children, having three at home has helped immensely throughout lockdown. Although tough at times, I think it would’ve been even harder dealing with one bored child. I don’t take my ability to say ‘go and play with your sister’ for granted. To those dealing with one child through this pandemic, I see you. You are warriors!
One thing we have done to practice turn-taking and sharing has been Sunday afternoon games sessions. Every Sunday through the lockdown we have brought out the board games to play together as a family. I invested in several age-appropriate games for the Master of Mischief including a variety of Orchard Toys games.
When we started with our newly appointed tradition, he was very demanding and would get quite worked up waiting for his turn. Through patience and practice, he is now a polite and easy-going gamer. The improvement in him has been great to see. I suppose like many things in life it was simply a case of ‘practice makes perfect’.
Sit, Listen and Do
As well as sharing and taking turns, children need to be able to sit and listen to teachers and each other. Carpet time, storytime and assemblies will be new experiences for school starters. Listening to spoken instructions and shifting the attention from what they are doing to what the teacher is saying will be a big skill to master. Practising this before starting school can only be beneficial.
Something we’ve done with the Master of Mischief to practice listening has been going on ‘noisy walks’.
This kind of walk is where we listen to all the noises we can hear while we are walking. As we go, I make a note of the sounds we have heard and at home, we will recall the noises and talk about our journey. It’s quite fun to do.
Another way we’ve practised sitting and listening has been through reading. Something I have done with the Master of Mischief has been sitting him on a chair opposite me while I read a story. Having him sat away from the book has meant he has to listen to what I’m saying to follow the story. (obviously, I show him the pictures at the end of each page, I’m not that mean)
One more thing that is beneficial to practice, as well as listening to instructions, is following them. To encourage this we have played games like ‘Simon Says’. It’s a terrific way to practice instruction following. The better your child gets at the game the more challenging you can make it.
These are just some ways that we have prepared the Master of Mischief for school. I hope that your preparations have gone well. Sending your child to school for the first time is a big deal. Well done to all the parents who have navigated what has been a truly crazy year so far. We did it!
I also want to wish good luck to all the new school starters that are joining or rejoining classes post-pandemic. You’ve got this!
Until next time