‘School Readiness’ is a term parents probably hear a lot during their child’s last year of preschool, but what does it mean to be ‘school ready’, and how do parents support their child at home in the years and months before the transition to ‘big school’?
A large part of school readiness is related to a child’s ability to independently complete self-care tasks, so they are able to manage themselves day to day. As teachers are split across a whole class of students, they aren’t always able to help children with tasks like toileting, mealtimes and dressing.
Being able to use the toilet is an important skill for children starting school. It is expected that by the time a child enters kindergarten they are independent with a full toileting routine, meaning they don’t require reminders or physical support.
- Identifying when they need to go,
- Pulling up and down their pants and undies,
- Sitting on the toilet,
- Flushing, and
- Washing hands.
To support independence with toileting at home, you can;
- Take your child consistently each hour to the bathroom to establish a routine. It isn’t necessary they ‘go’ to the toilet, rather, you are creating gradual exposure to the process of what’s involved!
- When they are able take themselves independently, reduce reminders to go throughout the day and praise your child when they identify the need to go independently.
- Use visuals in the bathroom as reminders for the sequence of the task.
- Allow your child to practice wiping by doing it off the toilet. Stick stickers to the seat of a chair, have your child lean forward, reach behind and try pull them off!
Children are expected to be able to dress themselves independently around the end of preschool or beginning of kindergarten. For kindergarten your child is unlikely to need to complete a full dressing task within the school day. However, taking shoes on and off and wearing a jumper or jacket are skills that your child will need.
To practice dressing skills at home, you can:
- Use backwards chaining. Have the child complete the last part of the task (e.g. zipping up the jumper from half way). When they are confident with this have them do a little more (e.g. connect the zipper) and so on.
- Use hoola hoops to mimic the action of bending down and pulling up their pants.
- Practice with their school uniform (if you can).
- Buy socks with coloured sections for the toes and heel, to support the orientation of socks.
- Cut a sticker in half and place 1 half on the insole of each shoe, to support identifying which shoe goes on which foot.
At recess and lunch, it is important that children are able to open and close their containers or packets independently, so that they can sit and eat with their peers. It is also important that they can open and close their water bottle. Screw tops can be tricky to open for little hands, so try find a water bottle that your child can independently open and close and is also leakproof, such as one with a bite and sip straw.
To practice this at home, you can;
- Encourage your child to open packets on their own. Demonstrate how to do this (e.g. pinch and pull) before letting them try. To get in more repetition and reduce waste, use a snap-lock sandwich bag.
- To support hand and finger strength, have the child play with playdough, use a spray bottle, or wring out wet tea towels.
- Pick lunchboxes together! Take your child to the shops to find their school lunchbox. Encourage your child to open and close the container at home during the months prior to going to school.
When in kindergarten your child is required to manage their belongings, including their school bag, crunch and sip, recess, lunch and any folders or books. Organisation and memory skills allow children to remember what they need, pack their bag effectively, and not lose their belongings.
To practice this at home you can;
- Have your child pack their bag for preschool. Use visuals to help them identify the things they need to take and get them to attempt to put it all in their bag.
- When going out of the house ask them to think of the things they need, e.g. ‘we are going to the park, what things should we take?’.
- Encourage them to open and close bags with zippers. Have a scavenger hunt and hide items inside bags that have zippers.
- Allow your child to problem solve, don’t give them the answers. Support them in identifying the problem and trying different solutions.
If COVID19 has had any positives, it’s the reinforcement of personal hygiene. Although masks at school are a thing of the past, it’s important that children can wash their hands, blow their nose, and cover their mouth to help reduce the spread of diseases in the classroom.
To practice personal hygiene at home, you can;
- Break the task down and practice the individual skills e.g. have your child close their mouth and blow out their nose without the tissue. Do this against a mirror so the child can see the fog on the glass.
- Educate the child about germs and why we need to wash our hands and cover our mouth.
- Use songs to make washing hands fun and provide feedback to the length of time.
- Use visuals to help your child remember the steps to washing their hands.
- Pretend! Have your child pretend to be sick and practice covering their mouth when they sneeze and cough.
As every child’s needs and abilities are unique, talk to you’re the child’s OT for specific recommendations to support their independence in self-care tasks.