Getting Ready for Primary School
Forget about learning the letters of the alphabet or how to hold a pencil. You don’t need to buy workbooks or spend hours practising how to write their name. All of that will be covered in school. The best thing you can do to help your child prepare for school is to teach them independence.
I am a parent myself, and I know all too well how busy life can be. Sometimes, it’s easier, quicker and less stressful to do things for our children than to let them do it themselves. Of course, when we do this, we are only creating a rod for our own back, and we are not allowing our children to learn those life skills and become independent. At home, the adult to child ratio is a lot lower than it is in a classroom! Imagine one adult with thirty 5-year-olds who need their coats zipped up before going outside to play? That’s the reality facing a Junior Infant teacher!
Working on these skills at home over the summer will be of huge benefit to your child. Try not to help; encourage them to keep trying. This will build perseverance.• Toilet independently• Wash and dry hands. Use hand sanitizer.• Blow nose. Sneeze and cough into elbow.• Put on and take off jumper and coat• Zip and unzip coat• Put on and take off shoes (no shoes with laces until they are able to tie them themselves)• Open and close lunchbox• Open and close water bottle • Play cooperatively with another child• Tidy up toys after playing• Listen to a story for 5-10 minutes• Follow a simple instruction when asked• Ask for help if needed
Time to Shop – Practical Tips
Schoolbags come in all shapes, sizes, colours, patterns and prices. They also vary hugely in quality. Here are my top tips for a quality schoolbag that will last!• Most importantly, it will need to be large enough to fit an A4 size folder. Most school use these for sending notes, homework, worksheets etc. home. Bring an A4 folder with you when shopping so that you can be sure!• Large enough for an A4 folder, but not too large. I’ve seen some bags larger than the children themselves! Avoid bags with lots of compartments and wheely bagstoo.• Cutesy, character bags are often poor quality and won’t last longer than the year.• Buy cheap, buy twice. It’s true! But you don’t need to spend a fortune. Shop around.• Allow your child to practise packing and unpacking their bag with their folder, lunchbox and bottle. Some of them find it tricky, especially with large lunchbags.
Lunchboxes and Drinks Bottles
Lunchboxes also come in many shapes, sizes and prices. Some retailers would have you believe that you need a separate ‘lunch bag’ but this is not true at all. A lunchbox and bottle is all you need.• Lunchboxes with compartments are useful as they cut down on the need for tinfoil and clingfilm. Bear in mind that your child’s school may have a ‘Green’ policy for this.• A reusable drinks bottle will save you money and is better for the environment than the likes of juice cartons. Drinks bottles between 300-500ml are a good size for this age group. • Drinks bottles should be easy to open and close. • Label all lunchboxes and bottles with your child’s name!
Pencil cases and Stationery
You may not be required to provide any stationery for your child – check with the school! If you have been asked to provide a particular brand or type of item, try to stick to it, as they will have been recommended for a reason.• As I mentioned earlier, buy cheap, buy twice! Quality can very hugely.• The Crayola brand is very reliable, especially for colours. • No need for a huge range of colours – 12 is plenty. • Label EVERYTHING and buy spares.• The fancier the stationery, the less likely it is to last!
Activities for the Summer
Get outside as often as you can. Playing outside helps to develop gross motor skills, which are an extremely important part of a child’s development. • Play with other children• Go for walks• Go to the playground• Ride a bike• Kick/throw/catch a ball• Climb trees• Roll down hills• Bounce on a trampoline• Swim • Draw on the ground with jumbo chalk• Blow bubbles
Try to reduce screen time. Children aged 5 should have no more than 1 hour a day. Too much screen time is proven to have negative effects on sleep, behaviour, concentration and physical activity. Turn off screens when not in use and keep bedrooms as screen-free zones.
So what can they do instead? Here are some easy, but fun ideas for developing fine motor skills:• Play Dough (on its own, no need for fancy tools)• Water Play (fill up the sink and play with cups, bowls, scoops etc)• Cutting and sticking with supermarket or toy catalogues(learn how to hold a scissors)• Scribbling, drawing and colouring (no writing)• Drawing or painting on a vertical surface (tape a large sheet of paper to the wall)• Construction toys such as Lego or wooden blocks• Household chores (Hang clothes on the line, sweep the floor)
You also can’t beat the old favourites:• Read books together. Talk about the story.• Sing Nursery Rhymes• Play board games such as snakes and ladders or snap. (Take turns, learn how to lose!)• Imaginative play with cars, animals, figurines etc.
Homework aside, this may be the topic that causes the most trouble among parents, teachers and pupils alike! Many, many children will return home from school with a half-eaten lunch, proclaiming that they did not had enough time to eat it. Believe me when I say, they do get enough time, especially in infants. They’re just far too busy chatting!
Become familiar with the school’s Healthy Eating Policy. A balance, healthy lunch will help your child to concentrate, learn and play to the best of their ability. Generally, sweets, crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks are not allowed. Most schools also ask that you don’t send nuts or nut butter (including Nutella) because of allergies.• Choose items that are QUICK and EASY to eat. Time is of the essence!• Lunch items that take longer to eat: full apples, unpeeled oranges, popcorn, large yoghurts.• Lunch items that are messy: frubes, yoghurts, popcorn, pastries, granola bars, grated cheese.• Don’t include anything new that they child hasn’t eaten before. • Have a practice run. See how long it takes them to eat it all! Check that your child can open and close the lunchbox and tidy it away after eating.
For the Parents
It’s not just the children who need to prepare for school; the adults do, too! • Think about the new morning and evening routines. Allow yourself extra time to avoid rushing and stress. (I really should take my own advice but I’ll never learn!)• Communicate with the school. Let them know of any medical issues, additional needs, changes to family circumstances, change of address or phone number etc. Share any reports or assessments that you may have regarding your child. Send an email and ask to speak to them if you are concerned about anything; the staff are there to help.• Connect with some other parents in the locality. A good support network is worth its weight in gold.• Label everything. I can’t stress this enough!• Be positive about school. Try not to show your anxieties around your child. They do pick up on them!
The week before school starts• Visit the school grounds so that your child is familiar with where it is.• Phase in earlier bedtimes. Turn off screens at least an hour before bed.• Try on uniform and make sure everything is labelled.• Have a practice run with lunch & schoolbag.• Read a story about starting school.
Wishing you all the very best of luck on your new adventures. Take lots of photos, because before you know it, they will be all grown up and getting ready for Secondary School.