Are you Back to School Ready?

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Sending your little bundle of joy to school need not be an emotionally draining experience. Both you and your child can savour the experience if you do it the right way. By Purabi Shridhar

Every mother can recount endless tales of her child’s first day in school. But before the child actually picks up her bag and water bottle and toddles to the school bus, parents have their task cut out…from finding the right school to getting her physically, mentally and emotionally prepared. Some amount of disagreement arises on whether a child should be strenuously coached to be ready for school. Dubai based Jennifer Cooke, mum to five-year-old Myra, was clear about not stressing unduly. “Frankly, I’d never waste time teaching her the alphabet; she will learn it in school anyway. Instead, we spend time reading and watching good movies!” But other parents are less laidback, unwilling to allow their children to be at a disadvantage. Child experts and parents who have been through the drill tell us all about waving their children off on their journey to the classroom.

Whatever your stand on ‘preparedness’, getting your child ready academically is not about passive teaching of the alphabet and numbers, but about getting them involved in certain activities, says special educator Elizabeth Holt.
Her suggestions to get your child learning-ready:

  • Sing short simple rhymes and narrate short stories—them will develop rote memory.
  • Expose her to colours, shapes and sizes in the immediate environment. Begin with the colour green as that is the most common. Similarly, begin with the most common shape.
  • Teach them about body parts.
  • You can sharpen their fine motor skills by getting them to colour within a given shape, string big beads, or dial numbers on a toy telephone. Playing with clay and cut-outs of different shapes will also help.
  • You can hone their gross motor skills by getting them to cycle, run, jump, climb stairs and play in the park.

Safety is an issue that never stops haunting parents. Angelica, mum to Ruth and her older sister Rhea says, “Even before they went to school, I kept repeating the rules and I still do: no talking to strangers, no taking toffees from strangers, no going near cars even if people stop to ask directions, rude as that may sound, and to guard their private space zealously. I have even demonstrated the difference between a pat and a rub.”

From the time Myra was two years old, Jennifer made sure she’d covered the bases on safety issues, strangers and private spaces. “I have told her about children getting lost—often using cartoons to explain that everyone is not nice. She knows about holding hands when crossing streets, not giving away phone numbers, how Nemo (in the movie Finding Nemo) got lost…” Another important exercise involves a simple list of dos and don’ts. Dr Madhumita Puri suggests, “Make a list of rules and select a couple of non-negotiable ones (one or two basic ones) and ask her to repeat them to you to ensure that she has them right.” To empower your child to take care of herself, Elizabeth suggests you have a talk that covers certain basic points: “She should be told about a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touch, and that no one should touch her below the waist.”

When Myra told her mum Jennifer that the teacher wasn’t allowing her to go to the bathroom, it left her unsettled. Till she dug out the truth—Myra wanted to go to the loo every time any other child in the class wanted to, which was about every 10 minutes!

Aliyah Salam, mum to three-yearold Asif, has a simple mantra for communication skills too: “Do at home what you expect the child to do outside and in school.” Elizabeth Holt says, “Language skills will first need to be honed, so use reading as a tool. Sometimes, when reading your child’s favourite story, manipulate it to develop her retention and recall by leaving out certain portions of the story or ‘reading’ out certain phrases or words that are not in the story— wait for them to correct you. Avoid using baby words, use real words always.” Dr Roma Kumar, clinical psychologist and child specialist, has somegreat tips to make the message clear to your child. “Always make eye contact and don’t just give instructions. A child will better learn to communicate clearly, if you have two-way conversations with her; let her talk too and always listen to her.”

For a child to find themselves with a large group of peers (some of whom could be bullies), to interact with teachers, and to learn to share can all be daunting. Help by preparing them for people and social relationships.

Aliyah believes that, “Getting the child socially ready is an ongoing process. Simple things like taking them to play, enrolling for activities, going to kiddie libraries and on play dates, etc help as the child naturally mixes with others their age in such settings.”

Or you can lead by example. According to Dr Roma Kumar, “Parents should make an effort to see that the kids interact with their peer group; just saying ‘Go and play’ doesn’t work. If the child is shy, don’t push them. Instead, continue socialising with your child around, so that she can watch and learn.”

About learning to share, Dr Puri says, “Young children are not accustomed to the practice of sharing. They learn by example. However, bedtime stories illustrating generosity could act as excellent starting points.” Elizabeth Holt seconds that: “Social skills at this stage are all learned. Saying ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ to your child regularly will help her to learn to use these social graces appropriately. Read out and talk about stories that send positive messages and encourage role play too.”