by Huguette Tessier, Public Health Nurse
The start of school is a big deal for your little one, as well as a new chapter for your entire family. For the first-time student, it means meeting new teachers and friends, adapting to a different and busy environment, and adjusting to new rules and expectations. For families, the transition to school is often accompanied by feelings of happiness, sadness and even stress.
Ideally, the time to prepare for this milestone is during the preschool years. This is when children begin to participate in more learning settings that prepare them for the transition to formal education.
Whether your kiddo has just started junior kindergarten as a three-year-old, or has to wait until next September, you might be wondering: ‘Is my child ready for this?’ It’s a good question because 25 per cent of children across Ottawa are not ready to start school.
Beyond the ABCs
Ensuring your child has a smooth adjustment to school goes beyond teaching the ABCs. It means equipping him or her with the basic skills needed to learn to read, write and count. It also means making sure your child is healthy, and has the social skills to get along with others. These new school days are apt to be easier for your youngster if he or she can follow instructions, solve problems, work well independently and stay focused on a difficult task.
As a parent, you play an important role in ensuring your child is school-ready. You might ask yourself ‘What can I do?’ For starters, you can provide your child with stability, comfort, and a sense of what to expect. Here are a few suggestions to prepare your preschoolers for what’s to come, and to ease the transition for tykes who are just getting accustomed to being in a classroom:
- Talk, read, and sing to them every day to increase language skills.
- Play word or counting games and introduce numbers and shapes.
- Offer crayons, paint brushes, play dough and safety scissors to help build coordination and pre-writing skills. These activities prepare children for the demands of the school year.
- Encourage play dates and attend play groups to help them learn to share, wait and take turns.
- Align daily family routines such as early morning routines, meal times and early sleep schedules with kindergarten expectations.
- Help your children develop independent skills such as dressing (buttons, zippers, and shoes), using the toilet, and asking for help.
- Limit screen time (computers, TV, tablets, video games, smart phones) to one hour per day.
- Visit the school and the playground with your children to make these places familiar.
- Have your youngster’s vision and hearing checked. Children’s annual eye exams are free in Ontario, including free glasses for junior kindergarten students.
- Schedule a dental health checkup for your child and update his or her immunizations.
Keep in mind that what your child does during out-of-school time is critical. Children who spend three or more hours alone each day are at increased risk of poor academic performance. To improve academic outcomes, involve your child in structured pastimes outside of school, such as clubs, music or physical activities. These critical out-of-school hours can be a time for your child to develop and improve physical, social and emotional skills, and also to discover lifelong interests and talents.
One in five kids has a mental health issue
Let’s not forget that nearly one in five children under age 19 has a mental health issue, so it’s also important to be aware of behaviour changes, and to give your child the support he or she needs. Since a mental health problem isn’t always easy to see, it can be easy to ignore. Be open and willing to talk about it with others. Early identification and treatment can make a big difference in school performance and behaviour.
So how do you know if your child is on track in terms of health, growth and development? There are free online screening tools to help you find out how your child is doing:
- Nipissing District Developmental Screen (NDDS) is a checklist that provides a snapshot of your child’s growth and development from birth to age six. See www.ottawa.ca/ndds
- NutriSTEP is a series of questions to review your child’s overall nutrition and physical activity levels from 18 months to age five. See www.ottawa.ca/Nutristep
If you have concerns, don’t wait and see. Contact your healthcare provider or the Ottawa Public Health Information Line at 613 580-6744.
For details about helping your child be ready for school, visit the new Parenting in Ottawa website www.ParentinginOttawa.ca, created for parents by Ottawa Public Health and its community partners. Have more questions about this topic or other parenting topics? Ask Ottawa Public Health on the new Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ParentinginOttawa).