Getting Ready For Learning
Children are natural learners. They have an inbuilt curiosity and an eagerness to know more about everything – about themselves, about others and about the world around them. Children learn fast – but only when they are ready and when they display a readiness to learn.
Children in Ireland start school at a very young age, therefore we must guard against putting pressure on them to learn material prior to their readiness to assimilate such material.
Demanding too much too soon can switch a child off completely. The rates of progress of children can vary greatly. We, at Scoil Mhuire, try to give children an opportunity to move ahead at their own pace or as near to it as possible.
The first year in school therefore, is mainly about settling in, relating to others, making friends, feeling happy and gradually getting used to the routines of school. On the learning side, the emphasis is on getting children ready for learning by –
- Developing their oral language and expression.
- Sharpening their senses, especially seeing, hearing and touching.
- Developing physical co-ordination especially of hand and fingers.
- Developing their ability to listen attentively.
- Developing their ability to focus and concentrate.
- Extending their concentration span.
- Learning through play – the most enjoyable and effective way.
- Co-operating with the teacher and other children.
- Performing tasks by themselves.
- Working with others and sharing with them.
- Getting each child to accept the general order – this is necessary for the class and school to work well.
Before Your Child Starts
You should ensure that he (she) is as independent as possible – physically, emotionally and socially. If children can look after themselves in these areas, they will feel secure and confident and settle in to ‘big school’ readily.
Before starting school, it will help greatly if your child is able to –
- Put on and fasten his coat. Practise this lots of times at home. Do not rush or criticise if it is not perfect. Label your child’s coat clearly, as many children have similar coats. Your child should be able to hang up his coat.
- · If your child is unable to tie shoelaces, Velcro fastenings are a great idea and help your child to remain independent.
- · Use a tissue. Put a tissue or a handkerchief in your child’s pocket and make sure that he/she can use it.
- · The less complicated the schoolbag and accessories, the better. Teach your child to open and close them. Elaborate schoolbags, pencil cases and lunchboxes often cause tears in school. They are a huge distraction and children get very upset if they are damaged.
- · Have a trial run at home with the lunchbox a few days beforehand. Sit with your child at the table and observe how he opens the lunchbox, the wrapping on the sandwich, the banana or other fruit. Resist the urge to help but make adjustments that you think are necessary.
- · At Scoil Mhuire, we encourage healthy eating and would ask you to provide a healthy lunch for your child.
- A few days before school begins, try on the new school uniform. Leave it on for a while. When your child needs to use the bathroom, do not help him or her and see if he/she can manage the school trousers or skirt alone. You will find that belts are usually a hindrance – elasticated waists make things easier.
- Train your child to flush the toilet and to wash hands after using it. Please encourage personal hygiene and cleanliness. Without having to be told, children should turn off the tap when they are finished washing their hands. Children get distressed if they need help in the bathroom at school.
- Share toys and playthings with others and “take turns”.
- Tidy up and put away his/her playthings.
- Remain contentedly for a few hours in the home of a relation, friend or neighbour. If your child has had this experience, then separation from parents when starting school will not cause any great anxiety.
Preparing for the ‘Big Day’
Your child’s first day at school is a day to remember for the rest of his or her life. You can help to make it a really happy one for him/her.
- Tell him about school beforehand, casually, and talk about it as a happy place where there will be a big welcome and lots of new friends.
- Be aware of your own attitudes to school. Your child will take his outlook from you, so a positive attitude from you will influence your child and give confidence.
- Don’t use school or the teacher as a threat. “If you behave like that for your teacher, she’ll murder you” though said light-heartedly, can make some children very apprehensive.
- If you feel it would help, you could take your child for a stroll to the junior classrooms and play area on an afternoon during June when the other children have gone home. You can browse around and become familiar with this new environment. On arrival, you could arrange to meet the Principal and perhaps your child’s new teacher, as well.
- Your child will like to have his new uniform, books and bag when he begins. These help him to identify more readily with the school and other children.
The Big Day
When you arrive at the classroom, be as casual as you can. Your child will meet the teacher and the other children and will be shown his/her chair.
Hopefully, he will become absorbed in his new surroundings. So, having assured him you will be back later to collect him, wish your child goodbye and leave.
Handling the Upset Child
In spite of the best efforts of both teacher and parents, a small number of children will still become upset. If your child happens to be one of them, don’t panic. Patience and perseverance can work wonders.
A Word of Advice
- Trust the teacher. She or he is experienced and resourceful and is used to coping with all kinds of starting-off problems.
- Try not to show any outward signs of your own emotion. Sometimes parents are more upset than their child and become the main cause of their child’s anxiety.
- When you have reassured your child, leave as quickly as possible. The teacher can distract and humour him more easily when you are not around.
- Check back discreetly in a short while. You will invariably find that calm has been restored.
- You must be firm from the start. Even if a child is upset, you must insist that he stay at school for a short time – even ten minutes. He/she must never feel that he is winning the psychological battle of wills.
Some Important Areas of Early Learning:
Developing Your Child’s Communication Skills
It is important that your child’s ability to talk is as advanced as possible. It is through speech that he communicates thoughts and feelings, needs and desires, curiosity and wonder. If a child cannot express these in words, he will tend to remain silent and will often withdraw from the learning activity of the class. This can be the first sign of failure in the school system and must be remedied, if at all possible. That is why a lot of attention is given to language development in the first years of school.
You Can Help…
- Talk to your child naturally and casually about things of interest that you or he may be doing – at home, in the shop, in the car, etc. Remember that children are always absorbing the language they hear around them. It takes children a while to make that language their own and to use it for their own needs.
- Try to make time to listen to your child when he wants to tell you something that is important to him. Try not to anticipate what he wants to say – give him time to try to explain himself. Do not, however, always make him the centre of attention.
- Answer genuine questions with patience and in an adequate way. Always nurture his/her sense of curiosity and wonder.
- Use questions such as Why? How? When? Where? What if? etc. These demand more advanced language structures.
- Your child will have his own particular favourite stories that he never tires of hearing. Repeat them over and over again and gradually get him to re-tell them to you.
First Steps in Reading
Ability to read is the foundation for all future progress in our school system. However, learning to read is a gradual process and a lot of preparatory work must be done before a child is introduced to his first reader.
We very deliberately do not rush or push children into reading. We get them ready for it over an extended period. Reading is something to be enjoyed. It should never start as a chore for the small child.
You Can Help
- Have attractive colourful books in your home.
- Read a variety of different stories to your child. He or she will begin to associate these wonderful tales with books and reading.
- You must convey to your child gradually that books are precious things. They must be minded, handled carefully and put away safely.
- Look at the pictures with your child and talk to him about what he sees.
- Read and say nursery rhymes. Your child will learn these by heart in his own time. Don’t try to push him.
- Above all, don’t push early reading. You may turn your child against it forever.
- Remember that the teacher is the best judge of what rate of progress is best suited to each child.
- Sing the alphabet song with your child, so that he has heard of or knows the letters. He/she may be able to recognise some of these letters and may know what each one looks like.