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Ready for School? Language and literacy can help

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By Roxane Bélanger, SLP-C, Reg. CALSPO

Speech Language Pathologist

First Words Preschool Speech and Language Program of Ottawa

As a parent, you are your child's most important teacher. In fact, you have been preparing your child for school from the day that they were born. Everything you have done so far provided the foundation for your child to grow and learn throughout their lives! As a speech language pathologist, I understand the value of language in a child's academic journey. But as a parent of three wonderful girls, I whole-heartily share the same concern every single parent has: Will my child be ready for school? Will he make friends? Will she know you to go to when she is hurt?  Whether you are this easy-going parent or "that mom" who follows the school bus to school (not that I would know anything about this personally!), when the first day of school suddenly arrives, we all wonder how our little one will fair off.  We all want our children to succeed, especially at school.  Today, we will talk and share about what we can do at home to get our child ready for kindergarten. 

SPOILER ALERT! You are already doing it!  Rock on parents! 

"Ready for school": what does it mean anyway?

Many skills contribute to a smooth transition to school and academic learning.  Language and literacy are strong predictors of a child's later success at school.  According to research, children with strong language skills do better at school. Strong language skills, in any language, make it easier for children to learn at school.  Yet, being "ready for school" involves much more than words and sentences. Other skills help a child be successful in his interactions and learning at school. Cognitive, sensory, social, motor, as well as many other discrete skills, play a role. These skills have developed over the course of the last few years at home, in the daycare, in the park, etc. 

Research shows that children "ready for school" share similar skills. Children who do better at school:

  • Understand the social rules of interaction and different environments. In different environments, we have different rules! Children need to adapt their behaviors accordingly. (While running is allowed at home, no running on the pool deck or in the school hallway.
  • Get along with others peers and collaborate with others (to build a fort, to get to the bus on time, etc.). When conflicts arise, they can sort it out through language or with the help of an adult.
  • Listen and follow directions (Most of the time. We are dealing with kids, right?). This also involves the ability to follow safety rules even if they really, really want to do something.
  • Use language in daily routines to share feelings, make choices, request a toy or an action, explain an event, retell a story, and hold conversations.
  • Have positive experiences with books and literacy, most likely from an early age.
  • Have received various cognitive, sensory, physical experiences in environments promoting learning and independence.

How do I help my children to be "ready to school"?

Parents can do many things to help their children get ready to learn.  Spending time and doing activities together while talking through it all is all you need.

1- Talk throughout the day

Studies show that frequent conversations between adults and children are associated with better language outcomes and school success. So, get chatty with kids throughout the day. Make comments and ask questions that encourage conversations. Use daily activities like preparing for breakfast or going ready for a walk. Join in the play and take a turn. Follow your child's lead and ask a genuine question for which you really don't know the answer. Try something like, "Tell me why you are taking the crust off the bread?" (Please, please tell me!)

2- Everything you do at home helps your children learn

#Truethat. Every single daily activity you do with your child is an opportunity for learning.  Getting dressed appropriately for the season can be a great occasion to practice verbal reasoning (No, sweet pea, wearing a sundress with heels in the middle of winter is not an option because it's so cold). Talk about the different clothes worn in the winter or in the summer. Preparation and eating healthy food can lead to great conversations about similarities and differences of the snacks we have, or a sorting game by categories (Chocolate is not a vegetable, even if it grows on trees.). Playing with toys and going out for a walk are all activities that help your child learn and grow. Other activities may include doing chores at home, using the bathroom, taking turns, sharing toys, playing games, choosing a book or a snack, crossing the road and playing in a safe place.

3- Focus on routines

Having routines at home prepares your children for the many new routines they will learn at school. Routines are activities we do in the same order and in the same way almost every time. For example, a bedtime routine may include activities like: having a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing teeth, reading a story, turning off the lights. While you may find routines a tad boring, your child will thrive in them. Young children especially love routines. Preschoolers and school-age children do too! Why? Routines provide two key elements important to learning: relationships and repetition. When good (but flexible!) routines are put in place, children feel safe and parents can attend to their children's needs. When routines are predictable; they help children make sense of the world.  In routines, children have a better understanding of the next step and the expectations we have for them. Routines help prevent "melt-downs" (but it's not foolproof) as they help them expect the next transition.  No need to be too rigid. Keep routines flexible and relaxed. Because life is unpredictable, routines may need to change. During a routine, keep talking to your child. Talk about the steps involved, the objects used and the actions done together.

4- Read books and share stories together

Reading aloud is one of the best language activities for children of all ages. It helps grow listening and conversation skills. It sparks the child's imagination and it extends their  knowledge of the world around him. Have children re-tell their favorite books to pets (A cuddly dog is a great listener!) or dolls (They really don't interrupt!). Get them to practice with familiar, predictable books ("Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?" is a good example). Pick books that match your child's interest or that could spark a new passion. Use books about the rain forest, the life of Vikings or about the Paw Patrol crew latest adventure. These help children learn about the people, places, and experiences happening outside of their own lives. 

5 - Think about the school curriculum

In Ontario, five major areas are supported in the kindergarten environment and curriculum: language, mathematics, science and technology, personal and social development, the arts.  Here are ideas to grow each of those core areas when you are home with your child:

Language
  • Talk with children while doing activities together to help them learn new words and ideas.
  • Give them practice in following simple directions. They learn to listen and remember what they hear.
  • Read with children daily. Read books, magazines, cereal boxes, or signs. Talk about print.
  • Let them tell you what happened in a story or television program.
  • Give children the chances to colour, cut and paint. These activities prepare them for writing, drawing and using computers.
Numbers/Mathematics
  • Count together whenever possible. Count toes, spoons in the drawer, steps in a staircase or days of the week.
  • Let children sort and group objects when setting the table or helping with the laundry.
  • Use activities like making chocolate milk or a sandwich to help children learn about the steps required (what comes first, what comes next).
  • Let children measure things like food, water, or sand.  Use words like "full, more, same".
  • Use puzzles and building toys to teach children about patterns and words like "over, beside, behind".
Arts
  • Enjoy music in many ways with your children. They can listen, dance, sing along or make their own music.
  • Use and talk about art materials such as play dough, glue, scissors, markers and boxes with them.
  • Make puppets out of bags, Popsicle sticks, or socks.  When children play with puppets they develop the idea of drama and creative story-telling. 
Science and Technology
  • Talk about how common objects work (for example, a can opener or a telephone).
  • Look at and talk about our natural world including animals, plants and the weather.
  • Let children help with home repairs such as changing a light bulb or fixing a chair. Talk about what you are doing.
  • Plan and make meals with your children's help.  This is like doing simple science experiments at home.
  • Start a collection (leaves, rocks, shells) with them. Talk about the similarities, the differences, and ways you can group these Name the categories. Observation and vocabulary are important skills in science. 
Personal and Social Skills
  • Give children time to talk about worries and dreams. This helps them feel good about themselves.
  • Talk about the choices children make at home to develop good judgement. This helps them make better decisions about friends and activities at school.
  • Talk about what your children have seen and done when you go places. This gives them more confidence when they are in new situations.
  • Teach children basic safety rules to keep them safe at home and at school.
  • Give your children the chance to do many physical activities such as running, climbing, or playing ball to improve their coordination.

Want to know more about speech and language development?

Visit the First Words website.

Concerned about your child' communication development? Complete our online screening tool  or call the Ottawa Public Health Information Line at (613) 580-6744.

Remember. Early intervention is the best approach!

Do you have more questions?