My child is not ready for school!

What is being ready for school?

Starting school is different for every child and his first years of life will contribute to that difference. Between 0 and 5 years old, babies go through several steps that will lead him to learn many things. Each of these steps will help him develop in a way that will prepare him for school.

Articles, books and websites that that discuss the preparation of children for school usually explain what a child must master or have learned: he must be clean, able to recognize and control his urgent needs and to be able to go to the toilet on his own. He must be curious and want to learn, sociable, capable of some autonomy and be able to be separated from his parent. He must also be able to partly manage his emotions, that is to say not crying at any little frustration or throwing endless tantrums. However, mastering his language is also important, even essential, because it represents the basis of his social and academic life.

Let’s see why his language is so important in kindergarten activities and during the first years of school.

Expressing through the language

In every daily situation, whether at school or elsewhere, learning a language allows a child to be in a relationship with others. To achieve this, he must be able to answer, inform, question, give his opinion, express his feelings, describe an event or tell a story.

The language spoken in school

As in any new situation, the passage from home or daycare to school requires to be prepared. To help our child, it is interesting to think about the changes he is going through.

  • Facing new people and a greater number of strangers: a regular teacher and a gym teacher, a director, a janitor, a bus driver, a crossing guard and the school care staff.
  • Being on new communication grounds. For example, he will have to share his experiences with other students. In these little discussions, he will talk about his weekends, his family, his favourite pet, his tastes… A child who can easily express himself in such situations will improve his confidence and his self-esteem and it will greatly facilitate his integration and his interest for school.
  • Express his ideas autonomously. Teachers will not always know what a child needs or what has just happened between two children. For that reason, the fact of being able to express himself will be useful: to explain his behaviour at all times, to defend himself when conflicts occur, but also to make new friends, to exchange or to play during workshops, to ask for an explanation when he doesn’t understand an instruction or to tell things differently when we do not understand him…
Understanding the language

Understanding also means being able to discover what someone wanted to express through his or her message. It is being able to build a mental image. In addition to words, messages are transmitted by several factors such as non-verbal expression (looks, gestures, posture), but also the situation in which people are and the objects that surround them. Several elements are essential for a child to be able to understand. Through his preschool years, a child must have acquired the following habits:

  • Being attentive to people;
  • Paying attention to what is said, what we call “being focused”;
  • Using his memory;
  • Using the vocabulary that he knows;
  • Using logic;
  • Take a context into account.
Understanding the language at school

School presents several new situations in which the linguistic understanding developed by a child is employed. First, the teacher will support his children by showing what is required of them and by using visual support but over time children must memorize this information because the instructions will be less and less supported by examples. Also, the language is impersonal in school: children are part of groups where information and instructions are given to all children at once, not individually. Children who are not used to listen up as a group could have a hard time feeling concerned and might not understand what must be done.

Upon his school entry, a child must have acquired at least some knowledge because the lessons of preschool are based on the understanding of:

  • Simple instructions (ex.: go grab your apron), double (ex.: go grab your apron and sit with a friend) or complex (ex.: go grab your apron and sit with a friend with whom you have never worked before).
  • Concepts of time (ex.: later, tomorrow), space (ex.: behind, inside, between...), quantity (ex.: two, many, a pair...), comparison (ex.: bigger than, less than, more than...)
  • Question words: who, where, when, how, why...
Reading and writing skills

Not only is our language necessary in our daily activities, it is also essential to learn writing and reading. Written symbols, like letters and words, can be compared to a new code for children, a new language. To learn it, he must already have a good knowledge of his spoken language:

  • Good pronunciation;
  • Appropriate vocabulary for his age;
  • Grammar words well differentiated. Here are a few examples: capable of using personal pronouns (I, you, he for a boy, she for a girl), possessive determiners (my, his, their), to use the appropriate verb tense (I have eaten, I will sleep well tonight), to name a few;
  • Capable of using complete sentences that contain at least 5 words and to connect them with words like “and”, “because”, “after”;
  • Capable of commenting on his language: reacting when a word is funny, when we misused a word, when a word comes from another language, when it rhymes, etc.
How can I tell if my child is ready?

As a parent, you surely have intuitions about this. It is important to listen to them and to question the adults that surround your child to confirm your impression. Anyone who is familiar with the education system can help you through this. When enrolling, you can ask the school’s director if there is a professional you could talk to. Also, you can ask your daycare educators to fill a grid of strengths and weaknesses that will help you work with your child before school begins. And if you prefer, you can ask for web references and assess the situation yourself.

How should I react to help my child?

It is always time to do something to help our child. The best is to identify the aspects of his language that could be improved before school and to start working on it immediately. It is important to assess the improvements that are necessary but also to understand the depth of the issue. It will help you decide what kind of help he will need: activity book, summer camp, and consultation with a speech therapist? Over the years, I have put together a simulation program that targets several prerequisites in terms of language (describe, tell, explain), word games, attention and memory and sound games related to the written language. It allows children to progress in various aspects of language and it gives parents a better idea of what will be happening in school.

Since it is not too late to help our child and summer is just around the corner, why don’t we try these activities at the park, in the pool or during field trips? After all, we can have a bit of fun and there are so many different activities that can stimulate your child’s language!

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