Starting School: Useful Skills to Work Towards for Your Child

Transitioning to school is a huge chapter for every family and the to-do list can seem never-ending, much more than choosing a backpack and ordering some name tag labels!

For parents and carers of a child with a disability or developmental delay, that list can be complex and overwhelming.

It can be interesting to consider the skills that teachers identify as important for all children starting school. Dr Coral Kemp from Macquarie University surveyed 250 teachers and asked them to prioritise the skills they consider crucial.

The top six are listed below. Note that the survey did not ask specifically about children with additional needs, so these responses identify important skills for children generally.

Life Skill 1: Toilet independently

Toilet skills are an important step to independence and make it easier for children to take care of their own needs in this new environment.  Whilst fully independent toileting can be a tricky milestone to reach, every step mastered is valuable and it is worthwhile making this a focus in the lead up to starting school. Toilet training involves a broad range of skills, so your key worker would be a good starting point for a conversation about how to move forward. Having a plan will help you and your team to stay on track.

Plumtree runs toilet training workshop for children who have a disability or developmental delay. See our Calendar for details.

Life Skill 2: Separates easily from parents/carers

Separation challenges can be hugely upsetting for both children and parents at the start of school life. Bearing this in mind, you can use opportunities to practice separating and work through any bumps in advance. Independence can start with the smallest of steps, so consider how your extended family and friends might assist. Practice helps children to feel confident when left with less familiar people and in new environments. Some children find it easier to separate than others, and if this is a concern for your family have a chat with your keyworker about planning a series of steps towards independence.

Life Skill 3: Follows instructions given by teacher

Between the hours of 9am and 3pm, the class teacher will be the primary carer for the majority of students. Children may take some time to grasp that there will be a new influence in their life who will guide them through their day. Preschool and daycare give children valuable opportunities to develop a concept of the role of ‘teacher’. Some children enjoy role-playing as part of imaginative play. It’s great when siblings can join in this play, and dolls and teddies can be enlisted, too. Homelife offers many opportunities to practice following directions, and the year before school is a good time to extend your child’s instruction following skills by involving them in new tasks, such as setting the table.

Life Skill 4: Follows simple rules and procedures in the classroom with reminders

The school environment will be filled to the brim with new rules and ways of doing things. It is expected that children will take a few weeks to understand this new environment, and Kindergarten teachers will be supporting their class to do this. It is never too early to start talking with your child about their exciting new school and what takes place inside the school gates. You may wish to reach out to the school and find out what a typical day looks like for a Kindergarten child. You might develop a schedule to share with your child, or create a social story to lay the foundations prior to the start of the school year.

Life Skill 5: Co-operative play (plays with others in a small group)

Just as your child will learn literacy and numeracy skills, they will also learn valuable social skills during the early school years. If your child has attended daycare or preschool, you will be knowledgeable about the activities that they enjoy playing with their peers, and you can talk with your child about playing with their new friends at school. For some children, social skills do not come easily and it can take some focus to work towards a socially positive experience in Kindergarten. If you have concerns, talk to your keyworker and team. There may be new strategies you can try, such as organising some playdates at home. Children needing social support in their Kindergarten year may benefit from our Lego Together program, which we offer to families who are already using services at Plumtree: you can find more information here.

Life Skill 6: Eats and drinks appropriately and independently

As a parent or carer of a school-aged child, you will make thousands of lunches in the coming years, and hopefully, these will be mostly eaten! Transitioning children to a packed lunch can require some extra attention in advance. It is never too early to practice serving your child’s lunch in a lunch box or insulated bag at home. Often schools will require a special fruit break so that may take some extra practice with new containers. It is a good idea to find a drink bottle that your child can learn to open and close independently.

At Plumtree, we understand, as you do, that every child is unique and will have their own individual set of strengths and skills when they enter school. Further, we understand that this is a big life event which impacts on all the family. Should you need additional support in preparing your child for school, and, importantly, in helping the school to get to know your child, please feel free to reach out to your keyworker,  who can help to coordinate the next steps.

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