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Is Your Child Ready For School?

Starting school is an exciting and monumental time in a child’s life! As loving caregivers, we all want to be sure our children enjoy the early experiences of education. While all kids develop at different rates and all have the right to be accepted as they are, there are some key skills that can help children get the most out of the early school experience. In this article, we will review the key social, emotional, intellectual and verbal skills that youngsters will need as they enter the classroom. For cases in which parents feel their child needs some extra support, we will look at how speech-language therapy can get kids ready for school and set for for success.

Skills Your Child Needs for School

Parents may already be aware of the academic skills that are useful in early school – such as the child being able to count, recognise letters, write his or her own name and use equipment like scissors or pencils. What is less obvious but possibly even more important are the “soft skills” children need. These are a range of interpersonal skills that, if a child has grasped them by school age, will make his or her transition into the classroom much easier. These abilities include:

  • Language development: The child speaks confidently and possesses a good vocabulary.

  • Prior exposure to books: The child exhibits pre-reading skills and a desire to read.

  • Social maturity: The child makes friends easily and is able to cooperate with others. He or she is secure, confident, and able to do basic activities (such as dressing and toileting).

  • Behaviour and discipline: The child accepts and respects authority, is obedient, can sit still and listen.

  • Health: The child is in good health and has the ability to cope with personal hygiene.

  • Desire to learn: The child is curious.

Is Your Child Ready for School?

In New Zealand, Plunket screens four-year-olds to ensure they have the basic skills prior to starting school. You can find parent-friendly information about Plunket’s “B4 School Check” and its recommended benchmarks on this website.

In making your own evaluation of your child’s preparedness for class, you may wish to consider a few of the following questions as well. Can your child:

  • Listen to stories, learn rhymes, recognise and name colours?

  • Play, share, take turns and adapt to doing things differently?

  • Cope with change and deal with challenges?

  • Dress himself/herself, pull pants up and down, wipe their own bottom and wash their hands?

  • Converse socially and express their needs?

  • Run, jump, catch, balance and dance?

  • Cut, paste and use pencils?

  • Recognise numbers and begin counting?

How a Speech-Language Therapist can Help

It almost goes without saying that a Speech-Language Therapist (SLT) will help kids improve their communication and social skills. Less obvious, however, is the breadth and depth of issues that SLTs cover in supporting these areas! In this section, we will investigate the main aspects that an SLT will assess and – if necessary – treat, when preparing a child’s social and communication skills for school.

When looking at your child’s communication skills, a SLT will ensure he or she can initiate and sustain conversations with adults and other children, speaking clearly, audibly and with appropriate eye contact. The SLT will ensure children have the language skills to describe recent experiences, and to ask inferential questions such as “why?” and “what’s next?” Speech therapy can actually help kids with a quite range of language-related skills, including the abilities to:

  • Understand requests/instructions and seek clarification.

  • Carry out three directions in sequence.

  • Listen attentively and answer questions in a group situation.

  • Talk reciprocally with peers and take part in conversation.

  • Interrupt conversations appropriately.

  • Join in a conversation appropriately.

  • Recite rhymes and sing songs.

  • Retell stories.

  • Sort and match items according to simple attributes.

Regarding the social skills required for kids to be ready for school, SLTs will ensure that they are able to understand and comply with cultural norms, such as making eye contact and facing a person when they are talking. Speech therapy will also arm children with strategies to manage frustration, avoid tantrums and to wait patiently for several minutes for adult attention. Again, a SLT will support a very broad range of skills, including but not limited to the abilities to:

  • Sit at a table and work for 10 minutes.

  • Separate from parents.

  • Independently begin an activity.

  • Ask for and accept help if necessary.

  • Play at an activity for 20 minutes or more.

  • Play cooperatively with friends for 20 minutes or more.

  • Share own toys with friends.

  • Take turns in small group games without assistance.

  • Understand the needs and feelings of others.

To summarise, children will experience a smooth transition into primary school if they have certain social, verbal and intellectual abilities. You can gauge your child’s school-readiness with Plunket’s B4 School checklist, and if any concerns arise, a Speech-Language Therapist is one of the key professionals to consider contacting.

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