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Preparing for Your Child's First School Experience

How can parents help their child traverse the wide gap from home and school?


As an educator of young children, I lamented the gulf between home and school. For four-year-olds arriving at the large school of over 600 children where I used to work, it was like landing on Mars. Their first day consisted of bustling hallways, umpteen transitions, and strange, overly-cheerful adults chirping one command after another--often in a language new to the child.


When founding Monarch, I tried to make the first school experience a gentler, more home-like one. That said, some aspects of co-existing in a small space with many other children and (temporarily) leaving your parents are unavoidable. Here, I think through how parents can prepare their children for this big change.


1. Cultivate Independence

As caretakers, it feels natural to do things for our children: zip their coats, pour their water, buckle their shoe, blow their nose, clean up their toys, etc. However, once they arrive at school, they will need to navigate life with more independence. Intentionally teaching these life skills helps children build confidence and a sense of self-efficacy.


What it looks like at home:

  • Allow your child to complete developmentally-appropriate self care tasks such as picking out their outfit and putting on as much as they can independently or with minimal assistance.

  • Involve your child in the life of the home, such as cooking, watering plants, raking leaves, or folding laundry.

  • Teach your child how to keep themselves healthy by washing their hands, covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough, and blow their noses with a tissue rather than their sleeves.

  • Have a system for putting toys away that your child can maintain themselves, and encourage them to clean up their toys as they go.



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2. Model Appropriate Interactions

Your child can practice interacting with children through playing with you. Think about how you would like your child to respond in situations, and model that behavior and language for them. For example, model how to share, take turns, and problem-solve peacefully. These interactions set them up for success when they begin collaborating with other children.


In addition, help them become fluent in feelings, both recognizing and expressing how they feel and observing how someone else might feel. This will help them deescalate when experiencing emotions such as anger or frustration, and it will foster empathy for others.


What it looks like at home:

  • When playing together, ask, "Can I play with you?" or "Can I play with that when you are done?"

  • Make feelings a topic of conversation. Talk through coping strategies for when people have difficult emotions such as anger, frustration, or sadness. Validate your child's feelings, and express your own.



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3. Strengthen Fine Motor Skills

Many self-care and academic tasks require fine motor manipulation. Most significantly, recent advancements in neuroscience revealed that the brain connections formed through fine motor practice lay the neural infrastructure for later learning. Through fun and engaging hands-on activities, children can build their strength and dexterity.


What it looks like at home:

Self-Care

  • Dressing

  • Eating

  • Preparing food (chopping, peeling, spooning, stirring)

  • Cleaning (spraying, scrubbing, wiping)

  • Brushing teeth and hair

Art

  • Painting

  • Manipulating clay/Play Doh/putty

  • Cutting with scissors

  • Gluing

  • Drawing

Play

  • Puzzles

  • Building with Legos, Duplos, blocks, or train tracks

  • Grasping bowls

  • Water play- squeezing sponges or basters, pouring



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4. Find School-Adjacent Experiences in the Community

As part of my effort to bridge the gap between home and school, I helped establish Kaleidoscope Learning. At Kaleidoscope, families experience Open Play Hours, which simulates a classroom environment but with parents present. Children also attend Musical Storytime, which introduces them to a teacher-led, whole-group activity. Thus, when Kaleidoscope children enter the Monarch classroom, I notice that adjusting to the new environment is significantly easier for them.


If you live in or near St. Paul, Minnesota, come on into Kaleidoscope for these enriching events! If not, chances are you can find similar resources closer to home. Public libraries often hold story hours, and school districts offer Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE).



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In Summary

"School-readiness" has traditionally meant memorizing your ABC's and counting to 20. However, these other skills that I laid out above are primary; children's learning will take off once they feel comfortable and empowered in their classroom.


What did you think of the list? Did it resonate with you? I am also curious to hear from other educators. What would you add or change?

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