'Can they open their lunchbox?' 7 things your child should know by kindergarten.

Parents with children aged between four and five who will start school in 2024, are currently navigating the enrolment paperwork and open days. 

There's a lot to organise and think about and it can be an emotional time for the whole household as you gear up for the next big stage of your child's life.

Teacher, mum and author of Before Big School, Danielle Murray, says that there are some things parents can do to help their child feel properly ready. 

And it might not be as hard as you think.

"Many parents feel like they need to teach their kids how to read and write before they start school and it's not actually the case," Murray tells Mamamia

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"Gone are the days of flash cards and formal home learning. These days, we encourage a lot more meaningful, play-based learning that embeds school readiness into a normal day."

Danielle suggests that parents focus on these seven key areas for readying kids for primary school.

1. Basic literacy.

"It's not about teaching your child to read. Instead, it's more about fostering a love of reading," Murray says.

"Go to the library or bookshop and let your child choose a book they are interested in. If they love dinosaurs, point them towards a book about dinos. Make reading books fun and engaging and encourage questions and conversations about the subject."


At kindergarten, kids will learn how to read using phonics and Murray suggests getting your kids ready for this approach by having fun and recognising word, letter, and sentence sounds.

"There is a reason that nursery rhymes have been used to teach kids for so many years. Kids have always responded to singing and rhyming, so go to a 'rhyme time' at your local library or just have fun with rhymes, silly sentences, or alliterations at bedtime. 'Magic monkeys munch mangoes' is my example!"

Ultimately, Murray says it is about bringing the 'teaching' into your everyday life. 

"Maybe you are doing the grocery shopping and you can ask your child about the different fruits and veggies going into the trolley. Talk about the sounds common words start with like 'b for ball' and just enjoy rich conversations with your child that use a mix of words. 

"You don't need to replicate a school day, just think about the way your real-world experiences can engage them."

2. Fine motor skills.

Children don't need to write full sentences before they start school, but helping with their fine motor skills is a good idea.

"They need the strength in their hands to hold a pencil, so I tell parents to focus on building this strength before kindy," she says.

"Using and working with playdough is one fun option, as is drawing pictures and colouring while making squiggly or straight lines and forming strokes on a page." 


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3. Communication skills.

According to Murray, one sign of being school ready is the child's ability to sit, listen and communicate needs to someone else.

"You need to speak in sentences before you can write one," Murray explains.

"Spend some time simply chatting to your child about the things that interest them. Ask them questions and model answers that encourage full sentence responses. Something like: 'What's your favourite colour? My favourite colour is blue.' Great writers are often great speakers!"

To teach your child how to have a conversation, Murray recommends using specific questions rather than a vague, 'What did you do today?'.

"I encourage specific questions like, 'Who did you play with today?' and 'What did you play after lunch?', as this is more likely to get them answering in more detail, as opposed to a single word answer."

4. Early numeracy skills.

Encouraging basic numeracy skills is helpful before starting school and Murray says introducing counting and simple mathematics in a practical way is best.

"When you are hanging out the washing on the line, ask your child to count the pegs, or when you are setting the table for dinner, ask them to collect a specific number of spoons for you.

"It's about bringing numbers and concepts like 'more' or 'less' into your existing everyday tasks. 

"Baking and measuring amounts is another easy way to make numbers fun, as is playing board games and counting dots on the die or spaces on the board."


5. Social skills and managing anxiety.

Starting school is a big deal so managing their nerves and helping them with social skills is important, Murray says.

"Keep all your primary school references positive and fun. While they mean well, grandparents telling horror stories about being smacked at school should be saved until they are older!

"If they are feeling anxious, don't discount their feelings by saying they are 'silly'. It is scary starting something new and as parents we need to recognise our kids' feelings and emotions but tell them how their teacher wants to help. Reassure them by explaining they will visit the school and meet the teacher and classmates for orientation days."

Another way to help allay fears, is to make friends with other parents and organise social catch ups on their behalf.

"Social anxiety is normal. It is hard as an adult to walk into a room where you don't know anyone and make friends, so kids need our help! Organise playdates before school starts (if possible) so they can practice playing together and recognise friendly faces on day one.

"Ensure they know what to do if someone is making them feel sad and how to stand up for themselves. They don't have to play with someone that makes them feel bad.  

"They will need to separate from you once school begins, so if they have trouble with this, let the teacher know they find it hard and have a plan that works for you. Encourage kids to talk about their feelings and be able to use their words to ask for what they need, like simply greeting friends or asking to join a game."


6. Resilience.

Murray says that resilience is the ability to thrive in difficult situations and that it is very much a key component to doing well when starting school. 

"We can't protect our kids all the time and we need to give them the tools to work out how to thrive in different situations.

"They must feel safe, so whether that is with you or a teacher, then that is the first step. Then they need a sense of positive self-belief that they can do things or ask for help by themselves if they need to. Help them by modelling this behaviour so they can see how resilient you are."

7. Practical skills. 

Finally, Murray says that kids will need to know some basic practical skills like how to dress themselves and pack up things into their bag before starting school.

"Kids need to have the ability to go to the toilet independently. They need to be able to follow instructions that include more than one step and they also need to have the skills to open their own lunchboxes, water bottles, or snack containers by themselves. 

"These practical skills just need a bit of practice before school starts so they feel confident to tackle them alone or have the communication skills to ask for help."

To buy Danielle Murray's book 'Before Big School' and to find out more about her tips for starting school, visit her website.

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Senior Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Getty.

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