Sending your child to play school for the first time is an exciting, but also a daunting experience. While most children are ready for play school by the time that they are three, others may be ready from as early as the age of two.
However, before they can start nursery school, children should display a certain degree of independence. "Basic skills that your child should master before they start school differ widely, as each child is unique and develops at their own pace," says Idél Combrink, a foundation phase school teacher. "But by the time your child goes to play school, they should be an active participant in their own discovery and exploration of the world around them. They should be asking questions, processing your answers and developing their own basic understanding of how things work."
Signs that your child may be ready to start play school
• They require more stimulation outside of home. Signs of this include asking for play dates, losing interest in toys and activities at home and constantly wanting to go on outings or trips away from home.
• They’re able to spend time away from you. Your child should be used to, and comfortable with, spending a few hours with a grandparent or nanny when you’re not there.
• They can make themselves understood. It’s not necessary for your child to speak full sentences, but they should be capable of making simple requests and communicating their needs. They should be able to give you a basic idea of what they did at school when you fetch them after the first day.
• They can focus on an activity on their own. Play school typically includes many short activities. Your child should ideally be able to work on some or other task on their own for five to 10 minutes. This could be a puzzle, a drawing or stacking building blocks.
• They can perform basic personal skills. Some play schools require your child to be potty trained before they start school, so find out when you enquire about enrolment. They should also be able to eat a snack on their own, wash their own hands and do things like taking off shoes and pulling up their own pants.
• They cope well in a group. You can test this by taking your child to a moms-and-tots’ group or a reading morning at the library. They should be able to sit still in a circle, follow basic instructions and learn to share toys with others.
What you can do to prepare your child
So you've taken the plunge and enrolled your child. How can you make the move to school easier for your little one? "In my experience, the things children most commonly struggle with when starting play school are sharing and separation anxiety. This is because they’re often used to being at home with one caregiver, where they have all the toys to themselves," says Combrink.
Here’s how to ensure their transition goes smoothly:
• Assess your own attitude. "As a parent you must be positive about the big step of sending your child to school for the first time," says Combrink. Children watch their parents very closely and if you seem anxious about the move to school they will pick up on it.
• Organise play dates. "This will give your child the opportunity to learn how to play together, take turns and share," says Combrink.
• Get them ready for the routine. In the weeks preceding their first day at school, make sure that they’re capable of being alert and happy in the hours that they’ll attend school. They may need to drop a morning nap, or wake up slightly earlier to accommodate this.
• Talk about the school, the teacher and the new friends that they’ll make. If possible, visit the school in advance with your child and take a few photos of the play area and the teacher. Then put the photos up in their room in the week before school starts.
• Enlarge their world outside your home. "Stimulate discovery and learning by exposing your child to lots of different environments and situations before they start school," says Combrink. The more exposure they have to new experiences, the easier they’ll find it to cope in their new school situation.
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