Senior Speech Pathologist
It’s that time of year, when children are enrolling, orientations are starting, and parents are feeling excited and nervous about sending their pre-schoolers off to big school at the start of next year. So, the question that a lot of parents are asking is “How can I best prepare my child for big school?”
When children start school the language demands increase. Language is now used for new purposes: telling stories, asking questions, reporting their findings, giving and following instructions, explaining information and introducing themselves to new people.
Children starting school will not only use language, they will need to think about language and talk about language. Metalinguistics is essential for school success. It is the ability to think deliberately about all aspects of language. It is crucial for learning to read. E.g. What does the word ‘caution’ mean? What is a better word than ‘said’ to use in that sentence? What is the first sound you hear in the word ambulance? How many syllables does computer have? How could we remember that information for next week? How do you spell because? How did you know that word said ‘which’?
With an increase of the language demands at school, it is important that in the months leading up to starting school you expose your child to a range of language skills.
It is important to involve your child in lots of talking and listening. A few simple ways that you can do this include:
- Turning off the TV during dinner – and instead use this time to talk about the day. Share your experiences with your child and ask them questions that can help structure their own story.
- Teach new vocabulary by adding new words to the conversation, discussing what words or phrases mean, telling jokes or commenting on how and what people say.
- Ask open ended questions to encourage your child to talk and express ideas. Such as ‘why’, ‘how’, etc.
- Play word and listening games to build vocabulary and expressive language, even something as simple as ‘What’s the first word you think of when I say …’ Then explain how the words are connected. e.g. a crocodile and a bird are both animals.
- Involve children in activities beyond immediate family – library, museum, zoo, and most importantly drive by your child’s new school regularly! point out the parts of the school, talk about how fun and exciting it will be! Dress up in the school uniform!
- Model for them your own thinking, this will start exposing them to metalinguistic skills – e.g. I’ve decided to cook sausages tonight/I thought you wanted jam, not vegemite.
Listening skills are essential for school readiness. Listening is more than being quiet. Active listening involves, hearing and focusing attention, discriminating relevant from irrelevant information, controlling your attention, holding information in your memory and formulating evaluations and responses. Active listening is essential for school readiness. On average teachers ask 300-400 questions per day, 40% of a teacher’s talk time is spent asking and responding to questions, 50-60% of a students talk time is in response to questions and generally teachers wait time less than 1 sec
for a response. With so many questions it is important that your child can listen actively to the teacher and come up with a answer in a short amount of time.
The questions a teacher asks at school is different than the ones you ask at home.
At home – you ask a questions because you want to know the answer.
At school – teachers ask questions to which they already know the answer, they ask the questions to determine if the child has learned content.
You can develop your child’s listening skills by:
- Encouraging active listening – play Simon Says and Memory Games
- Ask questions that extend thinking skills, clarify understanding, provide feedback on teaching/learning, create links between ideas, enhance curiosity and provide challenges.
- Ask your child a range of questions. For more information about the levels of questioning please read my next Blog ‘Asking the right question’
Exposing your child to print and books is important.
- Talk about how books have writing, the writing tells us which words to say to make up the story. Some books also have pictures.
- Show your child signs and labels in the environment e.g. Police, Train station, expose them to text. You could also read the labels of items when you are shopping for groceries.
- Show how to hold a book, where to start, how we read left to write.
- Use words such as title, author, illustrator, chapter etc. when discussing the book
- Provide a model of the value and enjoyment of reading and writing in everyday life – write notes, read magazines, make shopping lists.
- Help them create their own books, paste in pictures, use photos or own drawings. You could use family photos to create an ‘album’ and practice writing names.
- Ask you child to orally tell you a story for you to write.
- Provide writing materials and paper for experimenting with written language. e.g. tracing words and letters
- Introduce fun opportunities for your child to “read’ simple personal messages from you. E.g. Hello Josh. Today we are going to the pool. Make sure you have a towel. Love Dad.
- Introduce the letters of the alphabet, by writing the letters as you are singing in the alphabet song. Play alphabet puzzles.
- Give opportunities for children to then learn the names of the individual letters when out of order.
- Teach some common and consistent sound-letter associations e.g. the letter ‘m’ makes the ‘mmm’ sound , the letter ‘s’ makes the ‘sss’ sound.
- Teach your child the first sound of their name
- It is important to always say the name and sound of the letter when writing with your child
To enhance your child’s pre-literacy skills (phonological awareness) you can:
- Clap out the beats/syllables in words, e.g. how many beats are in your child’s name?
- Play “I Spy” with first sounds not letters, e.g. I’m thinking of something starting with the ‘mmm’ sound…
- Talk about rhyme and introduce rhyming games
- Enjoy alliteration and tongue twister games e.g. ‘ants on the apple’, ‘Suzy snake slithers’
- Make a regular time to read to your child – every day
- Read a variety of books – picture books, information books, magazines, nursery rhymes, books that emphasize sounds.
- Take time to talk about the book. Don’t just read the words. e.g. Stop and predict what will happen next, ask your child to find objects in the picture, talk about and draw the best part of the story, what does the story remind them of?
- Ask questions that probe understanding e.g. What was the main problem in the story? or Why did the character do that? What would you have done?
- Have fun with language and jokes and discuss the meanings of unusual words.
- Reread familiar stories – your child can help you retell or act out the story.
Remember school is about learning! It is okay if your child can not do all of these things quite yet. That is what kindergarten is about. But if you expose your child to the areas listed above they have a greater chance of success when they do start at school!
If you have any concerns regarding your child’s school readiness skills an assessment with a speech pathologist and/or an occupational therapist can help. It is important that you also talk to your child’s preschool teacher to see what their thoughts are about your child starting school and what they are doing at preschool to best support the transition. For information about what kindergarten teachers want children to be able to do when starting school please read the blog post ‘Is your child ready for school? What Kindergarten teachers say’ by David Kinnane, by following this link: https://www.banterspeech.com.au/is-your-child-ready-for-school-what-kindergarten-teachers-say/
Kinnane, D. (2005, January 5). Is your child ready for school? Focusing on what matters most. Retrieved from Banter Speech and Language: https://www.banterspeech.com.au/is-your-child-ready-for-school-focusing-on-what-matters-most/
Love and Reilly. (2003, November). SCHOOL READINESS AND EARLY LITERACY. Love and Reilly Newsletter No, p. No 7.
Prior, M. B. (2011). Predictors of school readiness in five- to -six-year-old children from an Australian longitudinal community sample. . Education Psychology, 31(1), 3-16.
School readiness checklist. (2005). Retrieved from Communicate Speech Pathology: http://communicatespeech.com.au/resources/speech-a-language-checklists/school-readiness-checklist
Snow, K. L. (2006). Measuring School Readiness: Conceptual and Practical Considerations. Early Education and Development, v17 n1 p7-41 2006