Is your child school-ready?

Manaswini Sridhar

As teachers, we are all perplexed by the various directives given by the board of education. In addition to teaching students the curriculum, we are also expected to equip them with ‘life skills’. What kind of life skills (it sounds so overwhelming!) can we give pre-primary students? We are confused and don’t really understand what is expected of us. I am also a young mother with a child at home. What kind of skills do I need to instill in my child to be school ready?

Many people think that life skills are skills that one teaches a child whose ambition it is to become the leader of a country! Life skills are abilities that one develops at each stage in order to cope with life without feeling inadequate. These include skills in communication, decision-making, problem solving, managing time, and in general, managing life without upsetting the people around us.

The most important skill that a child getting into school should have is to be toilet trained. The age of diapers has made it very convenient for many a mother to postpone this training that used to begin rather early in life. Teachers complain that many of their students are not toilet trained, so this becomes an extra burden for them. This is not the case in just our country. Toilet training is about self-discipline and also about communication… the ability of a child to inform an adult of the need to use the restroom. It helps the child become more independent of the parents and more aware of his bodily needs.

Children should be able to dress and undress with little or no help by the time they are four so that they can zip their pant or button their shirt when it comes undone in class. They do not have to feel embarrassed about rushing to the teacher for help, or worry about other children jeering at them. Pushing their feet into the right shoe and doing and undoing their shoelaces or the Velcro, as the case may be, must all fall into place as a matter of routine. It can be done by encouraging the child and allowing the child to feel independent. It requires a great deal of patience on the part of the parent, but this is far more important than colouring or building a Lego fantasy. The dexterity of the body, the fingers and concentration all come into focus when performing these routine, mundane tasks. What takes ten minutes will eventually slide down to ten seconds by mere repeated action. I have seen a flash of pride on the face of a child as he bends down to do his shoelaces in the presence of elders. Acknowledge the feat (yes, it is a feat for the child) with applause or a pat on the back.

Allow your child to play with books, making sure that she/he doesn’t tear them. Demonstrate how pages are flipped and looked at. Babies enjoy the sound and feel of paper and look forward to playing with books. Make a game of opening and closing books. It will not only give your child a familiarity with the appearance of the written word but will also teach her the art of opening and closing books… a tool that is in use in every class. Let your child take pride in a particular book… do not complain that you have to read or listen to the same book every day. We too sometimes wear the same dress to bed everyday because it is so comfortable!

Teach your child the three golden words in the English language: sorry, please, and thank you. Make these words a part of your everyday conversation at home, in the shops, wherever you are, especially with your child. If these words become an integral part of her vocabulary, teachers will willingly comply with her request since communication skills are good and the child is viewed as a polite student, ready to respect others.

Make time to take your child to the park to play with other children. This will not only be an outlet for his pent-up energy and his eagerness to enjoy doing a physical activity, but it will also help him develop interpersonal skills with children of his own age so that there is a smooth transition to school. Most children dread going to school because they are afraid to interact with other children or with strange adults. Encourage your child to think of going to school as a treat (which is what it should actually be!) so that you do not deal with a cranky child at the end of the day, but a child who adapts to the new environment joyously.

If parents start off with skills like these children are better adjusted at school and are ready to devour all the knowledge that is handed out to them by the teacher. They do not have to worry about not being able to use the toilet, being unable to handle books or interacting with others outside their immediate family.

Parenting is being able to make your offspring comfortable in any environment; it is not about pampering your child because you love him or her. These are some of the life skills that every child must have in order to enjoy childhood. Children actually love to be trained by the parent and by the teacher. So if you haven’t begun already, do so today!

The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at manaswinisridhar@gmail.com.