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What key skills & experiences do our preschoolers need to smoothly transition into big school? How do we ensure they are ready even in the midst of Covid-19?

Our Shaws Preschool Curriculum Team, Imeelia Ismail-Tan (Director of Curriculum) and Serina Teo (Curriculum Specialist) are here to help.

Why  is it important to have a good transition to Primary school?

A transition is a journey, a process that takes place over a period of time and is not a one-off thing.  A child’s transition journey begins the moment he/she joins a preschool.  It evolves and matures throughout preschool and ends when the child has settled well into primary school. And of course, the actual duration is different for every child.

Having a good transition plan from K2 to P1 is very important for young children.  When they move from a preschool environment to a primary school, the change is huge.  The changes start with environment and routine; then to intra- and inter-personal relationships.  On top of it all, children have to contend with safe-distancing measures!  These changes can be overwhelming and daunting for any child.  To help children face these challenges head-on, we have to get them ready for school.

What is school readiness?

There are some specific skills to look out for as your child moves to Primary school. Your child should be able to:

  • Listen to and follow simple instructions
  • Communicate their needs
  • Dress and feed themselves
  • Share toys/materials with others and take turns
  • Understand and retell simple stories
  • Show an understanding of numbers and how numbers are used in their lives
  • Read sight words & high frequency words. This is important because if the child is able to read high frequency words, then he will be able to navigate through the texts and worksheets introduced in primary school. and if he is able to write high frequency words, it will allow him to confidently express himself and do creative writing.

From the above list, you will notice that school readiness is not just about whether a child is academically ready.  More importantly, we should be looking at whether the child is emotionally and socially ready to face the challenges.  In fact, school readiness includes whether the FAMILY is ready, and what the preschool can / have done to get the child ready.

A ready child is one who is ready and eager to learn. With the help of the positive attitudes of involved parents, and support from the pre-school, the transition experience for the children will be so much more enjoyable.

Changes faced by children

As children move from preschool to Primary school, they face many changes.

Change in the environment and routine.  This would be the most apparent change.  To the children, things have suddenly gone BIG.  Classroom is bigger, the school is bigger.  They can easily get lost in it!!  In addition, children have to wake up earlier, as their school day starts earlier.

Change in relationships and social status.  New school means new teachers, new friends, and new community (eg. Canteen stall holders, bus drivers, school counsellors, school nurse/dentist, etc).  They used to see the same teacher regularly.  Now they have different teachers for the different subjects, and they don’t always get a chance to see the form teacher. Not forgetting that they used to be the oldest in a preschool environment … but in Primary school, they’ve suddenly become the youngest.  They used to be able to talk to their Principal easily (especially in Shaws).  But in Primary school, they may not even know where to find the Principal.  So being sent to the Principal’s office has a totally new connotation to the child now.

To young children, any form of change is a challenge to them.

How do I prepare my child?

There are many things we can do to support children through this transition. Besides supporting them to be socially and emotionally ready, children need to be exposed on how to interact with peers and teachers.  In addition, we should also cultivate independence and prepare our children for emergencies.

To help them to face these challenges head on, grit and resilience are important essential life skills to cultivate in young children.

How can we help them to be socially and emotionally ready?  

As adults, we should encourage open communication and sharing of information (both ways).  We can provide them with security and unconditional love.  They must know and be comfortable with the adults to ask questions, make mistakes and learn.  Adults should also be encouraging towards your child, in order to cultivate a positive attitude in him/her.

How can we help children to interact with peers and teachers? 

We can show through stories and role play, create opportunities for children to practice how to interact and talk to their peers, when to ask questions in class, and how to face different situations in school.  They also need to learn how to lose graciously, like during sports day.   In this period, it is also important to teach children how to socialise with social-distancing in mind. And to help them understand that when a friend cannot be near them to play with them, it does not mean that they are no longer friends.  This will show our children how to be respectful of their friends’ decisions as well.

How do we help them be more independent? 

Give children more responsibilities and allow them to make simple decisions.  Children can only learn to be responsible when they are given ownership of something. Putting them “in-charge” is a guaranteed way to make them feel good about owning something.   At home, It could be something as simple as ordering food at the restaurant; selecting the movie for movie night at home; or which item to bring to school for show & tell.  In school, it can be deciding which messy play station to go to; which book to read; or big decisions like which project topic to study for 10 weeks.

How do help them adjust to new routine? 

Slowly move your child towards the primary school schedule. This might mean adjusting sleep and waking up schedules and including going through the sequence of the day.  Share about the transport arrangements with your child.  Let them know the school bus timings, the route from home to school and back, and introduce them to their school bus driver.   If possible, do a few dry-runs of their after-school schedules with them; like going to after-school care or to grandparent’s place.

How to prepare children for emergencies? 

Together with your child, make a list of important contact numbers. If possible, have your child remember your phone number and address.

In-spite of what the preschool has done for your child, they can still feel stressed by the process.  We are all apprehensive of changes.  It is the same for children.

Some things parents can do to support your child are:

  • Drive by the primary school, and talk about it with your child
  • Search on the school’s website to show your child what the school looks like.
  • Talk about the exciting new uniform
  • Talk about the bigger bags that they will have
  • Find out if any friends are going to the same school.
  • Reinforce the things you know your child will be excited about … could be a personal table, bigger bags, more independence etc.

Most importantly, parents should be as positive and calm as you can manage.  And let the teacher know about how the child is feeling, so the teacher can address it from her end too!

What are some worries parents have?

Many parents often worry that the change from a fun pre-school to a serious primary school may be too drastic a change for their child.  Remember that in pre-school, children are not just playing, they are learning the concepts through play. In addition, Primary schools are now progressively more aware and open to adopting more preschool-friendly strategies, eg. learning centres in the classroom, having snack breaks in class, etc.   All primary schools have a framework for managing transition and they adopt practices such as buddy system to help the P1 children shadow their older peers.

Parents can get their hearts and minds prepared, doing the following:

Before transition period.  Parents can consider participating in parenting / parent-support programmes and talk to other parents who have been through it.  Research into the primary school, or what Primary school education is like in Singapore will also help.

During the first week of school.  Between you and your spouse, one of you might be more ready than the other.  Have the parent who is more ready to handle the drop-offs for the first few days of school. This will make the separation less difficult for the parent or the child.

After transition period.  Keep the communication channels open.  Continue to provide feedback to the Primary school and teacher. Have conversations with you child about how he/she feels and what he/she thinks about primary school.  Alert the teacher if your child has any stresses, fears or concerns.  Being involved in school activities – even sign up as a parent helper or volunteer if you have the time will keep you up to date about what’s happening in school.

What do we do at Shaws Preschool to prepare children for Primary One?

Shaws Preschool recognises the significance of this big transition – it’s a big milestone in a K2 child’s life.  We dedicate a whole term to preparing the K2s for P1 transition (in the form of a project), and another term focusing on life-skills for children to gain more independence.  In December, we give it another go with a P1 prep camp for the K2s.  These are all done through fun and developmentally appropriate activities, with a little nudge to push the children to the next level.  It is always good to have a balance of academic readiness (understanding of basic concepts) as well as social & emotional readiness.

Our main goal of our Primary One Prep efforts is for our children to know what to expect. This is important to us, because in our experience, when they know what to expect, they feel safe, comfortable and confident about going to Primary 1.  A ready child should be one who looks forward to going to school.

We prepare our children in the following ways:

Social & Emotional Readiness of our Preschoolers.  We build a strong sense of self in each child, so that by the end of preschool they have a good grasp of who they are – what they’re good at, what they sometimes struggle with, what they like and what they don’t and how they’re all unique and special in their own right. We also build in our children a sense of belonging and community so that they remain positive and feel secure about their preschool experiences and therefore continue with that mindset into primary school. “I did well and had a great time in Shaws, so I am also going to be great in Primary school!”

Empowering children with information. Right from the beginning of kindergarten, we inundate the children with information about big school.  We talk about the big classrooms, the uniforms, the canteen experience an all that. Since June this year, the children have gone through various primary school’s Virtual tours, virtual open houses. We’ve also organised Zoom sessions with Shaws’ alumni, for them to talk to our K2s about what to expect in Primary school.  Our K2s get first-hand experience from their “own”.

Progressively increase children’s attention span.   By providing children with on incrementally longer tasks and lessons, it helps to gradually increase their attention span.  Children will get used to paying attention for longer periods of time. Ultimately, this helps them to focus and learn well, when they start primary school.

Fostering new way of socializing.  With social-distancing becoming the new norm, children’s social & communication skills will be developed differently.  They now have the opportunity to learn about how to deal with communication in a different way.  They practice being more understanding and tolerant, as they may not be able to hear / communicate as efficiently.  Children may also have a wider social circle, as they may not always be able to play with who they want to play with (if they are not in the same bubble). The peers are all going through the same thing right now, thus everyone is on par, practicing Social Distancing.

Building new routine and independence.  At K2 level, we plan more opportunities for the children to engage in independent tasks (like packing their school bags, serving lunch to their friends, cooking), coupled with a lot of communication and role play.

Providing children with the experience to handle real money is an example of how hands-on experience helps the children learn.  As we set up stalls for them to role play seller and buyer, they practice counting out coins to “pay” for their lunch, snacks, stationery, or whatever they decide to sell.  Note that in order for the children to start learning how to manage money, they have to be very comfortable with the basic fundamental skills that we’ve introduced way before, like more and less, number bonds, place value, simple addition and subtraction.

Developing grit and resilience.  Through our experiences this year alone, having gone through circuit breaker and different phases of re-opening, our children have already shown us how adaptable, flexible, and resilient they can be, in embracing the changes in how we do things on a daily basis.

Progressively preparing them for activity sheets. As early as N2, children are introduced to activity sheets.  Not as a homework or drill, but as a tool for children to apply what they’ve learnt via concrete and hands-on activities.  When children understand the concept learnt, worksheets are the easy part.  We are highly aware that the ability to think in abstract terms are needed for children to work on activity sheets.  Not all children are ready for that at the same time.

How do I know if my child is ready?

Your child is ready for this change if your child ….

  • knows what to expect. He/she understood rules, routines, where to go, how the school and classroom would look like.
  • is independent, by knowing how to take care of his/her own belongings.
  • is confident in herself to try out new things, to make new friends.
  • knows how to handle money and is comfortable buying her own food, counting out money, checking for change.
  • knows he/she can talk to you about anything.
  • Knows he/she can ask her teachers for help if she needed it

Above all, your child should be happy and excited about going to primary school!