Small steps to independence

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 November, 2010, 12:00am

The first day of the school year at many kindergartens around Hong Kong usually brings floods of toddler tears and parental fears about how well their child will cope. Most youngsters start kindergarten at three years of age and nursery school at two, but are they really ready to take this big step away from home?

Readiness for pre-primary schooling is often based on age and skills such as counting or being able to write their name. However, true readiness for school has more to do with a child's emotional and social readiness.

Readiness means a child should be able to separate from their parents without emotional stress, be responsible for their belongings, follow a few directions without being distracted, form positive friendships, solve conflicts without hitting out in anger or frustration, relate comfortably with a teacher and start activities of their own choosing without much prompting.

Children without these characteristics may have an unhappy time for the first few years of school. So what can parents do to help their child get ready for school?

Organise regular care situations for about two hours when you and your child can practise separating and coming back together. Setting up play dates with a friend, who has a child of a similar age is a good way to do this. Make your child responsible for helping to tidy up their playthings after they have finished. Have specific places for all of their possessions.

Interacting with other children through attending playgroups will provide opportunities for developing the skills needed for starting friendships, solving conflicts peacefully, learning to share and take turns.

Parents who read regularly with their child at home are helping to build school readiness. Reading promotes a love of literacy and positive social relationships.

Regularly talking, reading, and sharing activities with your child enables you to encourage skill development and helps build your child's concentration span.

Limit the amount of television your child watches, particularly programmes that may be scary. One hour a day of quality programmes made for pre-schoolers is sufficient. Provide many opportunities for imaginative play. This fosters a child's creativity and love of exploring new ideas and situations.