Helping Your Child Prepare to Start School for the First Time

Starting school is a huge part of growing up! Those first days of school are often a big adjustment for kids. Anything you can do to prepare them will help the transition go as smoothly as possible. Here’s what parents and caregivers can do to help their child get ready for their very first day of preschool or kindergarten.

Practice school-related tasks

To help your child prepare for their first days of school, help them practice tasks they will need to do during the school day. These may be things like opening their lunchbox or water bottle, being able to undress and dress to go to the bathroom, or zipping and unzipping their backpack. 

If you can, start practicing these tasks well in advance. You can help your child as much as needed in the beginning, then start slowly backing off the amount of help you provide. 

It’s likely that your child’s teacher will be able to help with these tasks, too. But with a classroom full of kids, the teacher can’t help every student all the time. Setting your child up with these functional classroom skills will help them be as independent as possible.

Help your child learn to communicate at school

Communication is another area to focus on before starting preschool or kindergarten.

There are many things kids need to communicate during the school day. They need to ask to go to the bathroom, tell their teacher if they need help, communicate if something happened or they got hurt, and simply talk and comment with adults and other kids. Being able to communicate well with their peers helps children make friends and form relationships. It even helps with their self-esteem and self-confidence. 

You can work on social communication tasks with your child, as well. Practice greeting others, like saying, “Hi!” or “How are you?” Practice asking a friend if they want to play, or even how to talk through a misunderstanding. You can help your child by role-playing these scenarios with them. You can also enlist a sibling or friends to help.

How communication needs vary at home versus school

Home is often a relaxed setting for communication. We know the people who live with us well, so we know how to communicate with them and what to expect.

In other settings, like school, the topics of conversation can vary quite a bit from what we talk about at home. Children need to discuss schoolwork and school routines. They need to speak up to ask for help, and they have to communicate with people who don’t know them well.

Kids should be able to communicate in any environment, and other people should be able to understand them. This can be a challenge if your child has a speech or language delay, or problems with clear speech (called articulation). At school, they’re surrounded by “unfamiliar listeners,” which can make effective communication difficult.

Unfamiliar versus familiar listeners

Let’s talk more about what this means. Think about people you talk with often–your spouse, your kids, your friends. Chances are you know how these people speak and communicate… you can probably even finish their sentences! You are a familiar listener for these people. 

Let’s say you have a child whose speech is hard to understand. You’re used to hearing them every day, so you know the way they say certain words. When they tell you what they need, or explain something that happened, you can understand them and respond appropriately–even if their speech isn’t very clear. 

Unfamiliar listeners are people your child doesn’t speak with often and who are less likely to understand their speech.

While this isn’t a bad thing itself, your child might not recognize that others have a harder time understanding them. But this may be the case with unfamiliar listeners. Unfamiliar listeners are people your child doesn’t speak with often and who are less likely to understand their speech. At school, this can be teachers, other adults, and peers.

Being a clear communicator is a huge part of being a confident communicator. Everyone deserves to feel like they can tell someone what they need or want to say. And in school, this is a necessity. Speech therapy can go a long way in helping children improve their communication skills, articulation problems, and a speech or language delay. 

How speech therapy can help kids prepare for school

A speech therapist looks at how a child is currently communicating and helps them build on their skills in a way that brings the fastest results. 

For example, if a child is currently using one word to communicate, their speech therapist will likely help them start using two words at a time. They will focus on functional words and phrases that enable the child to ask for what they need. These could be phrases like “help please” or “I’m hungry.” So much communication can happen with just a few functional phrases. 

If a child isn’t speaking, the speech therapist may focus on using gestures or pictures to help them communicate. 

And of course, if a child is speaking but their sentences don’t make a lot of sense, or their speech is difficult to understand, speech therapy can improve these areas as well. 

How to get started in speech therapy

While early intervention is best, it’s never too late for your child to start speech therapy, even if they’re in kindergarten (or older!). If you think your child needs help with their speech, talk with their pediatrician. They may need to write you a script for therapy, and they’ll likely have recommendations for speech therapists. Online speech therapy can be a convenient option for families with busy schedules or those who don’t live close to speech therapy providers. 

You may also want to talk to your insurance company about their speech therapy coverage. There are benefits to using insurance to pay for speech therapy, and benefits to paying for it yourself. You can read more about these here

Make sure to ask your speech therapist any questions you have. They are there to help! Let your speech therapist know your child’s current strengths and communication difficulties, and don’t be afraid to speak up for any personal goals you have for your child. These can certainly include communication skills that will help school go more smoothly!

Your speech therapist will target functional communication that helps your child express their wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings. The goal is to help your child improve their communication skills in all situations and with all kinds of people.

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