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OT Tips for Getting your Child JK Ready

Sending your child off to junior kindergarten (JK) can be difficult on so many levels. It’s often filled with mixed emotions and sentiments including, “I can’t believe that my baby is actually starting school”. It also leaves parents asking themselves whether they’ve done enough to prepare their child and wondering if s/he will survive the first day.

The ‘pre school’ exposure that a child has had can play a direct role in his/her ‘school readiness’. Some children have sat with other kids at a table and mimicked the snack/lunch time routine, others have learnt the letters of the alphabet using a formal program, and many have participated in unstructured play with their peers or siblings. Whether your child has stayed at home with yourself or a nanny, or gone to daycare and/or preschool, some of the skills required for school have certainly been instilled. One method is not better than the other. What’s most important is that you are aware of your child’s strengths and limitations, and practice the things that will help your child succeed at the beginning of his/her school experience.

Although it’s only June, and there are still three months before the ‘big first day’, it’s important to know some of the things that you can be working on over the summer to help prepare your child for JK.

1. Practice opening and closing snack/lunch containers

Up until now, it’s likely that your child’s food has been cut up and plated for him/her during snack and meal times. As such, his/her experience opening and closing containers is probably limited. Don’t take for granted that your child can perform this skill independently. Teach this explicitly, and place readily used toys/objects inside containers for your child to practice with. If you’re noticing a struggle, purchase containers with easy to open lids (i.e. built up rims). To help your child differentiate snack vs. lunch items, label the containers with letters or numbers, in the order which they should be consumed. Once school has started, try and keep these containers consistent throughout the week to avoid confusion.

2. Ensure independence with bathroom routines

Students in JK are expected to be able to use the bathroom independently. Therefore, it’s important to practice this self-care task with your child and ensure that he/she knows all of the steps involved. Break down this routine and go over things such as how much toilet paper to use, how to push down and pull up various pairs of pants, and the correct way to handwash. If your child is struggling with the pants piece, try sewing two small loops on the inside of pants for him/her to grasp onto and pull up (one on either side). These can easily be made using extra pieces of fabric or elastic hair ties.

3. Work on dressing skills

Children at school are required to take outerwear and shoes on and off throughout the day. Depending on the school, they may also be required to change into gym clothes. Although the teachers will likely assist, your child will be at an advantage if he/she can perform a few of these tasks independently. Please see this previous blog post for some specific recommendations to make elements of dressing easier. In the weeks leading up to school, wake up early and have your child dress him/herself, with you simply providing modeling and verbal prompting.

4. Complete various craft activities

JK is the time for a child’s creativity to develop and shine via the completion of structured crafts. Although your child does not need to be proficient with these skills, make sure that he/she has been exposed to cutting with scissors, colouring with various writing tools and multi-sensory means, and sticking things together using glue, tape, and/or stickers. Why not start by making a family calendar for the summer? Involve your child in drawing the outline (or tracing over the lines), colouring pictures to represent events (i.e. balloons for a birthday, water for swimming), cutting it out, and pasting it on a piece of construction paper. Not only will this target various fine motor skills, but it will also help to instil the idea of structure and routine.

5. Improve letter recognition and identification

This is the area where there tends to be the greatest variability among students entering JK. Some children begin not knowing any of the letters, others can point to and name certain letters, and a select few can print their name. It’s important to understand that letter recognition (the ability to pick out to a letter when it is named), letter identification (the ability to name a specified letter), and letter writing, are three completely different tasks. Part of the JK curriculum involves learning how to print letters, thus it would not be expected to have this skill mastered before school starts. Nevertheless, knowing what a letter is, being able to name it, and realizing that it makes a sound, is advantageous. There are a number of ways to facilitate letter recognition and identification in young children; you can have a letter of the day/week at home, where a print out of it is placed on top of items beginning with that letter, you can allow your child to play on letter apps (i.e. Endless Alphabet), or you can encourage your child to watch “Leap Frog Letter Factory”.

Don’t overwhelm your child with too much ‘school practice’ over the summer. By making some of these activities part of your everyday routine, your child will develop the skills necessary, and feel more confident, entering JK in September. For all of you ‘first time school parents’ – good luck!

Jordana Schwarz, MSc.OT., OT Reg. (Ont.)

About Jordana Schwarz, MSc.OT., OT Reg. (Ont.)

Jordana is a certified Occupational Therapist who received a Master of Science degree in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy from the University of Toronto and an Honour’s Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from the University of Western Ontario. Jordana is a member in good standing of the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario (COTO) and the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists (OSOT).

Learn more about Jordana Schwarz, MSc.OT., OT Reg. (Ont.)

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