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10 things parents can do to prepare and support the development of children for nursery | by Davelle Lee

Most parents have now found out which nurseries have offered them places, and it is worth starting now to prepare your little ones as term start dates are only 4 months away. Davelle Lee, our correspondent, based in Singapore, tells us a few ways to help our little ones settle when September comes round.

The transition from home-care to kindergarten can be scary, perhaps more so for parents than their children. It is a big step in early childhood development, a child’s preliminary leap out of the proverbial nest. If you are a parent worrying about your child’s impending departure from home and into the mad world of Montessori, Reggio Emilia or Forest kindergartens, let me assure you that this period can be exciting and enjoyable for you and your child as long as you make the necessary preparations.

#Let them wear their own shoes. 

Infants start to gain a sense of self at as early as fifteen months of age. Once they start to walk, they are able to explore their environments on their own. At this stage, toddlers start to take initiative, which overtime morphs into a desire to learn and an openness to experience. Kids who are inquisitive benefit a lot more from the rich, stimulating environment that a kindergarten provides than those who are shielded from the world around them. Foster your child’s initiative by allowing him to explore independently (under your watchful gaze, of course). Encourage him to perform simple tasks on his own, such as pouring himself a cup of juice or pulling on his socks. This helps them develop a sense of self-efficacy and also improves their motor skills. Do make sure that the tasks you assign him are physically manageable. It is unlikely that junior, at age three, will know how to lace up his boots just yet.

#Create opportunities to share.

Prior to kindergarten, children who don’t have siblings have little opportunity to interact with groups of their peers. As a result, most kids are still pretty egocentric at that age. Parents and caregivers often give children their undivided attention, responding to their needs under record-breaking time. Imagine that “I want what I want, and I want it now” attitude carried into a classroom of twenty screaming kids. Not pretty. Pro-social behaviour doesn’t come about naturally. Kids learn to share through observing interactions between adults and modelling their behaviour. Give your child the chance to split her cookie with you, or prompt her to offer Grandma the last piece of fruit during snack time.

Eventually, most children will develop a sense of fairness at school, shaped by constant reinforcement, either in the form of punitive action or reward. Such reinforcement can be dished out by anyone, even peers. Children who refuse to share may face social sanctions like ostracism, and those who are generous and kind may become more popular. By giving your child a head start in the sharing department, he or she will be primed for quicker adjustment to an unfamiliar setting where every child is competing for resources and attention. Learning pro-social behaviour early means that your child can also set a great example for the other children in class.

#Talk about race and diversity. 

Forget conventional wisdom: children are not colour-blind. If you live in a place with high ethnic diversity, it is likely that your child will notice early on that some children are different from others. Adults can say nasty racist things, and even a passing comment by a stranger can have lasting impact on your child. Look out for misconceptions your child might have picked up about children of different ethnicities and address them during play. Read storybooks with a diverse range of characters together. During imaginative play, you can also use dolls and stuffed animals to illustrate racial prejudice and help your child develop empathy.

#Watch out for gender stereotypes.

Once in a kindergarten that I worked at, I heard a little girl tell her friend, “You can’t be a princess because you have short hair!” Though laughable, statements like these can have profound effects on a child’s socioemotional development. The poor girl with the bob cut, wailing that she wanted to have long red locks like Ariel, is proof that deeply ingrained gender-stereotypical concepts can be very damaging to a child’s self-image.

Children make sense of the world by drawing from the television shows they watch, the books they read and perhaps most importantly, the stuff you buy them. Having a ton of Esla and Anna merchandise is perfectly okay, but it is important to remind your daughter (or son) that Frozen-mania has no gender specificity. Both boys and girls can appreciate Disney princess shows, just as they can all appreciate Spiderman or Thomas the Train. Ultimately, respect your child’s preferences. If it’s a bright pink backpack that your child likes, and not the gender-neutral green that she says she hates, then there is no harm in purchasing the former. Just be sure to explain to her that her personal taste is dissociated from her gender. Other little girls may very well prefer the green backpack.

#When it comes to which schools to pick, do your homework.

The quality of kindergarten education can vary widely, regardless of the fees that centres may charge. A good centre can provide a more responsive, stimulating and structured environment for children to hone their cognitive and social skills. Here are some things to look out for:

Make sure that the centre has a wide range of toys and equipment such as blocks, water and sand play. Facilities such as reading corners, free play areas and notice boards should be organised well and clearly demarcated with ample space for children to manoeuvre. If possible, observe the classroom interaction. Warm teacher-child engagement is vital, because perceived support and acceptance from teachers its critical for a child’s adjustment. A low staff-to-child ratio usually facilitates better interpersonal interaction.

#Get involved!

Parents’ active participation their children’s education and engagement with the school have been found to strongly predict future academic success. Talk to your child about their day, discuss the assignments that they have brought home and practise what they have learned at school. You can never make too many collages with macaroni, after all. On top of this, having two-way communication with teachers is essential for boosting your child’s school competence. Teachers can identify certain weaknesses and strengths in your child that you might not have noticed before. In addition, mutual understanding and collaboration can help all parties to provide tailored support to best benefit your child.

#Prep junior for a great time.

A study conducted in the United States found that children who expressed enthusiasm about starting kindergarten had better adjustment, participated more in class activities, showed greater social competence and persistence in their work. Get your child excited about the fun they can expect, be it the new toys they’ll get to play with, the big playground in the yard, or the new friends they will make. Kindergarten is a big milestone in your child’s growth, so build his or her anticipation by emphasising that it is a place where they will become more mature and more capable than ever before.

 #Dealing with separation anxiety.

Parting with your child on the first day of school is never easy. Not for him, nor for yourself. Don’t worry if your child seems to be having a hard time saying goodbye at the beginning. Children who are securely attached to their primary caregivers will quickly catch on that at the end of the day mommy or daddy will be there to take them home. However, some children have anxious dispositions and may face greater difficulty adjusting to the kindergarten environment. If you notice that your child is socially withdrawn, stressed, or constantly makes somatic complaints while at school, you may want to consult a clinician about possible interventions, such as individual or group play therapy. A skilled practitioner can help to alleviate these internalising behavioural problems and help children with high social anxiety acclimatise to the school setting.

#Keep your child (relatively) safe.

Accidents are bound to happen at school. Research shows that boys are more prone to injury than girls, and most injuries occur outdoors. The good news is that you can reduce the chances of injury by choosing a centre that has a continual staff education plan on child safety; this is actually the strongest predictor of injury prevention, according to data collected from close to a hundred kindergartens in Austria. Discuss with the management team at your centre of choice about safety measures have been put in place. Open communication and constant feedback will ensure that the centre covers all its bases and keeps your children safe.

#Encourage your child the right way.

We all want to protect our children’s self-esteems. We want them to know that they are unique and competent individuals. But be careful not to shower your child with the wrong kind of praise. Psychologists have found that person praise, directed at a child’s attributes rather than effort or performance (e.g. “You are so pretty and smart!”) can actually reduce a child’s persistence when it comes to attempting new or challenging activities. This is because children who receive such praise develop a sense that their abilities are innate and are fixed at a predetermined aptitude. They may choose to perform tasks that are familiar and simple, instead. Parents should provide non-generic praise that is specific to a particular task. For example, when your child shows you a nice drawing that she has made, don’t tell her that she is a “good drawer” but rather say that it is a “good drawing”. In targeting her performance, this type of praise gives the child a sense of mastery in the task. This will help the child develop greater motivation to learn new skills.