Ready for school? The challenge of preparing your child, but without going overboard!
As a parent, you have a role to play in helping your toddler feel ready to start school. Several everyday activities such as reading stories, talking with your child, or going to the park together will help get them ready to learn in kindergarten.
Useful skills for school
Many of the things learned in early childhood prepare your toddler for kindergarten. Here are the main skills that will help them in school.
- Autonomy: An autonomous child will be able to take more initiative and do tasks alone at school. They will be able to persevere when necessary and ask for help when they need it. A resourceful child will also be more available to learn.
- Social skills: A toddler who is in contact with other children and adults learns to develop their social skills. For example, they develop their ability to create positive relationships with others, to wait their turn, and to follow rules, all of which facilitate their school life.
- Emotional maturity: To function well in school, a child must learn to control their anger, interact calmly with others, be away from their parents for short periods of time, and adequately express their emotions.
- Language and cognitive skills: Cognitive skills include, for example, a child’s ability to group and compare objects, recognize shapes, and find solutions to small problems. By stimulating your child’s language and cognitive skills, you help them develop their interest in reading and writing as well as their mathematical reasoning.
- General knowledge: Your child develops their interest in the world around them by looking at books about animals, means of transportation, food, or different countries. By asking them questions about what you read together, you help them to think and give their opinion, which in turn helps your child learn to communicate their ideas to others.
- Motor skills: Running, climbing, jumping, and throwing are other skills useful in school, as they help the child have control over their movements and better sitting posture in the classroom. In addition, a toddler who can handle small objects (e.g., small blocks, string beads) and tools such as pencils, brushes, and scissors is better prepared for kindergarten activities.
Québec Survey of Child Development in Kindergarten
A Québec survey
conducted in 2017 with 81 000 children showed that not all toddlers have the same skill set when starting kindergarten. According to this study, over one in four (27.7%) children in kindergarten are vulnerable in at least one area of development (e.g., social skills, language, motor skills). For example, some children speak well, but have less emotional maturity, meaning they have difficulty managing their emotions and may have more aggressive behaviours. Children who are vulnerable in kindergarten are more likely to experience difficulties learning in school than others.
Preparing your child for school
No need to turn yourself into a teacher to prepare your toddler. Your child will learn more easily when they have fun and will also be more motivated to learn in a fun atmosphere. Take inspiration from their games. Opportunities will present themselves. When your child has fun, they feel good and joyful, which facilitates their learning.
Here are everyday activities to prepare your child for school.
- Get your child used to doing certain things on their own, like getting dressed and going to the toilet without help. Even if some movements are difficult, such as fastening a zipper, encourage your child to practise performing a task with as little help as possible, and remember to congratulate them for their efforts.
- Provide your toddler with opportunities to play with other children often, for example by going to the park or inviting a friend home, especially if they do not go to daycare. Teach them to ask: “Do you want to play with me?” or “Could I borrow your toy, please?” Playing with other kids helps your child learn to share, wait for their turn, and settle small conflicts.
- Read them books often. Reading develops their vocabulary and makes them want to learn to read. When your child looks at books with you, they gradually begin to make connections between the images and the words they hear and to recognize certain letters.
- Name your child’s emotions to help them recognize and control them. Based on what you observe, say for example: “You are happy to go to the park with your cousin” or “Are you angry because your brother took your toy?” Also, encourage your child to name their emotions.
- Stimulate their language by talking to them about aspects of their daily life. You can ask them how their day was at the daycare, ask for their input to fix a small problem, or what they would do if they were the character in a story. This will teach your child to think and express their thoughts.
- Count some things together (e.g., steps you walk up or down, toy cars, fingers or toes). You can also compare the size of certain objects (e.g., larger, smaller, longer, shorter) and make them note the shape (e.g., circle, square, triangle) of certain objects in the house.
- Leave sheets and pencils within your child’s reach so they can draw when they want. This activity develops their creativity and familiarizes them with using a pencil. In addition, drawing stimulates eye-hand coordination and slowly prepares your child to learn writing.
- Go outside often with your toddler to make them move. Children are on average twice as active when they are outside. You can go for a walk, go to the park, play with balls, or play tag games to make them move in different ways and enjoy being active.
The brain at 5 years old: A small revolution
Between 4 and 5 years of age, the brain is undergoing an important transition. At 4 years old, the frontal lobe (which organizes behaviour and attention) experiences a strong growth spurt. The child becomes more aware of the world around them, enjoys making discoveries, and asks a lot of questions. In the summer before starting school, parents often notice that their toddler has a great thirst for learning. For example, they might stop playing with certain toys while taking an interest in other types of games.
The importance of not overdoing it
Up to the age of 6, playing is the most important activity for your toddler’s development and learning.
You might be tempted to teach your child the entire alphabet and several numbers before they enter kindergarten. However, ask yourself what your motives are. Is this really what your child wants or are you imposing it on them?
If your child shows interest in letters and numbers, you can encourage them and teach them a few symbols (e.g., letters of their first name, numbers of their age and phone number) without doing so as a structured learning experience. Fun is the most important aspect of childhood. There is no need to teach your toddler to recognize letters and numbers if they are not interested. As a matter of fact, the kindergarten program for 4 and 5 year-olds indicates that children will recognize and name letters of the alphabet only at the end of kindergarten for 5 year-olds.
When a child’s education is too focused on performance, the consequences quickly follow. Some children may show signs of stress. For example, they may be more agitated or complain of headaches or stomach ache. Once in school, children who have learned a lot about school subjects may also have less interest in learning because they are bored.
Say positive things about school
This is another good way to get your child ready for kindergarten, as it gives them a positive view of school. Tell them, for example, that in school, they will have fun, make friends, and learn a lot of things. If they have any concerns, you can reassure them by telling them that there will always be adults to help them at school.
For more information, see our fact sheets:
Things to keep in mind
Several everyday activities help prepare your child for school.
Play is the most important activity to help your child learn; it is important to respect their pace, to not push them to learn, and to have fun.
Getting your toddler used to doing things on their own, often reading stories about various topics, and helping them name their emotions are good ways to facilitate their entry to school.
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: March 2020
Photos: GettyImages/PeopleImages and kate_sept2004
Useful links and resources
Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on a continuous basis. Thus, some links may not work. In such case, use the search tools to find specific information.
BOURQUE, Solène. Petit Loup entre à l’école. Éditions Midi trente, 2012, 96 pp.
BOURQUE, Solène. Petit Loup se sent bien à l’école. Éditions Midi trente, 2015, 96 pp.
COMMISSION SCOLAIRE DE LA RIVERAINE. “Habiletés pour contribuer au développement global de l’enfant.” www.csriveraine.qc.ca
ENCYCLOPEDIA ON EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT. “School readiness.” www.enfant-encyclopedie.com
INSTITUT DE LA STATISTIQUE DU QUÉBEC. “2017 Québec Survey of Child Development in Kindergarten.” 2018, 126 pp. stat.gouv.qc.ca
MINISTÈRE DE L’ÉDUCATION ET DE L’ENSEIGNEMENT SUPÉRIEUR DU QUÉBEC. “Getting off to a good start at school!” education.gouv.qc.ca
MINISTÈRE DE L’ÉDUCATION ET DE L’ENSEIGNEMENT SUPÉRIEUR DU QUÉBEC. “Your child is starting kindergarten.” education.gouv.qc.ca
LLENAS, Anna. Le monstre des couleurs va à l’école. Éditions des Quatre fleuves, 2019, 38 pp.
PELLETIER, Dominique. Je suis capable, c’est la rentrée! Éditions Scholastic, 2015, 24 pp.