If you have a little one starting Prep in 2021 and are concerned about how “prepared” they are given the disruptions of 2020 – you are not alone.

“For next year particularly, a lot of parents are worried about where their children are in terms of readiness,” says experienced Queensland early years teacher and head of school Chris Curtain [pictured above].

“We have a lot of new Prep families who are coming to us from southern states who have been in remote learning situations, while others are concerned about what impact the weeks of missed kindy or childcare in 2020 might have had.”

No need for concern

The good news? Prep teachers are experts in teaching little people. Areas of growth will be identified early and become a focus of teaching and learning for those children.

Secondly, there are plenty of simple things parents can be doing now to prepare their little ones for Prep – and they have nothing to do with recognising letters or numbers.

Ms Curtain is Head of Junior Primary at Matthew Flinders Anglican College, an independent school on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

In addition to organising a series of orientation activities through the year, her teaching team has released five short videos for incoming Prep families with tips on what they should be focusing on with their children ahead of the first day.

“People may think preparing for Prep is about reading and writing, and knowing colours and numbers, but our focus is on so much more,” Ms Curtain says.

“We encourage parents to teach their children how to listen, express needs, concentrate, try new ways of doing things and be a good friend.

“These are very important skills to have when starting Prep. Children who start with these skills are ready for learning and can thrive in their first year at school.”

The other good news? You’re probably supporting your child in these areas already and it’s simply a matter of increasing the focus prior to Prep commencing.

“We recommend that parents continue to focus on the following activities they have been doing, in some shape or form, from the minute their children are born,” Ms Curtain says.

Here are Ms Curtain’s top tips:

1. Read and talk to your child

“Reading with your child every day will build their vocabulary and oral language skills and give them a strong start in Prep. After reading, talk to your child about the book, the characters, the setting and ask them questions to get them thinking. Talk about words that rhyme or words they have not heard before.”

2. Help them recognise their (written) name

“On the first day, children all arrive in the same uniform and there’s lots of lunchboxes and water bottles and hats. If your child can recognise their own name they will be able to take care of and mange their own belongings without help.”

3. Encourage independence

“Getting children to practice doing things on their own – like eating and drinking and going to the bathroom and zipping up their bags and opening their own lunchbox – will really help them when they get to school. They will be familiar with how to do these things, and less reliant on help from others.”

4. Practice listening skills and following directions

“School days have many routines to follow so having good listening skills and knowing how to follow directions are important skills to have when starting Prep. A good way to practice this is by playing fun listening games like Simon Says, I Spy or Guess Who.”

5. Get them used to waiting and taking turns

“Waiting for your turn, using words to communicate with others, learning about being fair, how to lose and not always being the first and the best can all be taught through games. Card games like Uno and Fish are great, as are board games. You are your time is all that is needed to help your child learn these skills and at the same time you are spending quality time with your child, which they will love.”

Teachers and parents as partners

Ms Curtain’s other important piece of advice for parents is to treat the home-school relationship as a partnership from day one.

“One way to really support your child is to enable home and school to be aligned,” Ms Curtain says.

“Engage in your school’s communication channels and be interested and involved in your child’s learning.

“With respect and trust between home and school, there is opportunity for a wonderful first year at school.”