My son is not ready for school

My four-year-old son is due to start school in September and is attending preschool five mornings a week as part of the free preschool year. I thought he was doing fine there, though he rarely talks about it when he gets home.

However, when I spoke to his teacher recently she said she had a lot of concerns regarding his progress. She said he finds it hard to stay seated for the structured exercises and often hits out at children who come into his space. She implied he would need to make a lot of progress if he was to be ready to start school in September and that he wouldn’t cope if he started as he was.

When I came home I was devastated and cried all evening. Now I am just wondering what I can do to help him. He will be five at the end of August so I don’t have the option of delaying sending him for another year. Do you think I should have him assessed? Or what can I do to get him ready for school?

At this time of year lots of parents are making decisions about their young children starting school next September. For some, the dilemma is whether their child would be better to wait to start until next year, when they might be older and more able to cope with the demands of primary school.

For others like yourself, the question is how best to prepare their children for the transition from preschool to school and it is certainly important to think about this.

Dealing with concerns about your child
It is very upsetting as a parent when you first receive feedback from a teacher that your child might be struggling or not progressing as well as other children his/her age.

However well this information is put, it can come as a shock and it can bring up all sorts of worries about the future and how your child might cope in school. You can feel unnecessarily guilty that there was something you missed or something you didn’t do as a parent.

However, once you get over the initial upset, the important thing is to realise that it is better to get information earlier rather than later about your son’s progress because this gives you more of an opportunity to address things and to help him.

Even if the teacher’s view is mistaken, and your son’s behaviour is only a blip that resolves itself as he matures, it is still helpful for his teacher to share her perception with you so you can work together to ensure the best learning experience for your son.

Work closely with the preschool teacher
In helping your son, the first step is to go back to the preschool teacher and get more specific and detailed information on how your son is getting on within the preschool. Set aside a time to meet her and explore in detail when/where the problems happen and how she has tried to manage them.

Try to understand the reasons for hitting out – is it that he does he not know yet how to share or how to communicate his feelings when upset or does he find children being in his space difficult?

The teacher can also give you some specific information on how your son’s learning and development is progressing. Try to come up with a plan together as to how to proceed.

There is a lot of time between now and September when you and the teacher could target certain areas of his development to ensure he is better prepared for school.

One good idea is to create a journal with his teacher in which you can communicate about your son’s progress. The teacher can write about what your son did in school, what he learnt, examples of good behaviour and progress which you can reinforce and talk to your son about at home.

You should also consider making contact with your son’s new primary school who could advise you on school preparedness. Many schools welcome this contact and will make special arrangements for children who might need a little more support when they start (being placed with an experienced teacher, for example).

Support your son’s development at home
As a parent there is a lot you can do to promote your son’s learning and you can certainly target any functional areas he might need to be ready for school:

  • You can coach him to express his angry feelings rather than hitting out. You can give him the words to say, “Can I have it back?” or “It’s my turn” as an alternative to grabbing.
  • You can improve his communicating by setting aside a few times a day to have language-rich interactions with him such as using the walk home from school to chat about what he notices or having a daily 10 minutes of playtime with interactive and imaginative toys.
  • You can target his concentration by having listening games at home whereby he has to pay attention to instructions such as playing shop where he has to buy single items and then double items before tackling a longer list. Making it all fun is key.
  • You can help his social skills by setting up one-to-one play dates in your home with children he likes and supporting him taking turns and playing co-operatively.
  • You can set up good routines at home, that allow for lots of different learning opportunities that include physical play in the garden, imaginative and social play, as well as sitting down activities such as drawing, jigsaws and book-time.

Consider a developmental assessment
It might be useful to seek an assessment from a child developmental professional such as a speech and language therapist, a psychologist or an occupational therapist depending on where you and the teacher feel your child’s area of needs might be located.

Even if your son does not have major needs, such an assessment should give you rich information about your son’s strengths and weaknesses as well as provide you and the teacher with clear plans and strategies as to how to improve his school readiness over the next few months.

Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper. John writes in The Irish Times Health+ every Tuesday.