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What You Need to Know to Prepare Your Kids for School

In this blog post all about preparing your children for starting school I interviewed Shannon, creator and blogger behind Oh Creative Day. Shannon is a qualified teacher with over a decade of experience across all ages and stages. This creative lady hates glitter as much as the rest of us and believes reading and creating are important as breathing. Shannon has three kids and one husband (who sometimes makes her a coffee and pops it in a keep cup for her to take to work #notallheroswearcapes). If you have kids starting school, grab yourself a coffee (or wine) and get ready for a great read! 

Can you tell us a little about yourself, what attracted you to become a teacher and what inspired you to start your beautiful blog?

I’m Shannon. Mum of 3. Wife to 1. Daughter. Older sister. Teacher. Blogger. I’m a lover of messy buns and topknot headbands. 90s grunge and hip-hop. The ocean. A non-lover of runny egg yolks. Glitter. Packing the dishwasher. I’m still recovering from the end of Game of Thrones. I do not believe in skipping dessert.

I believe that reading and creating are as important as breathing. Teaming picture books with creative projects is my superpower. I celebrate books and process art with pre-schoolers at weekly READ + CREATE classes here in Sydney.

Picture of Shannon from Oh Creative Day.

Oh Creative Day came about from an equal dose of boredom and ambition. Whilst on Maternity Leave with my first-born I had the epiphany I wanted to write picture books. Something that I kept hearing was that if you wanted any chance of ever being published, you needed an “online presence.” Oh Creative Day was my attempt at an “online presence.” Ironically, I now spend more time tending to my blog baby than I do to my manuscript writing.

Oh Creative Day is MY space on the Internet, free from grubby hands and demands for more milk. It’s where I celebrate our perfectly imperfect attempts at living a creative life and share lots of READ + CREATE ideas.

When I am not in the parenting trenches, cleaning paint off all household surfaces or at my laptop, I am a practising primary school teacher with over a decade of experience across all ages and stages.

I came to teaching after careers in advertising and tour-guiding. READ: I basically spent my twenties trying to figure out what “to do” with my life. Teaching seemed to be a perfect marriage of the skills I had acquired in these fields. Delivering messages in fun and informative ways whilst connecting with people in meaningful ways. Which is kinda what Oh Creative Day is also about. Oh, snap!

On most days, I’m a sweaty mess trying my best to embrace the sweet chaos that is my life. It’s a pleasure to meet you and I hope we can be friends.

It’s not just kids that need to get ready for school…you are a busy Mum of three, with an AMAZING blog and you are one of my favourite follows on the ‘gram. You are also working as a teacher, how do you get yourselves organised so you can even get out the door on school days?

You are very kind. Thank you! I always shudder when a well-meaning person asks how I “do it all.” Let me be totally upfront- I do NOT do it all well. It’s a constant act of juggling and spinning of plates and shifting priorities.

I am exceptionally lucky to have a super duper hands-on husband and excellent support crew of family members. My husband is a freelancer so he has a certain amount of flexibility and school drop-offs are his jam. My mum COMES TO MY HOUSE to look after my littlest two. I put that in CAPS because you cannot underestimate how helpful this is. The fact that I don’t have to wrangle any small humans into clothes and car seats makes my work mornings very manageable.

I think it’s also important to note here the value of passing routines, life skills and responsibilities onto your kids. This can be hard to establish and persist with at the start, but it eventually pays off. My Kindy kid pretty much independently gets herself ready of a morning. She knows where her uniforms are kept. She knows what is expected of her and what needs to be in her bag to leave the house. This is all because we hammered using visual timetables and calendars at the start of Kindy and practiced, practiced, practiced. Sure, we have mornings of refusal and grumbling, but it makes my life heaps easier when she can mostly get herself ready.

I often have my school bag and lunch box packed the night before work. Sometimes I even put some of my stuff in the car the night before to be super organized. This is because it’s almost inevitable that somebody will stop me as I try to exit the house to show me a dance recital / discuss the plot twists in The Gruffalo / ask where their favourite Paw Patrol toy is.

And let’s hear it for coffee. There is NO WAY I’d be getting out the door without coffee (which my husband often puts in my Keep Cup so I can enjoy it in the car on the way to work. #legend)

picture of children drawing on a large art mat

So, how can we prepare our children for starting school?

  • Read books with them. No joke.

Studies show, again and again, that the prime indicator for learning success, or failure, is the child’s vocabulary upon entering school. He who knows the most words wins, if you will. This is because the child with the largest vocabulary will understand the most of what is being said in the classroom, whilst the student with the smallest vocabulary will comprehend the least. It almost seems so deceptively simple that it’s silly, doesn’t it? How do we build this bank of vocabulary? We read to our children.

  • Practise expressing needs and wants.

I am forever preaching that school readiness actually has nothing to do with academics but EVERYTHING to do with social and emotional skills. Having a nice big bank of vocabulary also helps children express their needs and wants. They will need to be able to express their needs and wants to teachers and classmates. Role play and imaginative play can really help here – help your child practise some of the sentence starters they could use in different social situations in the classroom and on the playground.

  • Read picture books about starting school.

Picture books provide a wonderful way for children to process and discuss their feelings about starting school. Here’s a list of great picture books about starting school.

  • Let them play.

Say what? How does this contribute to school readiness? Using play dough? Building towers with lego and blocks? Your little one is developing the hand muscles and fine motor skills required to become a writer. (Here are some other fun ideas for fine motor development.) Climbing on equipment at the playground? Your child is developing the gross motor skills and core strength required to sit at a desk and write. Dramatic play using dolls and trucks and trains? Your child is using their imagination, engaging in storytelling and developing empathy. Play is how children make sense of the world and its power in school readiness cannot be underestimated.

  • Label ALL OF THE THINGS. No need to explain this one. Just trust me.

If you’re after more tips, here are 21 ways to help prepare your child for school.

I remember when Mr 7 started school in the first few months there was a lot of feelings, it was all pretty overwhelming and tiring! What are your tips to help our kids get through their first year of school and help them with their BIG emotions?

The school day is action-filled and jam-packed. My number one tip would be to find ways to give your child space and time before and after school. This will look different for everybody but for my family that means we don’t do many extra-curricular activities after school. We spend most afternoons at the park and I’m militant about giving my Kindy kid the time to just engage in free play.

Never underestimate the power of snacks! Having some good wholesome snacks on hand for the afternoons can help avoid a hangry child.

I’m starting to sound like a broken record but BOOKS! Read lots of books about emotions. Name the different emotions and the telltale signs that your child might feel or exhibit when they are feeling those feels. Talk about how all emotions are okay and how we can manage certain emotions.

At our place, sensory play has really helped us cope with them big Kindy feels of an afternoon. So using playdough, scooping dry pasta, playing with sand. Here are 9 of my fave sensory play ideas. If all else fails, give them an early bath. Water play seems to fix most ills!

picture of children painting

From time to time my kid does not want to do his readers, how do you manage this in your home?

My first piece of advice would be to have a routine with it. Pick a time that works well for all involved parties. We do ours before school, usually after breakfast, when my Kindy kid is fresh. But as Elsa sings, sometimes you just gotta “let it go.” If your child sometimes doesn’t want to read their reader, then pick your battles, I say. Negotiate another time when they can read it to you. Or just let it go (for that day.)

If it’s becoming a consistent battle then you might like to provide different options. “You can read your reader to me or sit over there and read it to the dog / stuffed toy/ your younger sibling.” “Would you like me to record a video of you reading?”

Sometimes I might even offer to read the reader to my child and purposely make mistakes that she has to correct as I read.

In all honesty, I try to aim for my Kindy kid reading her reader 3 school days out of 5. The non-negotiable at our place is bedtime stories. So I rest easy in the knowledge that my child is getting access to books and read-alouds through this nightly tradition and she often reads parts of the bedtime stories to us anyway. My role as a parent is to pass a love of books and stories onto my kids.

Even though you are an experienced teacher, did anything about your kids starting school surprise you?

THE BELLS! This amused me to no end. As a teacher, those bells map out my days. But as a parent, how does anybody GET ANYTHING DONE between drop-off and pick-up? It feels like I just get into the swing of things and then I have to go and pick up my kid. Bell times just do not fit in with modern living (let’s hear it for after-school care!)

THE NOTES! I ran an Instagram series with starting school tips and mentioned the need to allocate a space in the school bag for the notes that come home. As a teacher, I send home so many notes. And I’ll admit to getting cranky when notes aren’t returned in a timely manner. Then I experienced it from the parenting side and OH LORDY! There are so. many. notes. Every household needs a secretary to deal with the school notes. Or a very good calendar and note processing system at least.

THE EFFECT ON YOUNGER SIBLINGS I had my Kindy kid totally school ready by the time Day 1 rolled around. Then I had to take her younger siblings home and I realized that the whole Starting School process actually affected them most and I had done nothing to prepare them for not having their Fearless Leader / Play Dictator around.  

THE BUSY-NESS AND LOSS OF TIME TO JUST HANG WITH YOUR KID As a teacher pre-kids, I couldn’t quite understand how some families couldn’t find the time to do home readers or dioramas or Book Week costumes. HA HA HA HA! Oh I get it now. I get it. I am a huge advocate for building relationships between home and school but there are a lot of expectations on parents and carers to get a lot done in limited bursts of time.

picture of children threading beads on string and practicing fine motor skills

You have some amazing ideas for sight words that you have shared over on your Instagram account, can you share these with us?

Repeat it with me, people – sight word practice should be fun! Here are 15 playful ways to learn sightwords. No need for fancy, expensive learning materials – use everyday, household items.

From a teacher’s perspective, what should we be packing in school lunches and what should we avoid?

My first plea is non-food related, it is packaging-related. Please have a test run with different packets and containers and be sure that your child is capable of opening the packet or container. Teachers are on hand to help during eating time but when half your class has packets they can’t open, it can be hard!

Getting through a day at school requires a lot of brain power. So nutritionally-dense and healthy foods are the best.

Be aware of how long eating times are and don’t over-pack too much food for that timeframe. This will only stress you out when uneaten excess food is returned. Kids are generally really keen to run off and play with their friends at lunchtime and they will often prioritise the social over the eating. Things that are easy to hold in one hand whilst they play are great- think healthy muffins, bananas….. PLAYING at lunch time is just as important as eating. I’m pretty sure most of us didn’t eat everything in our lunch boxes as kids, and we all lived to tell the tale.

You can find more of my starting school lunch box tips here.

What are your top items you love to pack for your kids in their lunchboxes?

Crumble is my comfort food and I love making an apple/pear/rhubarb crumble and putting that in for recess. (It freezes well too so BONUS POINTS!)

Blueberries are always a winner.

Sandwiches can be a conundrum here with my daughter declaring every second day that she doesn’t like sandwiches *face palm* So I do sandwich sushi a bit (thanks for the AWESOME tip, Bernadette!) Plain pasta is also a big lunch box winner.

I have also adored how exposure to other people’s lunchboxes has impacted my own child. I now have requests for seaweed, snap peas and boiled eggs. Huzzah!

picture of child creating artwork

Do you pack a lunchbox for yourself and what do you love to pack?

I get serious lunchbox-envy from following you on Instagram, Bernadette. I’d really love it if you could come and pack my lunchbox each week. I do take a lunchbox and it can be a bit sad and pathetic. It usually has some fruit and yoghurt, a muesli bar and leftovers from dinner. I work with an amazing bunch of women who often bring in tasty treats that they share in the staffroom. I also work at an exceptionally multicultural school so students often bring in food as gifts. It’s now dawning on me how much time I spend eating at school….

These are just for a bit of fun…what are you:

Reading: I’ve just finished Educated by Tara Westover and Beautiful Failures by Lucy Clark and can’t shake them both. They were both SO GOOD! I’m currently trying to start Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak.

Listening to: The new Hermitude album is FIRE, people. I LOVE a good podcast and am all for true crime series like ABC’s Unravel, Serial or The Australian’s Who The Hell is Hamish? Oprah’s Supersoul Sessions is always a good listen.

Drinking: Coffee. ALL the coffee. I also love a good ginger beer or kombucha.

Eating: Dumplings are life.

Dreaming of: securing a publisher for my READ + CREATE book (if you know somebody, HOLLER!) and the East Coast road trip my family has planned for the Summer holidays.

What are your special skills and if you could have a super power what would it be?

It would be to be more concise with my words. It appears I have the special skill of always writing way too much. Thanks for reading all the way to the end of my lengthy essay answers!

I hope you enjoyed this interview about preparing your children for starting school. A big THANK YOU to Shannon from Oh Creative Day for speaking with us, remember to check her out on Instagram or if you are in Sydney why not check out her Read + Create Classes. If you would like to read other interviews check out this interview with Dr Sam Byrne who tells us everything we need to know about packing a tooth friendly lunchbox. Don’t forget to also check out my School Lunch Guide and my back to school lunch ideas blog post for lots of lunch related starting school advice! 

Bernadette x

prepare your children for starting school pinterest image

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