As I’ve had several children and have seen the speed with which they head off to school, I’ve learned to cherish the remaining years before they venture into formal education. So, when I start preparing them for preschool, I don’t drill them with flash cards or teach them to read. I ensure they have the social, independence and organisational skills that will make their transition to preschool easier for them and me.

Social skills

Kids need to be able to socialise and interact successfully with their kinder classmates. Social skills are the learnt behaviours that allow us to interact and communicate with others. As adults we do these things automatically and it can be easy to forget these skills need to be learned. Throughout our daily interactions with our preschooler, my husband and I role model and encourage social skills such as:

listening to an adult other than Mum or Dad. In group settings such as parties, we let other adults ask our preschooler to do things.

asking politely for what they want. When we’re visiting friends and he’s thirsty, we encourage our preschooler to ask the adult of the house for a drink — using his best manners, of course! — rather than getting it for him.

understanding rules and boundaries. When visiting places that have signs explaining rules, we take the time to point them out and read them to him, for example, ‘You’re not allowed to put your feet on the seats on trains’.

expressing their feelings. I try to label my own emotions when talking to my kids. When they react, I also try to reflect in words how they’re reacting. This helps them build an emotional vocabulary so they can express how they feel. Almost all my kids at some point have told me they are ‘very frustrated’ or ‘cross’ with me — phrases I’ve used many times myself about them!

sharing toys and equipment. Even with several children, I still have to work with the younger kids to ensure they share with other children. Sharing can be hard at times for kids, so I try to talk to them about empathy: how would they feel if they weren’t allowed to play with that toy?

taking turns. Board games are fantastic for getting young kids to practise taking turns. While it’s sometimes hard to watch how a youngster reacts to losing, I’ve found it’s really important not to always let them win. At preschool they have to accept taking turns and losing so it’s good for them to learn how to cope with this.

problem solving and compromising. Allow younger kids to work out solutions to everyday problems that occur at home. For example: there are only three mangoes left, but four kids want mango for dessert. By asking questions, you can help your preschooler arrive at a solution. You may have to guide them initially to help them realise they may have to compromise to reach a solution.

Independence skills

As with a toddler, you also have to plan time for teaching a preschooler age-appropriate skills. A great tip I learned from my eldest son’s Montessori teacher was when teaching children new skills, don’t bombard them with too much information. Show them the activity first, without words, allowing them to take in the steps. Too much talk can distract them from observing how to do it. You may have to repeat the task. Then it’s their turn. Allow them to do it on their own. Let them self-correct where possible and give them time to work out any problems that arise.

With my first child, I found it easy to fall into the trap of doing things for him that he was capable of doing himself. It’s great to have a list of ‘life skills’ like in table 1 for each stage of the preschool years as a reminder about what they should be accomplishing.

Table 1: independence skills for preschoolers

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The table highlights a selection of age-appropriate independence skills for preschoolers, but it’s not an exhaustive list of what preschoolers are capable of. The time taken to master these skills will differ among preschoolers. Kids have varying patterns of development, and if you have any concerns about your child’s abilities you should consult a medical professional.

Organisational skills

In our family the preschooler not only needs to become independent for his own self-confidence, but also to help make sure we leave the house on time during the school week. Our preschoolers have needed help with learning how to organise themselves. There are two key ways we’ve helped them.

Organising clothes

To help our preschooler with the job of getting himself dressed, I’ve organised his clothes in a way that he can access them easily.

Drawers. Our preschooler has two very large drawers. He used to make a mess of the drawers when looking for something to wear. To solve this problem I placed shoeboxes and cut-up nappy boxes in his drawers. These boxes created separate, defined areas for each type of clothing item. There are areas for socks, underwear and pyjamas in the top drawer. In the bottom drawer, there are separate sections for tops and shorts. Now he can easily find what he’s looking for, and he can also put his own clothes away in their right places.

Wardrobes. The wardrobes in the younger kids’ room have low-hanging rails, which make it easy for the kids to select clothes to wear, and to put them away. The ideal situation would be adjustable rails so you could move them as the kids grow. If you have standard floor-to-ceiling wardrobes, try placing a non-slip stool in the bottom of the wardrobe. This allows preschoolers independent access to their clothes.

Minimising the number of clothes. My preschooler often gets to the stage where he has too many clothes in his wardrobe and drawers. He’s fourth in line, so he gets clothes passed down from his older siblings. We’ve also received some great hand-me-downs from friends who have older children. All of this can result in cluttered drawers and wardrobes, making the task of choosing clothes difficult for him.

I routinely go through his drawers, removing any clothes that no longer fit him and anything that’s become shabby. However, sometimes that’s not enough. For example, last winter he somehow accumulated five pairs of pyjamas, which was simply too many. It’s taken me about 10 years to work out that when it comes to clothes for a preschooler less is definitely better. Even if clothing items are in good condition and still fit him, I remove as much as possible to limit his choices and to keep the drawers sparsely filled for easier access.

Creating a visual routine chart

We’ve always used a routine chart of some sort to help our preschoolers get organised for their day at kinder. For our third son I modified our approach and worked with him to create a visual routine chart. The chart outlined the key activities he had to complete each morning in photographic format.

In the week leading up to the start of kinder, I photographed him one morning enacting each part of the routine he’d be following once kinder started and created a chart with a picture of him doing each of these things under the following headings: breakfast, teeth, dress, sunscreen, hat, morning tea, go!

What I loved the most about this process was how much my preschooler enjoyed it. We had to print out two copies of the chart because he wanted to hold and read his routine over and over again. Being involved in the making of his routine made him feel attached to it, so whenever he needs redirecting in the morning I can use the routine chart to get him back on track.

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