Getting your child school-ready: Tips from parents and teachers


A class in session at Zuwena International School. Photo: Courtesy

I spoke to a few parents and teachers about how to make the search for a school easy, how to make the transition and how to ensure the time spent in preschool is productive.

Kate Kitaka, mother of a five-year-old preschooler

“Know what you want for your child. Is it focus on developing non-academic stuff first or is it full swing academics?

Find a  school that does not shy away from religion, for example, find one that teaches children how to pray.

Then start hunting for a school as early as second term. This helps you do a thorough background check on the school and teachers.

Visiting the school is a must. Check for child-friendly facilities like toilets, the teacher-pupil ratio, the desks they use etc.

Find out exactly what the school fees covers as some schools have hidden costs that can see your budget stretched beyond what you had anticipated.

Consider the time it takes to get to school. School transport can take children for rounds before they get to school.

Then start talking to your child about school early, buy school stuff like cute numbers, alphabet charts etc and start singing about them at home.

To help your child adjust to the school environment, potty train early and let them learn to feed themselves.

Ask about school daily — ask about the teacher, friends, songs learnt etc. That’s when they narrate the good and the ugly. Ask even about little scratches and falls they had. Then let the baby teach you the songs they sing and sing along and follow the ‘dance moves’… that part is hilarious.

Finally, they should sleep early so that they don’t struggle in the morning. The first year we did 7pm. He always woke up fresh and ready to go.

Helen Ntinyari, mother of four-year-old

“For us mornings can be hectic since I leave the house pretty early, so I ensure everything is ready before retiring at night. For example, the uniforms have to be ready and placed at an easy to access place (read a chair in the sitting room).

I also realized explaining everything clearly to the househelp goes along way. Explain the tiniest of details to her, like the school schedule, snacks, clothes  etc. Having her on board has made it easier for baby and I.

I would also say understand your baby sleep needs. My daughter need nine-plus hours of sleep or mornings will be hell. So we have supper by 7.30pm and she’s off to bed by 8pm. It’s not always smooth but i have also found not getting worked up when she’s acting out helps in the end despite the fact that am afraid she’ll awake the younger one and get me late to work.

I do school transport provided by a private provider because of the personalised care. They pick her right at the house and drop her there. They make calls to make sure somebody is ready to pick her in the evening.

While scouting for a school, we wanted a place that was well-equipped in handling early childhood developmental needs, with experienced teachers, a place with a holistic approach to education and a value system that was similar to ours. We have exposed her to the Bible and the Christian faith and we wanted a school that will enhance that. We had to settle for a Catholic school because the Evangelical schools we either too expensive or their approach was skewed.

I also considered location; you do not want her to travel a million miles to school, what with the Nairobi jams. Cost too played a role.
Shop early for things like bags and shoes that are not standard. Also identify schools early (our school did interviews in July) so we had requirements early. This helps in getting stuff such as uniforms ata cheaper price.

We were to buy uniforms at School Outfitters but when I compared prices with School Uniforms (it’s on River Road), the prices were worlds apart, I ended shopping there. They do not have badges but you can order and wait for ten days. This being Kenya people will always inflate prices if it’s deemed the season for school shopping so shop off season.
When speaking to the teacher, try to gauge her on things like patience, passion for teaching children and friendliness.

Introduce school as a fun place. Taking them to organized kids groups of their age should come in handy too. We started Sunday School at 20 months so by the time she was joining school it was a lot easier because she already had similar exposure.

Also buy learning material like nursery rhymes CDs and DVDs. The songs will be a welcome familiarity when they join school.

 Esther Etende, director Zuwena International School

Every parent should visit the school and asked to be walked around. During the visit, the parent should check:

  • Is the school welcoming?
  • Is it neat, organized and clean? The toilets, especially, should be well cleaned and disinfected daily. The teachers should have their own toilets separate from the children.

Parents should ask to meet the potential class teacher for the child to assess if the staff are friendly enough to handle the children and their qualifications and experience.

Parents should check out the school menu and ensure that children are fed on a balanced diet.

The parents should understand the curriculum they want the child to follow and the school should be able to provide the yearly class goals for that child’s age.

She tells parents to request for a contact of an existing parent of the school to hear more about the school.

Before taking your child to school, talk to the child about starting school and actually visit the school together, introducing the child to the class teacher.

Have him/her meet the other children in the class and interact with them.

Buy the school items together with the child and have the child enjoy trying them out before starting school.  Ensure that all the uniform, bag, shoes and other items are well labeled.

Be positive about the school you have chosen for your child. Give your child a smile and a hug and reassure them that everything is going to be all right.

Be supportive. Get a daily update from your child about how school was, the most interesting things they did and also any challenging things experienced. Also assist your child with homework, read and sign off the school diary.

Instill a sense of confidence in your child. Celebrate your child’s successes and appreciate her for the work well done.

Be involved. Take time to learn more about the school and read the school information sent home with your child. Ask for clarity from the school where necessary. Ensure that you attend school activities scheduled during the term. This encourages the child and boosts their performance.

Finally, highlight to the school and teacher any issues that you may have and give them time to adjust. At the same time give credit for the good work done. Also suggest solutions that would make you and your child’s experience better in that school.

Twidley Ithiga, director, Jawabu School

“Do not to rush the process of selecting a good school. Consider the following pointers to guide the process:

  • Is there a good playground for the children and is there sufficient amount of time in the timetable for just play? Play is very crucial in the growth and development of every child and should therefore be incorporated in all school programs
  •   What is the teacher to child ratio? We consider 1:15 ideal in our school and especially for this tender age as they require a lot of attention.
  • What does a typical day in the school look like? If possible, request the administration to allow you spend a full day with your child in school. This can also help you as a parent to know how best to supplement the classwork at home. Beware of a school that is hesitant to let you do this.
  •  What kind of hands-on manipulatives are used in the classroom and how exactly are basic concepts like sounds and numbers taught? Please take note of drilling at this point. Such manipulatives really help in reaching out to the different kinds of learners in the classroom as well help the little ones grasp concepts faster.
  • Ensure that literature is part of the curriculum. Books open up children’s minds to the wider world and how best to respond to situations. Without books, children might end up being narrow-minded. Also, getting them to love reading at this tender age prepares them for the higher classes.
A music class at Jawabu School. Photo: courtesy

Once you’ve settled on your ideal school:

  • Request the teacher or administration to send you monthly updates, if possible, of the content that the children will be covering in the classroom. That way, you are abreast of what is going on and it’s thus easier to take note of any progress made.
  • Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. When on leave or if you have a flexible schedule, please volunteer one or two days in your child’s school to perhaps read a story to the children or even teach an art class. Your child will treasure such moments and your child’s teacher will appreciate your help.
  • Always have the teacher’s contacts with you and check on her every so often as well as find out from her what more you can do with your child from home.
  • Ask as many questions as possible and politely share any concerns you might have. Remember that schools work as partners with parents and working from the same side, rather than against each other, will help your child in the long run. As an educator, I get concerned when a parent inquires for a vacancy for their child but does not have the time to hear more about the philosophies that guide us, more details about the curriculum we use and what a typical day in school looks like.
  • Attend school meetings and events as this also gives you a better glimpse of child’s progress and builds a richer relationship with the school. You can request the school to give you the school calendar and your child’s class timetable to enable you plan better.

This article was first published on Mums Village.


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