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How To Take The Headache Out Of Primary 1 Prep: Know These Success Skills

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Preparing for Primary 1 is a rite of passage not just for our kids, but for parents too. In fact, it’s likely that several months — or years — prior to the first day of Primary 1, parents would’ve given much thought to the skills necessary for children to thrive in school.

That said, our education system is currently in transition, and that’s a good thing. At KSP, we’re optimistic about the structural changes that have been implemented (or are in the pipeline) for the local school system, and welcome the shift away from exam-centric learning. It frees parents to look at the bigger picture for their children, and identify skills that are important for leading a fulfilling life. 

Still hoping to enrol your child in primary school prep classes? In our view, it’s no longer about getting an early exposure to the curriculum, the quality of worksheets, or even having experienced primary school teachers at the helm. Instead, we invite you to turn your attention to building these “life-ready” skills:

Reading Skills

Depending on which primary school your child enters, there may be a significant number of kids in a class who need reading support in Primary 1, or you may find that the entire class is already reading independently on Day 1 and able to work on assignments without guidance.

But no matter what school you pick, all primary schools have a Learning Support Programme (LSP) for Primary 1 students who need help with English and Maths. Weaker students will be identified by the school, usually through a screening test. Thereafter, they will attend LSP sessions in small groups of eight to 10 students. 

Schools may differ in their practices, but LSP sessions are usually conducted by trained teachers and will take place during curriculum time. Students who continue to face literacy issues after intervention will be screened for dyslexia. Recent figures are not available, but past estimates have indicated that about 12 to 14 percent of Primary 1 children require additional support each year. 

Should you still wish to “prepare” your child for school, reading skills would certainly be an advantage, and most preschools will try to get your kids up to speed in reading. However, if you would like to see your child reading independently between the ages of five and seven, or if you intend to homeschool your child during the preschool years with the help of supplementary classes, a good option is a reading class that focuses on phonics instruction. Why phonics? Well, some research has shown that phonemics awareness is better linked to reading success, as compared to the “whole language” approach of trying to get kids to experience the joy of books and reading. If your child has been struggling to read despite your best efforts at read-alouds, phonics might be your answer.

For more reading insights, refer to our articles on comprehension skills and the advantages of reading non-fiction.

Executive Function Skills

Just like adults, children need to be able to plan, focus their attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks in order to succeed in school. These are known collectively as executive function skills, and they have gained credence in our local education circles in recent years.  

Want to know if the enrichment class you’re considering promotes executive functioning? Here’s what you should see:

  • A set-up where a teacher is not an authority figure telling kids what to do, but rather, a facilitator who supports kids in problem solving. Enrichment schools that subscribe to the Montessori or Reggio-Emilia approaches are thought to be good places to pick up executive function skills.
  • Activities that help children to develop their executive function skills, such as music and movement games for younger children, where they have to freeze when the music stops (impulse control).
  • A focus on mindfulness techniques, such as breathing exercises, to help children deal with negative emotions. There should also be a safe space for children to calm down after a stressful event.
  • Clear expectations for children’s behaviour, e.g. children know the consequences of inappropriate behaviour, and are aware of what they can do instead.
  • Routines are clearly communicated to children; for instance, a lesson schedule provides a breakdown of activities.

Alternatively, you can consider enrolling your child in a physical activity that promotes character development or mindfulness, such as martial arts or yoga. Such activities may also contribute to boosting a child’s executive function skills.

Critical Thinking Skills

What counts as “critical thinking?” It’s the ability to absorb and process new information, by breaking down an idea into parts to be analysed — this includes skills such as sorting and classifying, or being able to compare similarities and differences and make connections between ideas.

Classrooms that prioritise critical thinking are focused on generating questions, not answers. Facilitators in such classrooms ask probing questions, such as “How do you know this?” or “Why do you think this is so?” In fact, if you encounter an enrichment class where a child is tasked to come up with questions as homework, you should definitely consider signing up!

In such classes, there will also be an emphasis on listening to different perspectives, and trying to understand where others are coming from, which is another key component of critical thinking.

What you won’t find in such classes — model answers or drilling exercises. These activities hinder the critical thinking process and create a reliance on “perfect” answers, which doesn’t prepare kids to face new challenges or solve unfamiliar problems.

Social Skills

Did you know that children with strong social skills in kindergarten are more likely to attain higher education and thrive as adults? Or that employers are increasingly favouring workers who have both social and technical skills?

Clearly, social skills are an asset, and one might assume that everyone has the natural ability to relate to others, given ample exposure. Sadly, this may not always be the case, says Michelle Garcia Winner, who has developed a social skills curriculum known as “Social Thinking.”

“How we think about people affects how we behave, which in turn affects how others respond to us, which in turn affects our internal and external emotional responses,” says Winner. “It’s an incredibly complex process that most of us take for granted.”

For some, yes indeed, this process can be intuitive. But for others, it is learned behaviour. What’s more, many who score high on standardised intelligence tests can lack basic understanding about social communication and interaction. You can read our article to find out how to build social skills at home, or look for an enrichment class that focuses specifically on peer interactions and how they can be improved — such classes are offered locally, and you can search for them using keywords such as “teamwork skills enrichment kids singapore.”

Need more Primary 1 advice? We’ve got 25 must-read links to help your child gear up for school!

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