Back to Basics: Ensuring Your Child is Ready for School

Cannon School recently hosted renowned occupational therapist Heidi Tringali, who spoke with parents about practical strategies they can employ to ensure their child’s success in the classroom. She shared how, in our fast-paced digital world, we often lose sight that “the basics” can hold the key to our children’s success. 


Cannon Head of Lower School Michelle Alexander included the following reflections about going “back to basics” in a note to parents after Heidi’s visit. 

So, going back to the basics…what exactly does that mean and what does it entail? Heidi reminded us that our main goal is to ensure that our children are ready for the demands of school. So, what does being ready for school require? It requires that our children know how to be a part of a community, that they understand the concept of authority, that they can sit still during circle time or at their tables, that they have the fine and gross motor skills needed to hold a pencil and skip, as well as the stamina needed to remain focused on the activity at hand.  Once this foundation is built, our children have what they need in order to successfully navigate the demands of the learning environment.

Here are three simple things to do in order to get that foundation in place (remember, we are going back to the basics).

  1. EngageIt is so important that we find ways to engage with our children.  Our level of engagement will help them to hone their social skills, learn how to take turns, as well as understand the voice of authority.
  • Have conversations. Talk with your children. Ask them about their day, have them share their thoughts, feelings and ideas about whatever they may be experiencing.
  • Try to have at least one family dinner per week. Be sure to sit around the table with your children.  Try to do this without the distraction of a TV. Make it a no phone zone. As you are talking around the table, you are showing your children how to take turns during conversations, which readily applies to waiting their turn in the classroom. (This is also a great opportunity to teach etiquette and manners. Fully seize whatever teachable moment that you have!)dig2016041601-0967-2
  1. Play. We cannot underestimate the power of play! So much critical development occurs during play time.
  • Let your children play outside, enjoy the outdoor environment and let their imaginations run wild! As we know, imagination sparks creativity, which is a highly valued skill in the learning environment.
  • Go to the playground and let your children swing, spin, and twirl.  Let them hang upside down!  I remember as a child, this was one of my favorite activities.  Little did I know that all of this was helpful for my brain! All of these activities help with focus and attention.
  • Do you remember play-doh?  I used to play with play-doh for hours. This allows the imagination to soar, but it also helps to build the muscles necessary to hold pencils and scissors.
  • Sit down and play cards or board games. Not only are children developing social skills, and perhaps the skills of conflict resolution, but they are also learning how to wait their turn, developing active listening skills, and cultivating their ability to follow multi-step directions.

3. Eat. Of course, it is our first responsibility as parents to ensure that our children’s basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, and love) are met. However, a healthy diet has a direct impact on focus, stamina, and energy.  Encourage your children to eat a colorful array of foods that includes proteins, fruits and vegetables, grains and healthy carbs. This will ensure that your child has the nourishment that he/she needs to sustain the energy needed for the demands of the classroom. If you have a picky eater (I have one of those, so I completely understand), try introducing new foods slowly. Forcing a child to eat something they have not experienced does not work. Make a game of it or if necessary, hide it! Oh, the wonders of a casserole! Trust me, it works!

The basics count and so many times, in our efforts to propel our children forward, we forget the basics.  Pay attention to these three areas.  The benefits are far-reaching.

Head of Lower School Michelle Alexander has been at Cannon since 2010. She previously served as the Director of Diversity Programs and Community Outreach at The Seven Hills School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Michelle earned a Bachelor of Arts at Middlebury College and a Master of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.