Somewhere in a big room with a long table and a bunch of chairs, some guys decided the way to fix our failing education system in America was to cram all the curriculum down to younger children quicker and sooner.
These visionaries went on to conclude that it would be a good idea to test all those children and, based on those results, reward some schools and penalize some teachers. Teachers felt the pressure so they taught more children faster. They needed more children to be more ready when they started kindergarten in the first place. So parents felt the pressure and decided to hold most of their children back until they were “ready” for kindergarten.
If you have a preschooler right now you know all too well about this pressure. Bet you’re stressed about whether your child will be ready. Hoping your school will bring him up to speed? Me too. But there’s plenty parents can be doing at home to help prepare their children for kindergarten.
Most parents immediately think of numbers, letters and colors when they think of early childhood education and kindergarten preparedness. But any preschool or kindergarten teacher will tell you, there’s much more to it. There are social and emotional elements that are much-less quantifiable than the cognitive aspects of development, but just as integral to a child’s performance in school.
The good news is there are many ways you can help prepare your child for kindergarten in your home on a daily basis. You don’t even have to go out of your way really. Just be a bit more alert to learning opportunities. Keep in mind that in order for the machine that we prefer to call our schooling system to operate effectively, children will mostly have to be able to focus, follow directions and respect others.
That’s where you come in:
- Help young children learn to listen to others and value other people’s perspectives, ideas, and wishes. Simply narrating or pointing your child’s attention toward another child’s ideas or actions can help him learn to decenter and broaden his awareness. Help them learn to practice taking turns talking at home. Learning to become aware of other people’s perspectives is every bit as integral to cognitive development as the A-B-C’s.
- Help children build emotional resiliency by showing them how everyday problems and frustrations can be solved through language and persistence. Break problems down into steps for young children so they learn to do so themselves. Tell them plainly you know they can do it. The first step is often simply calming down a bit.
- Similarly, help children learn to respect another child’s perspective and find solutions during social conflicts. Help them learn to express themselves in clear but appropriate manners. Many children at this age need particular help learning to listen to other children. Draw their attention to other children’s facial expressions, body movement, and language.
- Help children learn to politely ask adults for help when necessary. That’s a solution!
- Children will have to exhibit patience when they are sharing a classroom and a teacher with their peers. Be aware of the many natural moments throughout the day that you can help children practice patience. Acknowledge when they have done so and note that they eventually got what it was they wanted. Perhaps they just had to ask nicely or wait a bit.
- As young children grow, ask and encourage them to be more independent. Putting on clothes and taking care of the house are just two daily activities that parents can ask young children to help with. Children actually enjoy helping out and will gain self-esteem when they are able to do things by themselves. The key is your encouraging and supportive tone. You can get them started learning to follow directions by asking them to do two-step tasks: “Can you help me first fold the napkins and then place a fork on each?” Tasks like putting on shoes and peeling an orange build the same fine motor control that will help them hold a pencil.
- Speaking of pencils, the more a preschool age child is working with crayons, markers and paper the better. These items and paper are relatively inexpensive. Reward them with new kinds every so often. Better yet, reward them with your attention and interest in their work. You will find it rewarding as well.
- Be aware of over-stimulation. Help young children learn to focus and entertain themselves by designating specific times for quieter, thoughtful play. When children are constantly fixated on television, video games, or frenzied activity, they don’t learn to concentrate or think for themselves. Open-ended materials like Legos and play-do encourage children to be expressive and creative.
- Formally tell your children that you want them to listen to their teachers and help make their school better for everyone. Every time your child is talking to you, imagine she is talking to another adult or her teacher. If she is not speaking in a respectful tone or manner, ask her to try again. Model respectful tones and language both to her and in her presence with others.
- If playing with children doesn’t come naturally to you, then read to them. When you’re out of creative ideas, read again. Get more books from the library in subjects your child is interested in. Listen for cues that your child is ready to learn about letters and numbers. Then point out words, signs and numbers wherever you go. Keep it light and playful. Try to refrain from quizzing him and just notice things together. When they are ready to write, help them write the names of their friends or family members. You can also build literacy skills simply by reviewing the course of their day chronologically at night and asking them to tell you the story of their time spent without you.
If you demonstrate to them that you respect their interests and abilities, they will be more eager to share them with you. Of course they are all different and all develop different skills at different rates and times. Funny- no one told those guys that at the long table with chairs when they decided to cram everything down to our five-year-olds’ brains. Good thing our children have us around to help.