The yellow school bus arrives and my sweet little boy takes these giant steps on board. He sits down in the first row and eagerly waves goodbye. As I walk home, a huge number of questions begin to circle in my mind. Can this already be happening? Is he really off to school for a full day? What will he learn this year? Will he make close friendships? Is he ready for this adventure called kindergarten?
Many parents have these same questions as their child is about to embark on their school career. Entering kindergarten is a milestone that both parents and children look forward to, but many families worry if their child is ready. Out of concern that their child might be ‘left behind they purchase programs that claim to teach babies to read or “skill and drill” them with worksheets. Luckily, current research (Starting Out Right by the National Research Council) concludes that young child learn best through play and that reading aloud to our children and having conversations with them are some of the best ways to prepare preschoolers for school. So put away the flash cards, leave the preschool workbooks on the shelf, and skip watching the Baby Einstein DVDs, listed below are research based approaches to learning for young children. (Literacy for Young Children)
Shared Book Reading ~ Make a daily habit of reading aloud to your child. Encourage your child to make predictions and ask questions about the book. Read with expression and highlight the fun and playful nature of our language. Reread the same book multiple times, discuss the connections between the pictures and the written words, and take time to explain the meanings of uncommon words.
Oral Language ~ Encourage conversations by asking your child open ended questions, such as “Well why do you think…”. Also ask ‘wh’ questions (who, what, why, when, where) about pictures in books or when the child is telling a story.
Early Writing ~ Encourage your child’s writing development by having a variety of paper, crayons, pencils, and markers. Your child’s writing may just look like scribbling but those are beginnings of writing. Drawing pictures is the first phase of writing, and parents should praise and encourage their child for making pictures as well as writing words. To help your child make the connection between sounds and written letters, begin to teach them to write their name. Be sure to keep name writing fun by using a variety of materials such as shaving cream or dot markers. (“A Scribble or a Masterpiece?”)
Alphabet ~ Sing the alphabet song, read alphabet books, and point out letters that you see throughout the day. Begin by working with the letters in your child’s name, put magnetic letters on the fridge to play with, and go on letter hunts in books or magazines.
Phonological Awareness ~ This term seems technical but it means learning about the sounds of our language. Play games with rhyming words, count the number of words in a spoken sentence, find words that begin with the same sound, and clap the syllables (word parts) in spoken words. See www.getreadytoread.org for more ideas!
Bonding time ~ Get down on the floor and play board game, which teaches your child how to take turns and follow directions, and is just plain fun! Take your child outside for a walk in nature and notice the changes in the trees and the cycles of seasons. Let your child’s interest lead you to projects to do together, maybe it’s learning a sport or maybe it’s digging for worms. Either way, make special time to spend with your child.
Social time with other kids ~ Schedule some play dates so your child has the opportunity to interact with other children. In kindergarten, a huge part of their day is working with other children. Knowing how to share toys and communicate with other children is important. If your child has attended preschool or has been enrolled in child care they likely already have these skills but meeting a few friends that will be in his class would be a huge benefit.
Community connections ~ get involved in activities in your town or city that are meant for children and families. Head out to the library to participate in story hour, or make a point to stop by the play ground. Attending community events helps both you and your child feel more connected to others. Once your child begins school, find ways to be involved in your child’s classroom or the Parent/Teacher group.
Positive attitude ~ Lastly, put on your smile! If you are excited and enthusiastic about school, your child will be as well. Let your child know that you are proud of them and praise them for all that they are learning.
The preschool years go by so quickly and all too soon you too will be walking back from the bus asking yourself questions like I was. I know that when I reflected on whether or not my son was ready for kindergarten, I knew that he was. Though he couldn’t yet tie his shoes and was still a bit shy around new people, I felt confident that he was prepared for the start of a wonderful school career!
Ø Literacy for Young Children: A Guide for Early Childhood Educators, Priscilla L. Griffith, Sara Ann Beach, Jiening Ruan, Loraine Dunn
Ø Starting Out Right: A Guide to Promoting Children’s Reading Success, Committee on the Prevention of Reading Difficulties in Young Children, Susan Burns, Peg Griffin, Catherine Snow
Ø “A Scribble or a Masterpiece? Your Toddler’s Developing Writing and Art Skills.” ZERO TO THREE http://zttcfn.convio.net/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_key_language_writingart&AddInterest=1145
Ø Yopp, K K. & Yopp, R.H. (2009) Phonological awareness is a child’s play! Young Children http://www.naeyc.org/files/yc/file/200901/BTJPhonologicalAwareness.pdf