The beginning of preschool is a major milestone for children and their parents. Preschool presents new challenges, even for children who have been in day care. Many preschools have expectations more commonly associated with Kindergarten or first grade. Some preschools even have entrance exams that require a child to demonstrate specific skills.
Preschool-readiness results from a combination of natural childhood growth processes and learned skills. Children have different timetables for such natural milestones as crawling and walking, and parents can do little to affect when these skills will emerge. In contrast, there are numerous abilities that depend on learning, and parents can do much to provide an environment in which such learning will occur.
You can prepare your child for preschool success by incorporating some simple activities into your child’s daily routine. Here are some specific ideas:
1. Talk with your child, not at them. Preschool is a verbal place where children are required to express themselves in words. Give your child a lot of practice by encouraging conversations among family members at home. When your child is telling you something, focus your attention on them and on what they are saying. Ask questions so your child will tell you more.
2. Find playmates. Give your child the opportunity to play with children their own age. At first, each child may engage in their own activity, although other children are present. Psychologists call this “parallel play,” a developmental skill that must be mastered prior to “interactive play,” in which children actively engage each other. Gradually introduce the concept of sharing, but understand that children develop this skill at different rates.
3. Emphasize physical play. A child’s muscle control develops in sequence from larger, looser movements to smaller, more detailed ones. For this reason, hours spent running, jumping, throwing a ball and climbing will make a child more able to master holding a crayon or pair of scissors later on. Public parks are excellent places for play that will enhance your child’s physical abilities.
4. Provide sensory play experiences. Playing with sand and water allows children to learn about the properties of each while developing perceptual pathways in the brain. Many preschools emphasize sensory activities in their reading-readiness programs.
5. Introduce materials and tools. Provide your child with paper, fat crayons, washable markers, child-sized safety scissors, removable tape and stick glue. Let them create pictures, cut-outs and greeting cards. Teach them to hold and use these tools safely.
6. Read to your child. Read to your child, pausing occasionally to discuss pictures or action in the book. Your child will love having you close, and they will learn how to properly handle and enjoy a book. Some children learn to read the alphabet, or even words, just by following along with a parent’s reading.
7. Teach hygiene for good health. Preschools are incubation rooms for germs, so make sure your child knows how to wash their hands before eating and after using the bathroom. Teach them to sneeze and cough into a tissue. Most preschools will expect children to observe these simple rules of hygiene.
8. Provide structured activities. Play simple games with your children and emphasize that following rules makes the game go smoothly. If your child doesn’t have routines for getting up in the morning and going to bed, establish regular sequences of tasks for those times. Make a chart with boxes that your child can check as tasks are completed.
9. Visit preschools with your child. Let your child get used to the idea of preschool with visits designed to tantalize. Point out the attractive toys and activities. Remember that some fear and a period of adjustment are normal.
10. Explore your own feelings. Preschool can be more traumatic for the parent than for the child. Sometimes it’s painful to realize that our ‘babies’ aren’t babies anymore. Accept that it may be an emotional time. Try to separate your own emotions from any adjustment difficulties your child may experience.
Start your child on the road to success in preschool and beyond. Use the suggestions outlined to ensure that ongoing skill development is fun for both of you. These are years to be treasured, so remember to enjoy them!
Sharon Nolfi, M.A., MFT, school psychologist, is the mother of two children. Her articles have been published across Canada and the US.
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