Written by Sandra Gordon: Photo: PhotoXpress.com
From ages two to five, kids make big leaps in all areas of development. At age two, they’ll begin to expand their vocabulary as they associate sounds with objects (“brown cow”). By age five, they’ll be able to string complete sentences together and use words in different contexts (“I saw a brown cow on my Grandma’s farm and at the zoo, too.”). Preschool helps bridge those gaps and paves the way for Kindergarten and beyond.
“Preschool is an environment in which kids have the opportunity to use language in many different ways with others who are at the same developmental age,” says Jennifer Kurumada Chuang, site supervisor at Maple Avenue Preschool. But, overall, preschool helps young naturally-egocentric kids learn how to exist with others in a classroom. “Preschoolers learn how to take turns, follow directions, pick up after themselves,stand in line, sit in a circle, raise their hand, use their words to express themselves instead of physically acting out and talk when it’s appropriate,” says Kurumada Chuang. “If they master those social skills in preschool, they’re ready to learn in Kindergarten.”
Your child’s preschool experiences can set the tone beyond Kindergarten, too. To help your child prepare for preschool and reinforce the lessons they learn there, here’s the homework you can do that can make all the difference.
Sandra is a mom of two who writes about parenting, health, nutrition and saving money for magazines and Websites, such as Parents and ShopSmart.
- Read, read, read to your child. “Being read to is the single most consistent and reliable predictor of academic success later in life,” says Kurumada Chuang. She recommends reading to your child for 20 minutes every night at bedtime. While you’re at it, stop every so often and ask your child a question about the story before turning the page, such as: “Gosh, why do you think she was sad?” or, “What do you think is going to happen next?” Making reading more interactive makes it more fun and helps build your child’s comprehension skills.
- Help your child learn to follow directions. To help your child get the hang of following directions, practice at home by giving simple commands, such as: “Please help me pick up your toys and put them in the toy box.” Then, encourage your child to follow through by offering an incentive to do whatever it is you’re asking. Tell your child that they can play outside once they’re finished putting their toys away. An incentive helps them understand that following directions makes other fun activities possible. If they don’t follow your directions and, for example, put their toys away, calmly explain that they won’t be able to play with those toys for the rest of the day or go to the park. Keep it positive by focusing on how clean the playroom will look when you’re done. Then praise them when they’re successful. “You followed my directions so well. Thank you for helping me put your toys in the toy box like I asked you to! That was so helpful.”
- Help your child master sharing and turn-taking. From ages three to five, children tend to hoard coveted toys and objects. They’re not really ready to grasp the concept of sharing yet. But you can help your youngster practice by having them “take turns” with toys and catching them when they share on their own. To help them develop the empathy that true sharing requires, state what they did and how it makes others feel, such as: “Thank you for sharing. It makes your sister feel good when you share the ball.” Your child should be able to ‘own’ special or new toys, though, so keep them out of sight on playdates or in their room away from siblings.
By Kindergarten, children are capable of sharing well and taking turns. If your child isn’t there yet, help them get the hang of it by inviting a friend over for a cooperative task, such as baking cookies. If things aren’t going well, calmly ask them to sit out. Pretty soon, they’ll get the idea and want to join in on the fun again. You can also read your child books about sharing and discuss them. In the classic tale, Stone Soup, retold by Heather Forest, for example, two hungry travelers make soup from ingredients that everyone in the town contributes. What makes it extra delicious is the sharing it took to make it.
- Help your child make friends. If you get the sense your child needs a little help in the social department, try hosting playdates with others your child likes or with whom they have common interests. Playdates offer an opportunity to break away from the group and foster individual friendships. You might begin by asking your child, for example: “How about a playdate with Grace? I notice that she likes to draw, too.” If you’re not sure who to invite over first, ask your child’s preschool teacher if there’s anyone in the classroom who might be a good match for your child. Then, feel free to go from there and make the rounds so that your child gets the chance to know several children better.
To help your child play hostess, let them pick the snack and ask them beforehand what games and activities s/he and their friend might like to do. On the playdate, feel free to play along and stay close by to make sure everyone stays safe. But give your child and their friend the chance to play on their own, too. To help things go smoothly, keep playdates to two hours; children start to get tired after that. And keep it simple by inviting just one child over at a time.
- Practice sharing. From ages three to five, kids aren’t yet capable of grasping the concept of sharing, but you can help your preschooler get the hang of it by having them “take turns” with toys and catching them when they share on their own. “Stating what she did and how it makes others feel, such as: ‘Thank you for sharing. It makes your sister feel good when you share your toast,’ helps her develop the empathy that true sharing requires,” says Marcy Guddemi, Ph.D., executive director of the Gesell Institute of Human Development. You can also read your child books about sharing and discuss them.
- Hone your child’s listening skills. At the dinner table and during car rides, help your preschooler hone their listening skills by asking them to wait to speak until their brother has finished their sentence. When it’s their turn, remind them, “Now it’s your turn to talk. Thank you for being patient and for being such a good listener while your brother was talking.” Explain that being a good listener shows respect for the speaker, whether it’s their brother or their teacher and the other students at school who are trying to hear what the teacher has to say. Mention that it’s a two-way street: When they’re a good listener, they’re showing the same kind of respect that they get when others listen to them. If they continue to interrupt, keep reminding them that they’ll get the chance to talk. Becoming a good listener, like many things, can take lots of practice.
- Manage morning madness. To help your child get to school on time and make drop-off easier, try doing what you can the night before, when you have more time to think the next day through. For example, fill out permission slips, write any notes to the teacher and cheques for preschool and put them in your child’s backpack. Have your child take their bath or shower too. You can even set the table for breakfast and take out the breakfast cereal, if you want to. You could also check the weather forecast and let your youngster set out the next day’s outfit. Give them choices: “Do you want to wear the striped shirt or the orange one? Your blue jeans or sweat pants?”
“Get your kids invested in the process with age-appropriate tasks,” says Mary Robbins, a licensed clinical social worker. To encourage your preschooler to begin to do these things on their own, praise them for a job well done, such as: “Wow! You picked out your outfit by yourself? You’re getting to be such a big girl!” As your child masters one task, add another. Eventually, they can help you pack their snack and lunch the night before. Also, establish a morning routine and stick to it. It might be: wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, have a short playtime together, double check the backpack and leave the house.
Structured routines give children a sense of control. When they know what’s coming next, they’re less likely to procrastinate or become anxious about going to school. Make a morning-routine poster for your family and put it in a common area, such as on your fridge. The poster should outline the order of tasks, such as: dressing, eating breakfast, putting on shoes and socks, and brushing hair and teeth. Use pictures to convey the message. If your child dawdles even with a set routine, move their wake-up time by 15 minutes earlier instead of trying to get them to conform to your schedule. Also, make sure they get to bed early enough so they’re more apt to be up-and-at-‘em in the morning. Preschoolers need 11 to 13 hours of shut-eye. Also, be on time yourself. If you still need more time in the morning, set your alarm 15 minutes earlier so everyone can get ready at a leisurely pace. Going into preschool late causes drama that can upset kids. Keep your drop-off departure short and sweet. Say goodbye calmly, tell your child when you’ll be back to pick them up (such as after lunch or their nap). And make sure you’re there on time for pick-up as promised.