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“There’s no need to start preparing your child for preschool months in advance” says Silvana Clark, a preschool teacher in Bellingham, Washington and the author of 600 Tips For Early Childhood Directors. “Some well-meaning parents begin talking about preschool and building it up too far ahead of time, and by the time school starts, the child feels this is a huge event in her life, which can be overwhelming to a little one” Instead, start talking about preschool in a casual, upbeat manner about two to three weeks before class starts.
For example, if you drive by a playground, Clark suggests that you say, “When you go to preschool, you’ll have a slide like that one” or “There’s your school. I’ll walk in with you right by that blue door. Your teacher, Miss Suzie, will be there.” This lets your child know what to expect and gives her something to look forward to.
Establish a Set Schedule
Following a routine provides opportunities for making decisions and acting responsibly, and having a daily schedule can help ease your child’s transition to the structure of a preschool setting. Rebecca Palacios, Ph.D., senior curriculum advisor for ABCmouse.com, explains that “children learn best when routines and daily schedules are established. Routines provide opportunities to learn about order, sequencing, and concepts of time. Established routines make for smoother transitions and help children to prepare mentally for the day ahead while providing frameworks in which creative learning can occur.”
Julie Nelson, a professor of early childhood education and a former preschool teacher, agrees on the importance of structure and rules. “If you don’t have a consistent schedule at home, your child will likely have difficulty adjusting to school.” She suggests establishing the following routines at home to prepare a child for preschool.
Stick With Morning and Bedtime Routines
If done consistently, routines give the preschooler a sense of belonging and reassurance, and provide parents with frequent opportunities to connect with their child, so it’s best to be available, attentive, and responsive to your child’s needs. An early-morning routine can include helping your child make her bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and hair, and assemble personal items. Young children typically love a Good Morning chart with the tasks listed in order and a picture next to each item to provide a visual reminder for what is expected of them. Some preschool classrooms have similar daily schedules, which help prepare and organize your child.
Bedtime means sleeping in a dark room alone, which can often stir up nighttime fears. A comforting routine before bedtime can include: bathing, changing into pajamas, reading a book, brushing teeth, saying prayers, discussing the day’s events, singing a song, giving hugs and kisses, and “tucking in.” These tasks add closure to the day, settle down a restless child, and provide additional bonding.
Take Advantage of Teachable Moments
Children are naturally curious about the world, and this makes life full of teachable moments. In the midst of a busy day, find brief opportunities to slip in simple lessons about life. Nelson believes teachable moments can help a child learn about and understand empathy. “This can be done through serving others to help your child gain an awareness of others,” she says. “Look for ways to help a neighbor and ask, “How does it make you feel to help Ms. Brown?” When another sibling or friend is having a difficult time, use that as a teaching moment with your child. Talk about the situation and why the sibling or peer is experiencing those feelings. Ask your child if she ever feels that way too and how she might be able to help.”
Dr. Palacios is also a firm believer in teachable moments. She encourages parents to “point out and ask children questions about changes in the weather, leaves falling, or snow on the ground. Teachable moments can take place when a bird flies by, a dog barks, or a cat sheds. A lot of that learning will occur naturally, but parents can also help it along.”
Fine-Tune Fine Motor Skills
Prior to preschool, help your child develop his fine motor skills during play by creating a fun craft that involves snipping paper, coloring, and gluing. Brittany Hoffer, Ph.D., Occupational Therapy Instructor at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center suggests having your child manipulate modeling clay to form shapes and letters, which will prepare him for future handwriting demands at school. Hide small beads or coins inside putty and have your child locate them; this activity addresses dexterity and improves hand strength, which will in turn improve small hand tasks such as manipulating small fasteners and using scissors. Provide little ones with Play-Doh and scissors as well. “Cutting Play-Doh provides practice with proper hand placement and gives a child the basic idea of how to open and close the scissors for cutting,” Dr. Hoffer says.
Set up Daily Chores
Even a child can clear his plate from the table, pick up toys, dress himself, feed a pet, and make other small household contributions. Always give support and encouragement when chores are completed.
The Achievement Gap is Not a Problem While no reasonable opponent of early childhood education can deny the existence of an obvious achievement gap in education, by totally ignoring the fact that the academic playing field is not level, they’re perpetuating a serious myth of omission. If you ignore the achievement gap and its causes, it makes it a lot easier to argue against early education spending. We know that kids who get off to a bad start in school have a hard time making up the ground, and while teachers make a big difference, they can’t control what happens outside the classroom. Consider some facts: New advances in neural development show that children’s brains grow and develop 85 percent of their full capacity by the time they are 5 years old.
In those first few years of life the very architecture of the brain is determined by the child’s environment. Toxic stress, like abuse, limited nutrition, unstable housing, dangerous neighborhoods, and economic instability, puts downward pressure on emotional growth and overall brain development (in some cases actually reducing the size of certain parts of the brain, like the prefrontal cortex, which are involved in impulse control and regulation; read: the ability to pay attention and learn in a classroom).
Vocabulary growth among children exposed to these stressors, often from working-class and low-income families, falls far short of their higher-income peers’. For example, children from low-income households have a vocabulary that is half as developed as high-income children, a trend that becomes evident as early as 36 months of age.
These early disparities translate into a well-recognized achievement gap among students in this country. Black and Hispanic students, who suffer disproportionately in communities with toxic stress, consistently score lower on tests for reading and math, and by the third grade — as these gaps in academic success grow — the vicious cycle of poor performance is in full swing.
It’s no wonder, then, that high school dropout rates are 3 percent higher for African Americans and a whopping 10 percent higher for Hispanic and Latino children compared to their white classmates. Opponents of early education reform dismiss, or worse, willfully ignore this evidence when talking about education. When all else fails, they start a new attack line with Myth 2, arguing that early education is completely ineffective.
Myth #2: Early Learning is Ineffective Mountains of research in the last decade point to early education as the best way to counteract the toxic stress that leaves many kids at such a disadvantage, but there are plenty of opponents on this point too. Which brings us to Myth #2: Early learning is ineffective.
This dubious myth comes from studies that supposedly show little overall achievement among students who’ve gone through early learning programs. In particular, early education opponents have been harping on a recent government study on Head Start that found that the benefits of the program largely disappear after the third grade — the so-called “fade out” phenomenon.
If preschool has no lasting effect there’s no reason to fund it, some will argue. The problem is that opponents simply misinterpret the study they are using to attack early education efforts. For example, “fade out” doesn’t mean that programs like Head Start are ineffective.
Look carefully at the Head Start study: “In terms of children’s well-being, there is…clear evidence that access to Head Start had an impact on children’s language and literacy development while children were in Head Start”.
Your child’s first years of school are filled with many wondrous moments. It’s a time of tremendous social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development, and it can come and go before you know it. The skills learned at this stage — knowing what sounds the letter A makes or adding 2 + 2 — may seem simple but they will set your child up for a lifetime of learning. Pre-K may look like all fun and games (music, storytime, dancing, art) but there’s an intense amount of brainwork going on.
Young children learn through play and creative activity, so your preschooler’s building blocks and train tracks aren’t just entertaining; they’re teaching problem solving and physics. Preschool is also a time for developing good learning habits and positive self-esteem. “If they feel good about themselves and know how to feel proud even if they make a mistake, everything else will fall into place,” says Josie Meade, a teacher at the Creative Kids preschool in Manhattan Beach, California. Cheer your child’s successes at this stage but also allow her to fail, Meade says. “Allow children to fall down and make mistakes and feel that it’s okay. They move on and learn from it for the next time.” Here are the important learning milestones children will typically achieve in preschool, with tips for helping your child stay on track at home.
Letters and Sounds
At School: Kids will learn to recognize and name all 26 uppercase letters and some lowercase letters (lowercase letters are harder to learn at this age). They will recognize their own first name and be able to print it, along with other letters and meaningful words like Mom, Dad, and love. Preschool children will also develop a connection between letters and sounds and know some of the sounds that letters make.
At Home: Reinforce letter-learning by having your child play with letter refrigerator magnets. Sing the “ABC song” together and look at the beginning sounds of words in your everyday lives. “Show them on a Cheerios box that ‘Cheerios’ has a Ch in front,” Meade suggests. “When you go to Target tell them, ‘Target starts with T.’ They’ll recognize this the next time they go.” When you’re cooking together, teach your child what the letters on recipes mean. “The children are learning but it’s also fun, because they’re cooking with their parents,” Meade says.
A love of language, reading, and books starts early, and it starts at home, so encourage this by talking with your child and reading to him regularly. “One of the most amazing things parents can do is read to their children every day,” Meade says. Even 10 minutes each night makes a difference; make it a warm, cozy experience by looking at pictures together, pointing out words, and talking about what’s happening in the book. Ask questions (“What is this?” “What is she doing?”) and discuss your child’s observations and thoughts. Songs, nursery rhymes, and tongue twisters also teach your child about how sounds work and get plenty of giggles.