While it feels like my little guy is far from that first day of Kindergarten, I know it will be here in the blink of an eye <insert mega mom tears here>. I also know that while it may still be a ways off, there are things that we can do to be proactive as his parents to ensure that he is as prepared as possible for the day when it comes. As as teacher, myself, I have met and worked with many students throughout that first year of their school career. And while knowing things like their ABC’s is helpful, it may come as a surprise to you that there are other skills that I would deem to be even more important in setting them up for success.
So how can you prepare your child for school from the start?
Read to your Child.
I know this one is like, “duh”, to most of you, but I can’t express enough the value of daily reading. Reading to your child gives them the opportunity to hear a fluent reader, to experience what good expression sounds like, and to see basic skills like page turning and reading the pictures modeled. Not to mention, children’s language and vocabulary skills develop ten-fold by listening to texts read aloud. Seriously, read. And read a lot.
Take them on “field trips”.
My favorite thing to do with my little guy throughout the week is to experience new places with him. Museums, farms, pools, parks, you name it. But not even just that, we also love the grocery store, the mall, the library, and Target (or as my child has grown to know it “the most magical place on earth”). Honestly, just about anything is a “field trip” to your little one as there is so much they can soak up from the world around them as this age. We talk about the animals we see or the foods we are buying, and we name them all. We talk about what we will see and do before we go and his favorite part after, because previewing and summarizing are skills that even the littlest friends can begin to understand. These experiences we provide our kids are so valuable in building up their background knowledge and laying the foundation for understanding so many concepts that will come their way when they hit school age.
Provide time to socialize with other kids.
Kids pick up so much from each other. Not only that, but they learn so many social skills like turn taking, sharing, and more through playing with others. Whether your child is in daycare, preschool or you stay home, find a way to provide time for them to socialize with other kids around their age.
Teach them that mistakes are opportunities for learning.
Kids are going to make mistakes. My child has already made more than I can count. From losing his balance and bumping his head, to knocking over cups of water, to purposely tossing his food; mistakes happen in this household on a daily basis. As adults, we made mistakes as kids, and we continue to make them today. Utilizing each of our child’s mistakes as an opportunity for learning, and modeling the same for ourselves, sets them up to understand that a)none of us are perfect and b)making mistakes and even failing at something sometimes can be an opportunity for growth.
Help them to develop a growth mindset.
(This one goes hand-in-hand with the above.) There are said to be two predominant mindsets a person may possess – a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is one in which person believes their intelligence is static. Children with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenges and give up easily, and thus, may not ultimately reach their full potential. However, those with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be fostered and, thus, tend to embrace challenges and even setbacks leading them to reach higher levels of achievement.
One simple way to begin to help children develop a growth mindset is by helping them to shift their thinking in certain situations. For instance, if you hear your child saying “I can’t do this.”, help them to reframe the thought into “I’m going to have to practice this.” Or reframe “I give up.” to “I’ll take a break and come back to it”. Belief in one’s own ability to grow and achieve is often the biggest piece of the puzzle in actually succeeding at it.
Teach them to speak up for themselves and others.
Sometimes kids can be mean, even in Kindergarten. But if we can teach our children from a young age how to speak up for themselves and even for others when these situations arise, it has the potential of shifting a negative experience into a positive one. One thing I worked a great deal on with my students was using something called their “big voice”. The “big voice” empowers children. It is a voice they can use to communicate to someone how a certain action or statement makes them feel and what they would like to happen next.
A “big voice” statement may sound something like this for preschoolers: “I don’t like it when you ___________, please stop”. As a child grows and is able to make it a bit more complex, it may sounds closer to: “I don’t like it when you _______. It make’s me feel ________. Please stop”. Either way, it’s simple, and to the point.
Encourage them to ask questions.
Don’t be a question stifler. While we haven’t gotten to the “why?” phase yet with our little guy, I know it’s coming. But I think it is important to note, that when a child is asking “why?”, more often than not, it’s not because they want to drive us bonkers (while that may be the case), but because they are actually interested in “why?”. Questioning is how kids learn about the world around them, and there is unfortunately a ton of research out there that shows as kids grow, the amount of questions they ask dwindles. It disheartens me to say this, but I think it may be our fault, grownups. Questioning is part of that growth mindset I talked about above, and curiosity is key to engagement in new learning. So instead of giving your child that quick “just because” response, take that extra moment to explain why. Encourage inquiry. And if you don’t know the answer, then heck, take it as an opportunity to learn together!
Provide opportunities to experience and talk about diversity.
We live in a diverse world. Thus, we should be providing our children with experiences that reflect this. During these formative years, I think it is imperative that children have the opportunity to see and interact with families and children that come from different cultures, family structures and who’s skin color or religion may be different from their own. This is important so that they see these differences as a normal part of their world, but also so that they can ask questions and talk about this diversity with us in a positive, productive and open way. If we desire a more peaceful, accepting world for our kids, we’ve got to sow the seeds to create one.
Create a predictable environment at home.
In setting up expectations and structure at home, you are not only creating an environment that feels safe and stable for your child, but preparing them for being an effective member of their classroom and school community. What you can expect from your child may shift and change over time as they grow to understand more and develop more skillsets, but anything you can do to set the stage from the get go is helpful. Bedtime routines, mealtime routines, getting ready routines, etc., are all examples of how you can do this.
Love on them with all you’ve got.
Honestly, one of the biggest predictors of a child’s success in school is a loving support system and a champion routing for them behind the scenes. So above all, love on your child and support them day-in-day-out. Spend time investing in them. And most importantly, seek to get to know them. Take the time to learn their talents, passions, strengths and struggles and assist them as they grow into who God intended for them to be.
And with that, happy start to a new school year, folks!
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