If you're the parent of an infant or toddler, you might be bristling with indignation at such a preposterous question. Or perhaps you’re good-natured enough to laugh and mildly protest: “Hey! Give him time to be a kid!" Either way, you are quite correct. Studies show that children who are pushed into the world of academics too early are likely to suffer setbacks by the fourth grade.
Then, why the urgency that sends many parents searching for a highly-structured preschool program, where 2 and 3-year-olds are taught things like the ABC’s, social skills, and proper classroom behavior? Furthermore, aren’t parents qualified to prepare their own youngsters for success in kindergarten?
There certainly are experiences and skills that your child should acquire before he ever enters school. Be assured of this . . . your child’s teacher will be thrilled if your child simply arrives at school ready to learn.
However, many children begin their school years with missing components-social, physical, emotional or cognitive experiences that have somehow been overlooked by caring and concerned parents. And these missing components can mean the difference between success and struggle at school.
Some of those components, when missing, are harder to compensate for than others. But by simply attending to some practical principles of parenting, you can help your child be ready for school when the big “first day" approaches.
The Physical Development of Your Child
Five-year old Jennie had never learned how to climb stairs. Her fear was obvious as she clung to the banister with both hands and laboriously struggled up one step at a time . Her embarrassment escalated as the other students jostled and muttered impatiently behind her.
As parents, we are well aware that our children need such things as proper exercise and nutrition to maintain good health. We do everything within our power to protect these little ones from injury or danger. We even have their little bodies immunized against the invasion of life-threatening diseases.
But with today’s hectic lifestyle, we are often guilty of condemning our little ones (for hours) to the inert world of entertainment. . . we plop them down in front of the television where we know they are safe; they are contented; and we are settling them into a habit that we may soon regret.
Can your child actually suffer ill effects from too little physical activity? Yes! An inactive childhood not only hinders the social and emotional development of your child, but the cognitive development, as well.
Experts in the field of educational psychology say that activities such as running, climbing, and jumping actually create important networks in the brain. These cognitive connections will need to be in place by the time your child is learning to read, to write, and to think about mathematical concepts.
So encourage childish games, which include jumping rope, climbing stairs or slides, and making angels in the snow. Play games together, such as “Mother, May I?" where your child is commanded to do a variety of silly tasks-hopping on one foot, walking like a crab, or stepping heel-to-toe in a straight line. Enjoy a game of pitch and catch with a balloon, a beach ball, a beanbag or a tennis ball.
While you two are enjoying each other’s company, critical pathways are forming in your child’s brain. You're actually preparing your child for academic learning.
Don’t neglect the arts-and-crafts experiences which help to fine-tune small motor skills. Let your child experiment with a variety of paints, crayons, drawing pads and pencils. When it’s time for giving gifts, consider ways to inspire creativity, rather than following the latest electronic fad or push-button craze. Make sure your child has access to building blocks, beginning sewing kits (with a plastic needle), and wooden beads to lace onto colorful shoestrings. The best childhood toys are challenging to both mind and muscle.
So many things parents do each day require careful eye-hand coordination, and fine motor movement. Let your child develop those skills by “helping" you with little chores. Let him drop loose change into a piggy bank slot, feed the fish with a pinch of flakes, or help you with the laundry and cooking. You may need to develop “patient parent" skills, but when school days roll around, you’ll be glad you allowed your child to experience the little things in life.
The Emotional Development of Your Child
Mrs. Miles was shocked to realize that only two first-graders in her classroom were living with both natural parents. Several students had experienced 2 or 3 divorces by the age of 6! Some had never known a father figure. Others lived with two adults, but because the adults were not married, the children lacked the security that a long-term commitment provides.
By midyear, Mrs. Miles was greatly stressed. “I’m having to spend so much time helping my students cope with family crises, that there is barely enough time for teaching academics!"
For your child’s sake (and your own), maintain a healthy and stable family life. The stress level at home plays a most crucial role in the your child's academic success. A child's physical and emotional needs demand to be met. If not satisfied at home, these needs are laid upon the teacher's shoulders.
Before parents move toward a divorce, they must consider the effect their decision will have on their children. Psychologists tell us that divorce or desertion has the same effect on a child as the death of a parent. As children of divorce struggle to cope with the grief and confusion of troubled homes, learning takes a back seat.
The Cognitive Development of Your Child
Three-year-old Matt was riding around the grocery store with his chubby little legs sticking out of the cart. “Mommy, " he said loudly, “why is that lady wearing a cowboy hat? Does she think she's a cowboy?"
One of the most critical factors in developing your child's intellect is simply this: Let him experience as much of his world as possible! Take your child to the grocery store. As you roam the aisles, talk about things that are big and little, soft and hard, sweet and sour, or crunchy and smooth. Be prepared to answer embarrassing questions!
Let him find the aisle where the cheese is likely to be found, and the toilet paper, and the ice cream. This is an excellent introductory course on classification, a higher-level thinking skill.
Be ready to answer questions about science, and remember that simple answers will do. Introduce him to nature right outside your door! Discover all the living creatures in your backyard. Watch how they live, work, and play.
Play board games and guessing games with your child. You can't begin to imagine how many skills you are teaching your child when playing games together.
Talking is teaching a child about life! When you converse with your child about his environment and allow him to explore his surroundings, he gains a vast wealth of knowledge! There is no substitute for these early childhood experiences, and your child will be better equipped for school because of your interaction with him.
When you talk, you can be a good role model for how words are articulated and complete sentences are formed. When you listen, you are helping him gain good control over oral language. You are encouraging him to organize his thoughts and to share them with others.
It almost seems too simple. It's just a matter of making your child a part of your day-a part of your life! Attention to these practical suggestions now will help your child be better prepared for every aspect of school life-his relationships, his self-confidence, and even his reading, writing, and math skills!
And, finally, read with your child every day! Teach pre-reading skills-looking from left-to-right and from top-to-bottom, pointing under each word, looking at pictures for meaning, and predicting what might happen next. Learning to read should be the natural result of parents reading to their children.
The Spiritual and Moral Development of Your Child
Mrs. Thorn's kindergarten class was focusing on feeling. On Monday, they read “happy" books, and each child told what made him or her happy. On Tuesday, the focus was on feeling “mad", and on Wednesday, it was on feeling “scared. " The teacher was appalled by Sabrina's story: “I get scared at night when I hear my mom and dad watching movies. " As the girl continued, it was clear that the movies were of a *** ographic nature.
Let's face it. The innocence of childhood is challenged the moment your child steps out of the door. It doesn't always make a difference whether she attends a public school or a private school. You can't protect your child from the negatives of our world forever. She must be prepared to react properly to bad words, to stories about inappropriate activity, and to children who have experienced the rough side of life. She must have an inner strength and conviction to help her in these situations.
Share your own faith with your child. Point her in the right dirction by your own example. Be willing to discuss any topic she brings up. Church can be a wonderful place to find help in your child's moral and spiritual development. Let her see how faith provides daily strength in your own life.
Preparing your child for school requires much of your time and attention. So get ready, get set. . . learn!
S. M. Calhoun is a teacher and freelance writer. For more helpful articles on improving your home and family life, visit the newsletter page of our web site: http://www.poshbungalow.com