I can tell you from experience that there is a real difference in kids who have parents who are engaged in the learning process. A few years ago we had a little guy who was clearly at the top of the class. His parents were not Ivy League scholars or prominent executives. In fact, they were just average working class laborers who made their child a priority. They did some things that really made a difference and probably didn’t even know they were doing such a great job! Every week when they came to school, they had been talking about the new letter of the week and trying to guess what the letter would stand for in our phonics chant. It was just a little game that dad and son would play on the way to school, but it sparked a curiosity in that child that made him eager to learn.
So how can you build a firm foundation before they step into the classroom on that first day? Here are 10 things that will help your little one get ready:
- Read to them. Read the same stories over and over and read new stories whenever you can. Go to the library and explore all of the choices, then buy the books that are clear favorites. I’m a book snob, so I don’t advocate buying lots of cheap books. I’d rather own a handful of really good classics than a whole shelf full of books that are poorly written.
- Talk to them. Seriously. Put down your phone and talk to them. Tell them what the workers are doing when you pass a construction site. When they ask questions, give them real answers. If you don’t know (exactly why is the sky blue?) tell them the truth but then show them how to find the answer. (OK, you might actually pick your phone back up to find the answer, but that’s sometimes a good way to find information.) Spell things out when you see print in the environment and tell them how those letters make a word. Point out letters on signs that are in their name.
- Teach them how to hold a pencil or crayon and let them write regularly. Gently correct their grip until they get it right. (If this is a problem, try using crayon rocks that force the right grip to use them. Amazon sells them for about $10.)
- Let them cut paper. Yes, I know it’s messy and yes, I know they might cut their hair off. Almost every three year old does that. My older son cut his cousin's hair off--and that was worse by far than my younger son cutting off his own hair! Sit with them and supervise, but let them cut! Teach them the correct way to hold scissors. Start by asking them to fringe a strip of paper then graduate to drawing lines and have them cut on the lines.
- Play games like Candyland and memory match games. Also—don’t let them win unless they win fair and square! More on this later….
- Play with playdough regularly and use tools for cutting and squeezing. And yes, I know this is messy, but it will build fine motor skills and hand strength.
- Let them help in the grocery store and the kitchen. Show them how to measure ingredients while you cook and ask them to help choose the correct size or color of the items you buy at the store. Yes, this takes longer and yes, this is probably messy too. It’s ok.
- Teach them to spell their name. Make a game out of it or come up with a rhyme to help them remember it. When they know how to spell it, move on to writing it. (And make sure they capitalize the beginning and use lower case for the subsequent letters. Their teacher will thank you.)
- Turn off the TV and the tablet. Kids who are entertained constantly don’t learn how to sit quietly for a story or know how to wait without being plugged in. A little boredom is actually not a bad thing.
- Help them learn to play well with others. Take them places where there are other kids and help them learn to be social. Teach them to introduce themselves and ask others to play with them and coach them if they need encouragement.