- Education and Science
School Readiness - Preschool and Pre-K
Getting Ready For School
If you’re a parent of a young child, you’re probably concerned about school readiness. School will be starting in just a few weeks in many parts of the United States, so it’s time to make sure your child will be prepared for beginning preschool, pre-K, or kindergarten. If he’s used to going to a structured daycare or playschool, the transition will be easier. If he’s used to staying at home all day with a parent, grandparent, or other relative, getting ready for school could prove challenging for you and scary for him. Don't leave everything up to the teacher. Making sure your son or daughter is ready for formal education is your responsibility, and it shouldn't be taken lightly. Hopefully, you’ve already begun to talk about school with your child. Build it up and make it sound like fun. Give him something to look forward to! If he already has an older brother or sister in school, get him or her to help. The steps you take could have a huge impact on your child’s experience. For more information about school readiness, continue reading.
Preschool isn’t usually a requirement, so parents can choose to place their child in preschool, in daycare, or in the care of a friend or relative. Of course, if a parent is home all day, the child can stay at home. Preschools vary widely, depending on the individual school. Some are much more structured than others, and some emphasize learning more than they do play.
In general, preschool is used to describe a school that accepts children who are too young to attend public pre-K. In my state, most preschools are private schools, so the parents have to pay a weekly or monthly fee. Low income parents, however, might choose to send their children to Head Start, which has a pre-k program and a preschool program. The preschool program is called Early Head Start and accepts children from birth to three years. The program must adhere to standards established by the federal government, and healthy meals and snacks are provided.
Private preschools might or might not supply meals. Brooklynn’s doesn’t. She takes her lunch to preschool every day, and the school supplies snacks. Her mom allows Brooklynn to help choose the foods she takes to school. She’s a finicky eater, so allowing her to help pick out her own meals encourages her to eat healthy.
Preschool ages differ from school to school. Some only accept children who are three years old, too young to attend public pre K. Others might accept younger children. As I’ve already mentioned, Early Head Start accepts children from birth, so if your income qualifies, the government program might be something you want to take advantage of.
Some preschool programs and facilities don’t adhere to specific requirements for preschool ages. Instead, they might base attendance on mastered skills. For example, two of my grandchildren once attended a preschool where the requirement was that the students had to be able to take care of their bathroom needs on their own. Obviously, children acquire that skill at different ages.
Some parents don’t like to put their child in a structured environment before they have to – when the child reaches the mandatory age for formal education. These parents might reason that their kids are going to be in school for thirteen years or more, and they should get to “be kids” for the early years. I understand this, but not all preschools are strictly structured. Also, a good preschool will make learning seem like play, so the young students might not even realize they’re being taught.
Preschool vs. Daycare
If you’re a working parent, you’re probably wondering about preschool vs. daycare. Which is better for your child? That depends largely on the specific preschool, the specific daycare, on your child, and on your personal preference. Some daycare centers, for example, are practically the same as some facilities that call themselves preschool. On the other hand, some in-home daycare providers are very different from a typical preschool.
If you want your child to get lots of individual attention in a non-structured setting, daycare might be the best choice for you. If, on the other hand, you want your child to be in a more structured setting that at least somewhat mimics public pre K, preschool might be a better choice. Brooklynn’s parents felt that private pre-K was better for her. She had previously been in a small daycare, where she basically played all day. The daycare provider was keeping only three children in all, so Brooklynn received lots of love and attention. She was fairly happy where she was, but her parents didn’t feel like she was getting enough educational opportunities. Still, they weren’t sure she was ready for a real preschool.
When summer rolled around, the local YMCA was offering a summer camp program for kids three years old and up, so my daughter decided to let Brooklynn try it. It was actually cheaper than daycare, and the kids got to do lots of activities. Brooklynn loved summer camp! She especially enjoyed playing and interacting with a larger group of children her age, so the decision was made to start her in a private preschool when the school year started.
Brooklynn loves going to preschool. She’s learning a lot, and she’s always eager to go. When the car pulls into the school parking lot, Brooklynn can hardly wait to get out of the car and into the school. So far, preschool has been a wonderful experience for my granddaughter, but she’s in a great school. Your experience might be very different. Before choosing a preschool for your child, visit the school and meet with the director and teachers. Find out all you can about the curriculum. Talk to parents whose children have attended. If you find a great facility, get your child’s name on the list as soon as possible. The best preschools fill up quickly!
Assessing child development might help you decide whether your child should be in daycare or preschool. Kids develop at their own pace, and they don’t reach goals at the same ages. It’s also important to realize that child development is often directly affected by exposure and environment. Obviously, a child who grew up around his peers is probably going to be better at interacting with other children when compared to a toddler who has been around only adults.
Child development involves several aspects, including physical growth, motor skills, cognitive skills, emotional development, language skills, and social skills. Ideally, the pest preschools and pre-k classrooms will address all these aspects – including physical growth and development through nutrition and exercise.
If your child is lacking in one area of child development, you might want to choose a program that focuses more on that one area. There’s no reason for you to get unduly concerned, however, in most cases. With the right environment and circumstances, your child is very likely to “catch up” with other kids his age. It just might take some more time and a little more encouragement.
If you’re really concerned with child development and how it occurs, you’re probably familiar with popular thoughts and theories on the subject, like those of Piaget, Ainsworth, Skinner, Erikson, or Vygotsky. If you closely follow the guidelines of one of these theories, you’ll probably want to find a preschool that uses similar teaching methods.
In my state, pre K is part of the school system, so attendance is free. In Georgia, a child has to be four years old on or before September 1 to attend pre K. The child must also have an examination for dental, hearing, and vision. He has to be current on immunizations, too. Parents will have to supply proof of residency and a document that verifies the child’s birth date.
In my state, pre-Kindergarten is not required. Most parents, however, choose to take advantage of it. It helps with school readiness, and it saves money on daycare. The program is so popular that there often aren’t enough slots available for all the children who wish to attend. It’s done on a first-come-first-served basis, so early registration is crucial.
Public pre K lasts all day, from around 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Children receive free breakfast and free lunch, thanks to special state funding. In each classroom are a teacher and an assistant teacher. Parents are encouraged to be involved with classroom functions throughout the year, and some teachers take it a step further. For example, my daughter sometimes visits the class to read to the kids.
Pre K helps with school readiness in a number of ways. It gets kids ready for the structure and schedule of a typical school day, for one thing. It also helps them learn to get along with others. They learn to share and communicate. Academic areas are stressed, too. Pre K students learn basic math concepts, along with beginning science, reading, and social studies concepts. Language development is also emphasized, along with physical development. Children also get to enjoy art, crafts, and music.
One of my grandsons, Cameron, began pre-k this year. Up until this point, he’d always been in a small in-home daycare while his parents worked. Cam was excited about starting school, but he had a little trouble adjusting, at first. Actually, I think it was the teacher who had trouble – Cameron was having a blast! He wasn’t used to structure, so it’s taking him some time to get used to following a strict schedule. He was diagnosed with ADHD, so the problem is understandable.
Getting ready for school is an important step for parents and for children. Most pre-K and kindergarten programs focus largely on social skills. If your child is lacking, it’s not too late to get some of this type of school readiness in before the first day of school. Arrange for him to attend Sunday school, to join a play group, or to take part in some other group activity. If he’s been at home with you since birth, start taking him to a daycare sometimes. Begin with just an hour or so, and gradually increase the amount of time he spends with other kids. Make sure he understands the concept of sharing and playing with others.
Kids also need to learn to follow a routine before starting school. That’s a huge part of school readiness for younger kids. Find out the school’s routine and gradually begin following it at home. For example, schools have determined times for lunch, naps, and snacks. If your little one is used to sleeping until nine or ten, gradually begin getting him up earlier each morning and putting him to bed earlier each night. By the time his first school day rolls around, he’ll be ready. This might not seem like a big deal to you, but for a child whose daily schedule is completely changed by school, it can be upsetting and uncomfortable.
Another important aspect of school readiness is bathroom practices. Your child needs to be able to take care of these things on his own. Make sure he can unzip or unbutton his own clothing and re-dress himself when he’s done. If this is a problem, send him to school in pull-on pants with an elastic waistband. This could prevent embarrassing accidents. Make sure he knows to wash his hands afterwards, too.
Try to find out who’s going to be in his class before the school year starts. If he has a friend in the same class, great. If he doesn’t, you might want to arrange a play date or two with a couple of his future classmates. That way, at least he’ll have a few buddies that first day at school, so getting ready for school will be easier. A strange place won’t seem so intimidating if there are some familiar faces there.
Many school systems hold open houses before the school year starts. If yours does, make sure you attend, and take your child with you. He’ll get to meet his teacher and probably several of his new classmates. He’ll also get to see his classroom and all the neat toys and learning stations he’ll get to use.
If your child expresses fears about starting school, don’t dismiss them. Allow him to talk through his feelings with you. Sometimes kids have silly ideas about school, but never let him think that his ideas are silly. Just explain his misconceptions in a way that he can understand and that will help alleviate his anxiety.
Buying school supplies can be fun and exciting for your little student. Give your child some ownership into starting school. Take him shopping with you for school clothes and supplies. Allow him to have some choices whenever possible. Picking out a backpack, markers, folders, cool pencils, and such can be exciting and help him look forward to using them in school.
Some preschool facilities don’t require parents to purchase school supplies, while others do. Before Brooklynn began preschool this year, we were given a list of things to purchase. They included a sleep mat and cover, plastic zip-loc bags, paper towels, tissues, liquid hand soap and refills, a small pillow, and a small pillowcase. If you need to buy supplies, the school should give you a list.
Cameron, who started pre k this year, was required to bring just one item to school: a book bag. All the other school supplies were paid for by the state. The students needed book bags so they could bring home papers and return signed papers and forms to school.
My older grandchildren had to have lots of school supplies: pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, composition books, rulers, markers, crayons, colored pencils, glue, glue sticks, scissors, Kleenex, and hand sanitizer. By the way, I have one grandchild in fifth grade, one in fourth grade, one in third grade, two in second grade, one in first grade, one in pre k, and one in preschool.
Even if you’re not required to purchase school supplies, doing so might help “grease the skids,” so to speak. Every student can use a book bag, and most kids are fascinated with their book bags, especially if the bags contain different compartments. Brooklynn and Cameron want to wear theirs all the time! If your preschool or pre-k doesn’t provide meals, let your child pick out a fun lunch bag or a cool lunch box.
If you can't afford to buy school supplies for your child, many communities have organizations that can help. For example, our local hospital hands out book bags filled with supplies. Some churches also provide supplies kids will need for school. Your local DFACS office can probably provide you with information about where you can get free school supplies.
First Day of School Outfit
The first day of school might be more important than you think. My older grandkids, including the boys, are very choosy about what they wear on the first day of school. The younger ones don’t really care – except for Brooklynn. Even at three years old, she’s particular about her clothes. If the first day of school outfit is important to your child, please consider their wishes – within reason. Just make sure the clothes are comfortable. For young children, make sure the clothing is easy to unfasten for trips to the restroom. Allowing your child some input into what they wear to school provides the child with more ownership. When your child is happy with school, the overall educational experience will be more positive.
It’s sad to say, but people, including children, are often judged by their appearance, and first impressions are critical. Make sure you send your child to school in clean, neat clothing. Make sure his shoes are comfortable and appropriate. The clothes and shoes should also fit well. If your child can’t tie his own shoelaces, choose slip-on shoes. Kids can be cruel, so make sure your child is clean and that his hair is neat. Remember that being able to take care of his own clothing and shoes is part of school readiness.
School readiness will help your child be more confident and successful in a school setting. The first year or two of school could very well shape your child’s attitude about education and school, in general. As a teacher, I can tell you that attitude has a lot to do with success as a pupil. If you can help make preschool and pre K enjoyable for your child, chances are that the enjoyment will extend to elementary school and further. Hopefully, your student will be an eager participant in the education process. You want your child to not only be successful in school, but to become a lifetime learner, as well. Ensuring school readiness is one of the first steps you can take.