Preparing Your Child for School
What are the Basics?
The pressure to perform in school is greater now than ever. Even young children are being encouraged to sit still and learn. If you've read some of my other articles than you know I'm not a big fan of this over emphasis on education.
That being said, it is also important not to neglect the nurturing of your child's mind. There are some basic skills that your child should be able to grasp before more structured schooling begins. These skills are the building blocks which will help equip your child for future success in school.
Here is a list in alphabetical order by subject:
- Art - colors and music
- English - alphabet and rhyming words
- Mathematics - numbers, shapes, basic arithmetic
- Science - logical thinking
Art - the very basics
At this age most children enjoy coloring and other art projects. Time spent in these creative pursuits will help them develop fine motor skills, which will be critical to their later handwriting development (and the myriad of other tasks that require fine motor skills).
However, aside from allowing them the freedom to create you should take the time to insure that your child knows his basic colors and has been introduced to music.
Color recognition is easy to incorporate into other activities. Refer to the colors of objects your child commonly sees. Talk about the color of his clothes as you help him dress. When your child is coloring state which color he is coloring with. These are all excellent ways to help an audio learner with colors.
For a more visual learner flashcards can be an option. Also, any book that discusses colors would be a good choice. My daughter also loved "Good Night, Sweet Butterflies", which was her constant bedtime story book until she pulled off the butterflies. Simple pictures that identify the colors placed in your child's room can also be good learning tools.
If you have a kinesthetic learner, someone who learns by doing, then color matching games are a good choice. My daughter (who is a kinesthetic learner) loves her puzzle that requires her to match the fish by color. If you have a group of children you could also try color bingo.
If you are unsure what you child's learning style is just try to incorporate all three teaching methods. Watch your child as you try the different approaches and, even at this age, he will give you cues as to which he prefers. Also bear in mind that just because your child prefers one method does not mean the other methods would not reinforce his learning.
The other aspect of art you will want to introduce your child to would be more along the lines of art appreciation. Let your child experience music through nursery rhymes, singing, dancing and even an introduction to musical instruments. Even at this age children can begin to use basic percussion instruments to beat out rhythms. Drums and tambourines or even a child-sized xylophone are all good choices.
Besides learning to appreciate music your child will also learn, from the rhyming, language skills that will assist her in later reading attempts. The dancing will help her coordination. And pounding out rhythms on her drum will help her learn basic math.
Art can be a very useful subject and should not be overlooked when you are attempting to teach your child the abc's and 123's. It will also instill in your child an understanding that learning can be fun.
ABC's and Sing with Me
The alphabet is one of the most obvious basics for your child to learn. There are a wide variety of options for teaching the alphabet. You can begin with capital letters or lower case, emphasize the sound or the name of the letter or any combination of the above.
There are also a wide variety of teaching songs, books, color pages and games to help your child learn. Everyone, I am sure, is familiar with the alphabet song. This is a good place to start with your audio learner, just be sure to show your child the letters as you sing.
For the visual learner there are a wide variety of books as well as alphabet color pages. A couple that I have used myself are the First School Alphabet Coloring Pages and the Sesame Street Coloring Pages.
As for the kinesthetic learner alphabet puzzles are a good choice. (Although they tend to only come in capital letters). I also like the Elmo keyboard game that can be found on the internet. Elmo responds to each letter the child presses with a letter appropriate activity (like eating an apple for a) and states the name of the letter.
Another important part of developing your child's language skills is rhyming words. The silly nursery rhymes that we tell our children actually have an educational purpose. Learning rhyming words will help your child as he transitions to a beginning reader. So don't neglect the silly rhymes, even they have a purpose. Sing them, read them and dance to them and all three learning methods will be satisfied. (It is also a good way to throw off the stresses of the adult world for a few moments.)
Reading, Writing, Now Arithmetic
Learning basic numbers is another obvious educational building block. However, there is more to preparing your child for math than counting to ten.
But it is an easy place to start, so for your audio learner count everything you see--the cars going by, fingers and toes, the plates on the table. Whatever can be counted, count it with your child. My daughter liked hearing Mom and Dad sing "Five Little Ducks".
For the visual learner, aside from books, there are color sheets available for numbers as well. Two that I use are First School Number Activities and the Sesame Street Coloring Pages. Also, pay attention to where you see numbers throughout the day and point them out to your child. Cooking is a good example of a daily task with numbers.
For the kinesthetic learner the First School Number Activities page also includes a variety of activities besides coloring. There are also books that include matching magnetic numbers to the pages. And, again, puzzles are always a good choice. My daughter even has a "clock" with removable numbers that she can then place onto the clock face.
While you are teaching your child numbers don't neglect the basic shapes. This includes recognizing a square and a circle, but also an understanding of size--large versus small. Shapes and spatial understanding are the basics of more advanced math like geometry.
Your child can also have a basic understanding of arithmetic even at this age. If you show her two sets of objects she should be able to tell you which set has more and which has less. She should also be able to recognize basic patterns. If you show her a circle - square - circle - square - circle, she should know that the square comes next.
Math is an inescapable part of our everyday lives. Help your child recognize and enjoy the math around her.
Science and Logical Thinking
Science includes a lot of rote memorization at this stage. What are the calendar days and months? What are the names of your body parts? What are the names of animals? However, the key to learning science is an introduction to how to ask questions. With a little effort any child can memorize, but if you teach your child how to ask questions he will become a life long learner.
As children are natural question askers at this age they will only need a little guidance in how to ask good questions. I know the constant whys can be irksome, but it is important to encourage your child's inquisitiveness. And help him perform simple experiments to answer some of his questions.
An easy experiment that will also teach spatial awareness is to provide your child with a variety of different sized containers and a large quantity of water. (Obviously this is best preformed outside.) Let him experiment with pouring the water into the different shapes. My daughter enjoys doing this with her tea set. She will pour the water from the tea pot, to the cup, to the creamer bowl and back. It is an inexpensive experiment that requires little input from Mom and Dad.
Help your child learn how to frame questions and then begin the process of showing him he can find his own answers. A child that can both ask and answer questions will be a life long learner, whether or not he is blessed with an inspirational teacher.