It's hard to 'mom' these days. There's so much to think about and worry about to ensure that our children grow and develop as they should. Most of us want to make sure that when school time comes, they'll be their best.
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While much is on the market that promises to have your child in Harvard by the time she's eight-months-old (not really, but...), more and more experts want you to focus on what really matters with school success. Here are some areas you can focus on to make your child school-ready.
1. Creative Arts
Encourage creativity! Engage in 'pretend play' with your child so they can develop social and life skills. You can also include ways to teach basic colors, numbers and patterning by pretending your child is an artist in a gallery or a puppeteer putting on a show.
Also encourage unstructured play, which will allow your child to develop appropriate developmental neural patterns to cope with boredom. Give your child a box with some markers, and watch what happens!
2. Language Development
Language development is important for those early school years. Children truly benefit from being read to, so make sure that at least 20 minutes of reading with/to your child a day is on the agenda.
While you read, you can discuss directionality of pages, how spaces come between words, what punctuation looks like, etc. Allow your child to tell you what happened at the beginning, middle and end of stories (and model if he needs it), and help them learn the sounds the letters make to come together as words.
3. Cognitive Development
You can help your child learn how to sort with attributes like color, shape and size with everyday tasks. Putting silverware up, categorizing laundry, organizing toys - all are great opportunities to discuss those primary concepts.
You can also work on basic numbers and relationships by counting steps or while brushing teeth or even in the car as a fun song.
Be sure to use everyday opportunities to discuss positional and directional concepts: "Please bring me the book that is under the table," or, "Will you please stand on the right side of your brother?" This way, your child develops conceptual understanding going into school.
4. Physical Development
Children of today often enter school sorely lacking in gross and fine motor skills. Experts believe this is simply because there is a lack of basic play that happens in early years because parents are so focused on 'school readiness.' Give lots of outdoor play time: running, jumping and climbing. Play catch with your child and skip together.
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Let your child practice fine motor skills with child-safe scissors cutting fun patterns or play with playdough often. While it is important to focus on your child's basic letter formation (letters always should start from top to bottom!) what's more important is ensuring hand strength and appropriate grip, and those both develop through authentic use in play.
Puzzles and stringing beads are also great for fine motor development.
5. Social and Emotional Development
Children need to be emotionally and socially ready to learn. Age is just a number, and while there are typically developmental milestones, the actual development is important.
Encourage your child to persevere when something is difficult, and even present tasks that may be a little tougher to foster a 'growth mindset' over a 'fixed mindset.' Teach your child how to look for solutions in calm ways, and play board games to develop social interaction ability, turn-taking skills and to foster good sportsmanship.
Much as you want to maximize your time with your child before they enter school, it's probably a good idea to allow them to spend some time with (trusted) adults when you are not around so those first few days of missing you are not so unusual in a school setting.
Some may say that 'college begins in kindergarten,' but they'd be wrong. There are a lot of developmental phases one goes through from kindergarten to college, and it's important to remember that while we are raising children to be adults, they are still children.
Photo Credit: Lucélia Ribeiro