The more we talk to children and read to children, the more their vocabulary and communication skills blossom. Children who can express themselves start school with a vital advantage.
The preschool years are an auspicious time in a child’s development, and teachers can encourage parents to help their children make the most of it. Now that we know that children are capable of learning at a very early age, we can give them access to concepts and tools–such as BOOKS–to help them be ready for the more structured learning environment of preschool and kindergarten.
Among the many books published just for preschoolers are those that present basic concepts in engaging ways accessible to such young “readers.” Concept books are an ideal vehicle for introducing colors and shapes, letters and numbers. After seeing these concepts illustrated in appealing pictures, the child can recognize them at work in the world in objects, buildings, and nature.
Counting books help make the leap from recognizing numbers to counting “how many.” In my book KINDERGARTEN COUNTDOWN, Lucy counts the days -- and many other things -- until school starts. Each day she does something special to get ready, and gets more excited about school.
Alphabet and word books–with labeled pictures of familiar objects–establish the relationship of sounds with words, and words with the things they represent. This comprehension boosts reading readiness.
Concept books, picture books, and simple storybooks open the door to the wider world of learning and pave the way to preschool and kindergarten. A little knowledge is a safe thing. It arms the child with confidence going into the classroom.
Children are more comfortable when they know what to expect and what will be expected of them. When teachers invite them to visit before they start school, it’s reassures children to see the classroom and a happy, humming class at work and play. It helps both parents and children to have a sense of the routine and activities of the school day.
An early introduction to preschool builds anticipation and allays anxiety. Anticipation can be reinforced with enthusiastic talk about school. Children may look forward to school as an adventure promising new friends, new play, new powers!
Often I’m asked about my book READY, SET, PRESCHOOL! and how to tell when a three- or four-year-old is really ready. My years working at Sesame Street Books taught me that there are no specific signposts of readiness applicable to every child. Children this age develop in different ways at different rates. Almost all children are able benefit from preschool, however, and it should be made available to them.
Teachers can alert parents that they can make a real difference by helping children get off to the best start. Preparation positions children to make the most of preschool and kindergarten.
Besides being familiar with basic concepts and school activities, children can come to the classroom feeling personally competent. By this time, children are expected to be able to do some things for themselves, such as putting on a jacket, going to the bathroom, and washing up. It’s up to the parent to encourage self-care, to step back and let the child get used to such tasks as pulling on pants and socks, zipping and buttoning. Self-sufficiency translates into self-control in other areas and emboldens children to tackle new learning challenges.
Another crucial adjustment is getting along with others. The transition from home to school is gentler when the child has had plenty of playtime with other children before facing a whole classroom of them. Sharing, taking turns, and cooperating are behaviors children grow to accept only through playing with others.
On the first day of school when that moment arrives for Mom or Dad to leave the child in the classroom, it cannot come as a surprise. Teachers may want to counsel parents about how best to handle this goodbye.
By preschool, children have experienced occasional separations from parents -- to stay with a grandparent or baby-sitter or playgroup -- and have seen that a parent always returns. Even so, a family should prepare for that particular goodbye on the first day of school.
The preschooler needs to hear that the parent will leave, and know when the mother or father is coming back. Children need to hear this in the days leading up to school, on the way to school, and again when saying goodbye.
Many teachers warn parents that separation is easier if they do not linger. I advise parents to see that the child is engaged in an activity or with a new friend, then say a cheery goodbye -- and make a quick exit. One reason for a graceful, speedy departure is that sometimes this separation is more difficult for the parent than for the child.
ON TO K!
Kindergarten teachers are grateful for preschool, according to the Carnegie Foundation study “Ready to Learn.” K-teachers welcomed children coming from preschool into Kindergarten as they found preschool graduates equipped with better verbal skills, socialization, and a broader base of knowledge to build upon.
Kids call kindergarten “real school.” They know that preschool is a Big Step but kindergarten is a Giant one. Kids are aware also that Preschool has helped them get ready for kindergarten. And if confidence wanes over the summer, positive reinforcement with a few books can bring it all back.
Anna Jane Hays is an author, editor, and publishing consultant. She was the former Vice President, Editor-in-Chief of Sesame Street Books.