You have decided that your children are ready to start pre-school, but how can you ensure that your child has the skills - physical, mental and emotional - that a nursery will be looking for?
When your kids are assessed for school, their prospective teachers will be looking out for basic development in some key areas of learning. Although it’s difficult to predict and prepare for specific tasks that your children may be required to complete, it’s a pretty straight-forward (not to mention, fun!) process to get working on some of these key areas.
So what are the magic areas of development for pre-school kids?
Personal, social and emotional development
This is all about your kids becoming confident and happy individuals who are aware of, and can manage, their own feelings. By school age, children should also be aware of others’ feelings, too (this is what the experts call ‘Theory of Mind’, and it develops around the age of 3). They should be self-assured enough to separate from you without too much trauma. But of course, there are bound to be a few tears on that very first day of school!
Where you come in is by providing a loving home for your kids. A safe and loving environment is the perfect setting for self-confidence to grow. This is the perfect foundation for starting school, and teachers will recognise this quality.
Physical development is vital to allow children to engage in physical activity, use writing tools, and become independent in self-care. Although your child may not necessarily know how to hold a pencil in exactly the right way, they should have developed the small muscles of their hands enough to have a good-enough go. These small muscles (which control the ‘fine motor’ skills) can be developed through simple activities such as sorting sweets, threading pasta tubes onto a string necklace, or even drawing shapes in the sand.
It’s up to you to provide a safe environment where children are free to explore and challenge themselves. Kids should have regular access to objects and equipment that will allow them to explore their ability to manipulate things in the environment around them.
Rates of language development vary greatly between children. No two children are the same, even within the ‘normal’ spectrum of development.
Helping your child to develop language skills requires patience and the understanding that he or she cannot be compared to what you feel is the ‘norm’. As parents, the absolute best thing you can do is to simply talk. Talk to your kids about everything. Even if you don’t understand much from their side of the conversation, keep it going. Introduce them to new words when you’re out and about and let them talk, talk, talk!
Mathematics requires good observation skills and if there’s one thing that kids will most certainly do from very young infancy, it’s observe! Believe it or not, infants as young as 5 months old are sensitive to simple addition and subtraction, so researchers suggest that many mathematical concepts are innate.
It is actually not until children reach school that they begin to ‘learn’ maths, and maths abilities develop at different rates and vary from individual to individual. In the preschool years, let your little ones sort, stack and count objects. Let them push and pull, drop and bounce and observe you doing the same.
As literacy skills emerge, children begin to recognise print and to understand that print can have meaning.
Literacy can be explored through play, and children should be provided with equipment and environments that never miss an opportunity for familiarisation with print. For example, role-play might involve written shopping lists, doctor’s notes, menus or checklists.
Play areas should also house a variety of books and parents should develop a habit of reading to children regularly and demonstrating enjoyment of stories. Children should always have access to tools for writing practice and early ‘mark-making’.
Understanding the world
This includes the understanding of people and communities, the physical world, and technology. Successful development in this area relies heavily on input from parents.
Parents must give their children the confidence to explore the physical world. You should talk to your children about things they see around them and should encourage questions and inquiry. You should also encourage positive feelings about diversity.
Ultimately, parents must build the foundation in and around the home, so that children are ready to embrace nursery and school as an extension of their exploration of the world.
Creativity runs far deeper than a child’s artistic flair. A child’s creativity represents his or her ability to problem-solve and look at problems from different perspectives. These skills and abilities are crucial for all areas of development.
It is important that parents allow creativity to become self-fulfilling. Children should enjoy finding their creativity and should not be pushed to do so. Forget that there are any ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, and allow your kids the freedom and confidence to express themselves in crazy and creative ways.
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This article was written by Dana Bader, Author of Rainbow Readiness – The Complete Guide to Getting Your Little Ones Ready For School. More information can be found at www.rainbowreadiness.com