As a new mother, from the time I checked into the hospital for my scheduled cesarean I was bombarded with questions I felt unprepared to answer. Do you want your babies to have their first hepatitis vaccine along with a vitamin k shot? How will you supplement their nutrition until your milk comes in? Then we came home and the questions continued. Are you keeping them on a schedule? Why? Why not? Are you going to make your own baby food? Is it all organic? And the list goes on. Everyday brings a new challenge and a new question to ponder. Out of all the worries that now consume my brain at night, the topic of school preparation is close to the top of my list. Am I doing enough? This may seem a ridiculous worry, considering my twins are still less than a year old. But to be honest, school preparation cannot begin too early. Here are my five ways to prepare your kids for school success.
By the time kids enter kindergarten they should be able to recognize letters and some letter sounds, make simple rhymes, and describe the basic plot of a story. The best way to help your child gain these skills is by reading to them. Read, read, read! I truly cannot emphasize the importance of this one enough. There are so many benefits to reading to your infants and toddlers, including larger vocabularies, increased language comprehension, and improved cognitive skills. All of these are crucial for school success.
Here are some tips for helping your child gain those skills:
- When reading, point to letters and name them and also demonstrate the sound they make. You can do this in books, on street signs, or while in line at the grocery store. Print is all around you, take advantage of it!
- When reading, and rereading, your child’s favorite story utilize the three ways to read – read the words, read the pictures, and retell the story.
- Finally, ask your child simple questions while reading that build comprehension skills such as, “What do you think will happen next?” or “Why is Toad sad?” According to readaloud.org, “research shows that reading aloud is the single most important thing you can do to help a child prepare for reading and learning.” Fifteen minutes a day makes all the difference!
In terms of reading material, garage sales, second hand stores, and libraries are all great resources. A stranger at the grocery store told me about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and it’s fantastic! If you live in a qualifying area your child can receive a new, free book each month from birth until age 5.
When your children enter kindergarten they should have some basic skills in math including counting, understanding one-to-one correspondence, recognizing and matching basic shapes, an understanding of order such as first, next, last or smallest to biggest, and classifying objects by color, texture, or size. Many of these skills can be incorporated into play for practice! When picking up blocks count each one as you place it back in the basket. This is demonstrating one-to-one correspondence. You can pick up only the blue ones first or just the squares, then the circles, and so on to practice sorting and classifying. Let your preschool age toddlers help in the kitchen! Gather ingredients for a simple recipe and let your child help you measure the ingredients. While in the car or waiting at a restaurant play “I Spy” using mathematical attributes. For example, “I spy something round like a ball,” or “I spy something with four legs.”
To encourage your kids in the area of science you want to deepen their conceptual understanding of the world around them, and build their understanding of how science is practiced and how to do scientific investigations. Toddlers are extremely curious by nature, so build on their natural inquisitivity! Let them explore using their senses and ask questions that build on all five – touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell. Help them identify different properties of everyday objects such as salty/sweet, rough/smooth, and heavy/light. While on a walk discuss and identify different plants and animals. Plant a seed in a window box and observe its growth, record changes in drawings, and teach how to care for it. Discuss the weather each day and talk about what types of activities you can participate in based on it.
Music, movement, art, and dramatic play are some of the most fun ways to play with your child while still preparing them for school! Toddlers love to make noise by banging on pots and pans, using shakers, or just their voices. Play different types of music for your toddlers and give them various objects to use to play along. Sing songs in the car or on walks, and find out if there are any local toddler music classes. Let toddlers explore with different art mediums such as crayons, finger paints, or clay while staying focused on the process and not the product. Play along with your child’s pretend and creative games. Overall, allow your toddlers to freely express their creativity and watch how it evolves from the time they are 2 to entering school!
This is the final area of discussion but it is extremely important! Social and emotional skills serve as a foundation for overall school success. This includes being able to manage personal feelings, understand the feelings and needs of others, and interact in a positive way with other children and adults. I am not entirely sure yet, but I believe parents of multiples may have a leg up in this area! Our kids were born with a built in playmate, which means learning to share attention, toys, and many other things from the beginning. To further encourage your toddler’s social and emotional development frequently label and discuss emotions, theirs, yours, and the characters in books you read.
When frustration or aggression occur step in to teach compromise and the appropriate way to manage big feelings. In addition to playing with each other, seek out situations in which your twins can play with other children to help them build friendships and comfortability with other children.
The task of preparing your children to be school ready can feel monumental, and not only are we doing it for one, but for multiple toddlers at the same time! Some days I feel brave and pack my twins up to conquer library storytime alone, and some days a walk around the block is all I can muster. But that’s okay! There are opportunities all around to enrich your child’s learning. The key is to look for the little moments, listen with earnest to your children’s questions, and enjoy the process as much as possible.
Carol Bridgens lives in Oregon and is a first time mom to eleven month old twins, Graham and Maya. She is an elementary school teacher who is currently a stay at home mom. Her hobbies include CrossFit, Olympic Weightlifting, reading, and figuring out new ways to sneak vegetables into her twins’ food.