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Ask Mrs. Brooke | How to prepare your preschooler for school

Dear Mrs. Brooke,

How can I prepare my preschooler for school?

Thank you,

“Mom of a Preschooler”

Dear “Mom of a Preschooler,"

This is a great question, but also requires a huge answer. Since I am beginning our writing unit of study on “How To” stories in kindergarten, I’m inspired to write my own “How to” to help you prepare your child for school. Hopefully, this will become almost like a favorite recipe you can follow easily, pass to your friends, come back to again and again, and most of all help you help your child prepare for school.

How to Prepare A Child For School

1) READ aloud to your child every day. Visit the library often, model to your child the love of reading, and especially enjoy that reading time with your child each and every day. Mem Fox, famous children’s book author and author of "Reading Magic," created 10 Read Aloud Commandments. One of her commandments is “Read at least three stories a day. It may be the same story three times. Children need to hear a thousand stories before they can begin to learn to read."

Books, books, everywhere! Put books in the bedrooms, the living room, the bathrooms and even the kitchen. Research has shown that children with books in their home are read to more, read more and therefore become successful readers.

2)TALK to your child and possibly more important, LISTEN to your child. Have great conversations with your child about books, everyday things and the world around them. This will not only increase their vocabulary development and communications skills, but also build a strong bond between both parent and child.

According to research done by Jim Trelease, author of "The Read Aloud Handbook," the average adult in this country spends six hours a week shopping and 30 hours a week watching television, in contrast to daily time spent in one-to-one conversation in homes with school age children. One-to-one conversation averaged nine-and-a-half minutes for at-home mothers, 10.7 for working mothers, and less for father.

Sometimes we forget that "talk" or language development is the foundation of all literacy (reading, speaking, listening and writing) development. Tell stories and have your child tell stories. Before your child can write a story they must be able to tell a story.

Quality matters of course, but so does quantity. Betty Hart, Ph.D. and Todd Risely, Ph.D. from the University of Kansas show in their research a direct link between a child’s academic performance in third grade, and the amount of words spoken in their home in early childhood. Kids who achieved highest in third grade were those who heard 30,000 words or more from birth to age three.

3) PLAY with your child and let your child play and discover on their own. I really believe it is important to have a balance here. Children need to create, imagine, initiate games, songs, ideas, and activities by themselves.

Our goal as parents I believe is to create independent thinkers, however many times we parents are doing too much for our little ones, even when it comes to play.

I agree with author David Elkind, who states in his book, "The Hurried Child," that children need to be bored. Boredom allows our children's minds to grow. Many times we are pushing our children to grow up too fast by scheduling them in so many sports, classes, and other activities that there is no time to be bored. So take your child’s interests and run with them. Help dictate a story about the rock your child finds or just leave out a box, some play clothes, paper, writing utensils, scissors, string, tape, and colored pencils and watch from afar as a whole new world comes to be.

4)PLAYDATES! We need to provide social experiences for our children to interact with peers their own age, to learn to solve problems, and also build relationships. I always encourage play dates for my students, especially the ones who are struggling to form friendships or lack social skills. Interestingly enough, it also may help sibling relations. According to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, authors of "Nurture Shock," one of the best predictors of how well two siblings get along is determined even before the birth of the younger child. The predictive factor is the quality of the older child’s relationship with their best friend.

5)PLAY GAMES! As far as fine motor skills, math skills, social skills … play games! Write the alphabet on each other's back and play a guessing game, write names with finger paint, write numbers in the dirt at the park, sing songs, learn finger plays and chants about numbers and letters, write stories together, play card games like “go fish” and play board games.

“Remember to let your child lose" is what my principal Kim Fricke suggests in order to prepare your child for school. However, please don't pull out the workbooks and put the timer on 10 minutes. Well, of course I guess unless your child thinks this is fun! Whatever you do, just keep it fun. Model over and over again how learning is fun.

6) PLAY outside as much as possible, to improve gross motor skills! I try to make sure my children do this each and every day, even if it is raining and cold (okay so, that is many days here in the Northwest). Some days, we just take a short walk, rather than going all the way to the park, just to get some fresh air. On these walks comes the many natural wonders, which provide opportunities for a child to ask questions, predict, test, and come to conclusions on their own, the essence of science.

7) PLAY less...in the world of technology. I'm sure your child is way ahead anyway, as we parents now spend so much time on our computers, cell phones, ipads, laptops, our children become accustomed to our devices way faster than they probably ever should. Limit this though, as well as the TV. I am not totally against these for educational aids, but the American Pediatric Association recommends limiting screen time to less than two hours for three year olds and above and no screen time for children less than three years old. Screen time includes computers, cell phones, TV, video games, etc. Trust me, I know first hand this can be a struggle, especially when the second or third child comes along. How do we protect the younger siblings from "the screen"? We just continue to do our best each and every day.

Once again, follow your heart. Here we have a “How to” on just what I think that you can do as a parent to prepare your child for school from a teacher's eye. Notice the word PLAY shows up a lot, but other important words like READ and TALK cannot be emphasized enough in my mind.

There are many books out there on this subject. One of my all time favorites is, “Raising Lifelong Learners," by Lucy Calkins. I think the last thing I might add, if I haven't implied it enough, is just to enjoy your child, above all. Stressing yourself out because you want your child "kindergarten ready" will only stress your child out and in the end make your child not ready at all.

And of course, in the end this is one of those educational decisions that is truly yours to make and a journey for you and your child to take together. I wish you all the best. Always remember you know your child best. You are your child's first and most important teacher.

You may contact Mrs. Brooke by e-mail at dearmrs.brooke@gmail.com with any questions regarding your child’s learning. Mrs. Joy Brooke is the first and most important teacher of her four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter. She resides in downtown Kirkland with her husband and two children. Mrs. Brooke currently teaches AM Kindergarten at Ben Franklin Elementary in the Lake Washington School District. She is a National Board Certified teacher in Literacy: Reading-Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood, holds a B.A. in Educational Studies and a M.A. in Educational Policy and Management from the University of Oregon and endorsements in Early Childhood Special Education, English Language Learners, and Reading K-8. The opinions provided in this column do not reflect that of the Lake Washington School District or any other organization she is affiliated.

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