Welcome to my third blog in the series “How to create a successful home environment for the new school year” In this blog I focus on what parents can do with their children at home to give them a head start in Preschool, Kindergarten and Year 1.
As we begin the new school year, I continue to be amazed at the vast difference in the abilities of children in my class. There is such a huge range of academic skills, gross motor skills (large muscle), fine motor skills (small muscle) and social skills. These skills are the cornerstone of what makes a successful student at the beginning of the school year. Even though teachers will work on these skills throughout the year, students who have a good grasp of them before starting school always have a head start in their education. The children that have these skills are more independent, motivated and ready to learn.
Below are 10 skills that parents can work on with their child at home to give them a great foundation for learning.
1. Ask questions
This may seem like a simple one but so many children start school not being able to answer questions. Many children are not given the opportunity at home to describe their thinking or work out simple problems, so when they get to school and they are constantly asked to give their opinion or what they think the answer to a problem is they simply become withdrawn. The classroom is full of questions, full of problem solving and a platform for students to ask more questions. Therefore children need to be exposed to this type of learning way before they begin schooling. There are 4 main ideas to remember when incorporating questions into your home environment. The first one is that the use of “how” and “why” questions require a deeper understanding of what ever the child is doing. (e.g. Why do you think the rock sank to the bottom of the water container?) The second one is that questions need to be asked during a child’s play and not just at the end. (e.g. Why have you decided to stick that paper on the side of the box) The third one is that questions do not have to have just one answer. (e.g. Why do you think you need to eat healthy food?) The last idea is that questions lead to more questions. If your child has given you an answer think of a new question that builds on what they just said.
2. Write using lowercase letters
Many children begin school writing every letter in their name in capital letters. This confuses the child as a capital letter needs to be written for the beginning of a proper noun or start of a sentence. Teachers will need to ‘undo’ their previous learning and teach them the proper way to use letters. This is a hard habit to break so parents are encouraged to only get their child to write a capital letter for the beginning letter of their name.
3. Pencil grip
Parents need to encourage a child from the age of 4 to hold the pencil correctly. This is a fine motor skill that needs lots of practice and encouragement. We need a correct pencil grip to become a habit, to enable letters and numbers to be formed correctly and easily. An idea for you to do with your child is to get them to hold something small, like a rolled up tissue in the fingers that do not touch the pencil. When your child is learning to write have them do lots of lines from top to bottom and circles. These skills are prewriting skills and should be mastered before attempting to write letters and numbers.
4. Using scissors
So many children start kindergarten never holding a pair of scissors. Many parents feel that scissors are “too dangerous” and therefore their first experience of using them are when they are 5 or 6 years old. Using scissors is another fine motor skill that needs to be experienced from 3 years old. Children need to use these small muscles in their hands to develop them. They need to be encouraged to put their thumb in the top hole and to keep their hand straight. They need to move the paper around and not the scissors. You could put stickers around in a circle and get your child to cut through the middle of them by moving the paper around.
5. Tying shoelaces
Times have definitely changed and the importance of tying shoe laces seems like a skill of the past. Many children have velcro sport shoes and school shoes so they never need this skill until they are in upper primary. It is sad that many 8 - 10 year olds do not know how to tie their laces. Even though it takes a lot of time and patience at the beginning tying shoe laces need to be encouraged as it is another fine motor skill that develops the smaller muscles in their hands.
6. Shape orientation
When children are exposed to shapes at school many sit up, with a big smile and say I know everything about shapes. Unfortunately many of them have only had a very limited exposure to the concepts of shapes. Most parents say that their child could identify a circle, triangle, square and rectangle very easily. A very large percentage of children only identify equilateral triangles (a triangle with all three angles and sides the same) as being a triangle. When they are shown an isosceles triangle (2 sides the same and 1 different) or a scalene triangle (all three sides different) they say that it is not a “real triangle”. We need to ensure that children are exposed to many shapes in many orientations so they are able to have a solid understanding of what a shape is.
7. Count forwards and backwards
Children need many opportunities to count objects. Children who have a strong sense of “one more” and “one less” before they start kindergarten have such a big head start in Mathematics compared to other children in their class. Children need to realise that there are numbers after 100 as well. Parents can encourage a child to start at a higher number like 43 and count forwards or backwards. You do not always need to start at 0.
8. Have different experiences
Children need to experience our world so they build their knowledge and understanding of how our world works. It also increases your child’s vocabulary which will help them to read. Giving your child different experiences does not have to be expensive. Most children who start kindergarten have never been on a bus, train or boat. Organise to take your child to the post office, library, police station, fire station and airport. They will learn so much from these experiences and it will help them to have a deep knowledge about these subjects.
9. Knowledge of print concepts
Having an understanding of how texts (books) work gives your child a big advantage when starting school. A child needs to know how to hold a book, where the front of the book is, where a person starts to read from, knowledge of reading from left to right, understanding of letters and words and the use of pictures to support the text. For tips and advice for teaching print concepts to your child, refer to my previous blog “How to read with your young child: Print Concepts”
Children who are independent have great problem solving skills and coping skills. This allows them to be very successful in the classroom. Children need to have lots of opportunities to develop their independence through the toddler and preschool years. For tips and advice for encouraging your child to become independent, refer to my previous blog “Are you a helicopter parent?: Teaching independent skills”
Being “present” in your child’s life gives them the best start to their education. A parent is a child’s main teacher and this role should not be taken lightly. A teacher’s main goal is to “guide” not to inform. Let your child learn skills and information for themselves through the opportunities that you expose them to.
Hope you have enjoyed this series “How to create a successful home environment for the new school year”. We hope we have given you some food for thought from the three blogs and offered some practical ideas that you can implement into your household.
Until next time …