Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Long and Winding

It’s the time of year when the Howard County Schools host their “Road to Kindergarten” events for prospective parents. I don’t remember going to one back when my now-college aged kid was heading to kindergarten. Maybe they didn’t have them then. Maybe we spaced out. Perhaps I have completely forgotten the entire thing. It’s possible.

Since I have some expertise in the area of what makes one ready for kindergarten, I’m going to throw in my two cents here. And remember, any time from birth onwards is the road to kindergarten, just in case you’re the kind of person who likes to plan ahead.

First and foremost, you will help your child to be ready for kindergarten if you talk to them, listen to them, engage, interact, make eye contact. Start at birth and never, ever stop. Don’t take my word for it, check out Howard County’s Talk With Me page.

Encourage open ended, creative play. Fancy plastic toys that make lots of sounds and have lots of buttons to push are quite alluring. A cardboard box, some markers and a lot of imagination are almost always more fun and provide more development of self-motivation and decision-making skills.

Outdoor play and active large motor indoor play when available. To clarify: self-directed play, not classes, lessons, or teams. It’s not just “good exercise” but it also supports the development of healthy executive functioning skills which are hugely important in navigating kindergarten and beyond.

Allow your child to learn how to do things for themselves. In the teaching world these are called self-help skills. It takes longer to allow your child to struggle but the time invested will pay off when they go to school and can confidently zip their own coat, carry their own backpack, wash their own hands, wipe themselves in the bathroom, and all the many daily tasks which we as adults do without thinking. Trust me, it is not an act of love to keep doing these things for your child. Also, a lot of these involve developing fine motor skills, which will be crucial for writing, drawing, and cutting with scissors.

Modeling and valuing kindness. This will never, ever be time wasted.

There you have it. The basics. Shapes, colors, letters, numbers, handwriting and so on can all be learned when a child is ready. True readiness comes from what I’ve listed above. Trying to force feed “school subjects” when what a child needs is exercise, love, play, and human interaction is a kind of malnourishment of sorts. You can force it before a child is ready and then claim your child is “advanced” but there will almost always be a price to pay down the line.

That’s my sermon on the road to kindergarten. Not everyone will agree. All I ask is that, if someone tries to sell you workbooks or a tutoring program for a preschool child, you come back and read this post. And then, go to the playground.

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