What a 4-year-old ‘Should’ Know…Besides Letters and Numbers.

Does My Child Have What it Takes?

We all worry sometimes. Parents worry more. Those with young children might worry the most, especially as they get close to starting school. Is my child’s development on target? Why isn’t he talking in sentences? Why can’t she zip up her jacket when her younger cousin can? Is he going to make it in school?

There are LOTS of checklists out there for every age. Most of them deal with cognitive or physical ability like:

Does your 4-year-old know

  • whether 2 words rhyme?
  • how to stand on one foot for 4 or 5 seconds?
  • some letters and numbers or how to write his name?
  • how to hold a book correctly and turn pages front to back?

Beyond the Physical and Cognitive Checklists

Those checklists certainly have a place, but there are other things a child should know to be ready to start school:

  • That she is loved –  and loved without condition. No matter what she does or says, she is loved, supported, and nurtured.
  • That he is safe. While we cannot control every circumstance, we will do everything we can to keep him safe. We hug him, reassure him, and let him know that we will take care of him.
  • It’s okay to be silly. Children need our encouragement to giggle, crack zany jokes, make funny faces, stomp in puddles, and just be goofy sometimes. And we should cut loose and be that way with them. 
  • How to be a friend. What does friendship mean? How do friends treat each other? What do we do when a friend is sad? These questions help children understand friendship in a more tangible way. Point out times your child is kind, helpful, shares a toy, or offers a hug to another.
  • Have some basic understanding of their feelings and how to name them. Use feeling words yourself, label your child’s feelings, encourage them to say how they feel.
  • How to wait. We don’t always get to do what we want when we want. Having the impulse control to be able to wait, at least part of the time, is a valuable life skill. Help your child practice by playing board games that involve taking turns and asking them to wait to talk if you are in mid-conversation.
  • Understand the power of words – that words can create hurt feelings or create happiness. That words cannot be taken back and thinking before speaking is a good idea. Point out times when what is said would be better as “in-your-head thoughts” instead of “out-of-your-mouth words”. Be sure to apologize if you speak before thinking and say something you regret.
  • How to try new things and understand that sometimes you fail and that’s okay. Encourage their willingness to go down that big slide, ask another child to play, try that tough puzzle, or throw a ball towards the hoop.
  • How to manage those big feelings (much of the time) and resist the urge to lash out or throw herself on the floor. When she is successful, recognize the effort: “You felt really angry, but you remembered not to hit your friend! You used your words, instead. Thank you for making a good choice.”
  • How to explore, experiment, and be creative. Give children lots of opportunities to tramp around outside in all sorts of weather; get messy with paints, glue, paper scraps, and glitter; play with different materials like leaves, twigs, rocks, fabric, sand, and water. Creativity encourages self-expression and is invaluable for brainstorming and problem-solving.

All of these help prepare children to face the world and meet challenges with confidence. And they’ll be ready for kindergarten to boot!

 

Ready or Not, Here Comes Kindergarten!

Summer is a Great Time to Get Ready for School

There’s lots of talk about school readiness, but what does that really mean?

School readiness is more than basic knowledge of language and math, important as these are. Being ready for school means being ready in all areas: physical, cognitive, AND social-emotional. It also helps to come with a positive attitude toward learning.

There are many facets to helping a child prepare for success in school and summer is a good time to support your child’s readiness. These tips can help make the transition a smooth one.

Lots of new experiences at school!

Lots of new experiences at school!

Practical strategies to help kids prepare for daily school life:

  • Helping hands. Have children take on more responsibility as a member of the household. Together with your child, come up with a list of chores that he can do this summer. Some ideas are tidying up his room, helping with meal clean-up, feeding and brushing a pet, sweeping the kitchen, sorting laundry, making his bed, putting away groceries, planning a meal. Children will have more responsibility at school, so this is good practice. And children thrive when they contribute to and feel like a part of a group.
  • Fine motor fun. Give children a chance to use scissors, glue, and paints, or build with small blocks or legos. These activities help with fine motor development and spark creativity.
  • I did it myself! Look for opportunities to let your child do more things herself. Can she order her own lunch, carry a tray, speak to the cashier or librarian, or pack and zip up her backpack? This builds independence and gives her the message that you believe she is capable.
  • Play. Games that have rules, require waiting, or involve counting are great for practicing self-control, understanding rules, and learning how to take turns. Old favorites like Red Light/Green Light, Mother May I, and Simon Says help children learn the difference between right and wrong, fairness, and delayed gratification.
  • Silence is golden. If your child is talkative, help him remember to share the talking time. Have a discussion about taking time to listen to others and waiting to talk sometimes. This is another opportunity to work on self-regulation – remembering to stop and think before speaking.
  • But why? Encourage curiosity, discovery, and exploration. Get books from the library on topics that your child asks questions about. Look things up online together. Try new foods – have taste tests with unusual fruits or vegetables. Be curious yourself and ask questions about how things work, or grow, or fly (weather, nature, animals, space).
  • Hit the books. Read, read, and read some more. Reading together promotes emerging literacy and language development. And research shows that reading to a child is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. Plus that time together evokes warm feelings about reading and enriches your relationship with your child!

Strategies to support emotional readiness:

  • Focus on feelings. Listen for the feelings. When your child talks about starting school, stop and listen. Accept all feelings and resist the urge to say “don’t worry” or “there’s nothing to be nervous about” or “you’ll be fine”. Instead of talking him out of his feeling, validate the feeling: “It sounds like you are worried about being in a new classroom. Lots of kids would feel worried about that.” Let that soak in for a minute, then add something like, “Let’s imagine what you think it will look like. Then we can compare that to what we see when we visit.”
  • Teach kindness and friendship. When reading together or out in the real world, point out and talk about what it means to be a good friend. What does kindness look like? How do friends treat each other? Model kind acts by letting someone go ahead of you in line, keep bottled water in your car and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help, visit a neighbor, take flowers to a friend for no reason.
  • Share your memories. Tell stories of starting school or talk about when you started something new. Certainly be genuine, but spend the most time on the positive parts of your experience: making new friends, learning cool things, getting new supplies.
  • Spend time together. Designate some time when there are no electronic devices and really connect. Spend 15 minutes doing whatever your child chooses (that doesn’t involve technology!); try to have dinner together as often as possible (device-free); take advantage of time in the car to talk and sing together; make time to snuggle.

You child will appreciate your attention during any of these activities. Your positive attitude about starting school will set the tone and help to make it something to look forward to!

Children Can Practice Calming Down By “Shakin’ It Up”

Stubborn Refusals and Temper Tantrums Wear Everyone Out

Sometimes children’s emotional storms and “cheerful to tearful” in 10 seconds flat can tire adults out.   A tantrum over putting on boots?  Wailing when a tower piece won’t fit or sobbing over who was “there first”?  It becomes exhausting and frustrating for everyone when children struggle with anger, disappointment, and other “big” feelings.

From an adult perspective, we think, “Really? All this drama over putting on boots?  Just put the boots ON!”

Some Children Need to Learn HOW to Calm Down

These struggles look a lot like  intentional defiance.  However, some children are more emotional by nature than others.  And some children need more help learning how to handle big feelings.  In the words of one sweet child, “Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a mad, I just can’t get out.”

Good news!  Adults can help children master this important life skill.  The fieriest four year old can learn to manage her feelings and think before acting.  The fiercest five year old can derail a rising temper and choose to stay calm. [ more ]