I’m back with another question with a reader. You can read my answer to my last question about reading pressure here. Thanks for sending in any questions you have!
My daughter is just starting preschool this year. What should I be doing at home to help prepare her, or help her succeed once she is there?
Even though both my boys went to a daycare that morphed into a preschool just before 3, the start of preschool felt like a big deal for each of them. While kindergarten feels a little more like “real school,” preschool will be you and your child’s first experience with teachers, school friends, and a school community. I think it’s natural to want to help your child at school in any way you can. Luckily, you don’t need to whip out the flashcards yet (or ever) to help your child have a successful preschool experience. Here are some things I do recommend:
Begin talking and reading about school a month or two ahead of the big transition. With kids this young, you don’t want to talk about something too far in advance, but you also don’t want to just spring it on them. If you keep your attitude about preschool positive, your child will start to develop some excitement for school. I always recommend kids books as a fun way to talk about what to expect. I mentioned several starting school books in this post, but I’ve listed some preschool specific ones below.
As an added bonus, one of the big focuses of preschool academic skills is called concepts of print. This is skills like knowing we read left to right, top to bottom, and understanding that words have meaning. As you can probably guess, these skills are taught using books and every time you read to your child, you are reinforcing these important skills.
In addition to books, Daniel Tiger is always a much loved way to introduce preschoolers to new things. There are a couple of great episodes about going to school that your child may enjoy watching in preparation for their first day!
Make a plan for your child’s transition with his or her teacher. Your child’s preschool will have a plan for the transition. It may involve you staying for one day, or having a short visit with just your child etc. Follow the school plan but don’t be afraid to make changes when it seems necessary for your child. Despite my positive attitude and book reading, both of my kids had hard transitions to preschool in different ways. It’s okay to call and check on your child if the drop off was difficult. It will get easier. I have just found this age is hard for separation anxiety and all you can really do is keep going, maintain a predictable routine and wait it out.
Help your child build independence with self help skills. I know I mention building independence in almost every one of my posts, but it really is essential for success in school no matter how old you are. Even in small preschool classes, there is still probably a greater ratio of children there than you have at home. Most preschools will teach self help skills like putting on a coat, drinking from a water cup, and washing hands. You don’t need to teach all of these skills ahead of time, but it’s good if children have some concept that they can do things on their own before they start. Maybe you focus on one job at home and be consistent with them completing that job independently. It could be a skill that would be necessary at school, such as putting on their own coat, or it could be a skill that is specific to home such as putting dirty clothes in the laundry hamper. The important thing isn’t the specific task, but just that your child has experienced being responsible for something independently before. Once your child learns how to do something at school, start having them do that skill at home more. It’s not realistic to have your child do everything his or herself every single time, but the more you can make it happen, the more confident they will feel.
Help your child keep track of the schedule. Most kids at this age really like to know what to expect. That can be challenging because they don’t necessarily know the days of the week, holidays etc. I love using visuals for this age. You can make a weekly schedule for them and post it somewhere in your house. My oldest was very interested in the schedule when he was 4 and early 5, so I used to print a monthly calendar and write special events on it. He would check it each day, and later when he learned the days of the week song at school, he would sing it while pointing to the days on the calendar.
Begin to explore letters, playing with sounds, and numbers with your child. I wouldn’t recommend focusing on academics too much while your child is in preschool, or even choosing a school that does this. But it’s a great time to start pointing out letters with puzzles, books, games and just noticing letters as you go about your day. Numbers are the same, and I actually think even easier to just incorporate into daily life. Here are some fun letter puzzles and games we have enjoyed in my house:
Melissa and Doug Alphabet Train Puzzle
Learning Journey Match It Upper and Lowercase Letters
Leap Frog Fridge Phonics
Of course, as you can probably guess there are lots of great alphabet books out there. Chika Chika Boom Boom is one of my favorites. But honestly, it’s pretty easy to find an alphabet book that fits any interest your child has.
Another important skill that can be focused on at this age is phonological awareness. It sounds fancy, but basically it’s just helping kids understand that you can play with language. and manipulate the sounds. Some of the best skills to focus on in preschool are breaking sentences into individual words, breaking words into syllables, rhyming and identifying the first sound in a word. You can read rhyming books, clap the syllables in your friend’s names and play “I Spy” with sounds, for example “I Spy with my little eye something that begins with the f sound” (say the actual sound not the letter).
As I mentioned in my last post, math is one of the most fun and easy things to work on with your child. See that post for many more ideas. Some of my favorite math books for preschoolers are: Ten Apples Up on Top, Round is a Tortilla, and One is a Pinata. The best thing you can do to improve your child’s counting and number sense is to count everything. Food is a great thing to count. If your child wants goldfish crackers as a snack, use it as an opportunity to count how many. Eat one and count how many now 🙂
Form a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. Preschool is a great place to begin to learn what your child is like at school. It’s always surprising to me how different kids can be at home vs. at school. In preschool you are likely to have some interaction with your child’s teacher each day, either at drop off or pick up, or maybe you’ll have the opportunity to volunteer in your child’s class. I’m the type of person who hates to “bother” the teacher if he or she seems busy at all (job hazard). I have to force myself to make conversation with the teacher, but it’s worth it. I find that when I know the teacher, it helps me to know more about what is going on at school and to hear those inside stories about what my child is like at school. I also try to be incredibly appreciative of the teacher and understanding of the challenges of teaching kids at this age (truly, I don’t know how they do it). Any opportunity I get I write short, but specific, thank you notes to the teacher. I give gifts at holidays and the end of the year. If a problem comes up, I go directly to the teacher in a polite way so I can solve it quickly before it becomes a larger problem. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I have truly enjoyed getting to know my kids’ teachers, and I feel like it gives me some insight in how to help my kid as well.
Don’t worry too much about the extras. This is something I constantly need to remind myself, as it’s easy to feel like everyone else is doing extracurriculars, play dates etc. If you are talking to your preschooler, reading them books, feeding them something they may eat, taking them to the park… reading a blog post about how to help them at school… you are doing great.
There is more I could write about, but this post is already longer than I was planning on. Let’s just say I’ll write a whole post in the future on fine motor skills, and in the meantime, please don’t force your preschooler to sit down and write if they aren’t interested.
*My amazon links are affiliate links 🙂 Thanks for supporting Ask a Teacher Mom blog!