School Readiness

School Readiness

Written by: Jess Anderson

“Since COVID-19 began, we haven’t really left the house.” I often hear this phrase from parents of young children who are navigating the pandemic. Parents are worried about the social-emotional development of their children, along with their pre-academic learning opportunities now that preschool programs and school buildings have been closed or less accessible over the past year. 

While it is true that researchers often talk about the importance of early learning and how it can predict future academic success, research also shows that parents and caregivers are essential for preparing their children to transition to school.

School readiness is a term often used to describe a child’s preparedness for entering kindergarten, and usual refers to skills in the following areas: language and literacy, cognition, physical development, approaches to learning and self-regulation, and social and personal competency. As the pandemic continues and keeps us socially distanced and often indoors, children are still developing and ready to take on learning challenges at home. Here are some ways to foster school readiness right in your own home.

Language and Literacy
Children in their preschool years rapidly acquire new language. Pretend play can positively influence vocabulary and language acquisition, and more specifically, reading and telling stories are great ways to build language skills. Literacy is also something that can be fun and taught throughout daily activities. Highlight the letter-sounds of words you use throughout the day, saying things like, “G-g-game starts with the g sound!” Brainstorming words that rhyme can help to build phonological awareness, which is a key skill for young children to begin reading. 

Cognition
Developing cognition for school readiness is about promoting early problem-solving skills and often includes early science and math skills. Try counting blocks, or toy cars; play games of take-away (“You had five cars, but three drive away, how many are left?”) or engaging in board games that use the skill of counting (e.g., Chutes and Ladders) or games that require matching numerals (e.g., Uno). Interestingly, a child’s ability to name numerals is one of the most influential skills on later math development, and can be easily worked on at home. 

Physical Development
Supporting physical development requires thinking about a child’s gross motor and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills include running, jumping, and climbing. Fine motor skills include drawing, writing, and grasping. 

To build gross-motor skills, many safe outdoor activities (e.g., running, biking, playing on a playground) engage the large muscles of the body. However, many young children also enjoy short dance or physical activities that can be done indoors, such as GoNoodle.

For building fine motor skills, crafting is an excellent activity! Engaging in beading or drawing can help build the small muscles in a child’s hands to prepare them for writing in kindergarten. Occupational therapists recommend that children practice writing and drawing vertically (on chalkboards, white boards or easels, for example), as this can increase strength in a child’s core, shoulder, and wrist. 

Approaches to Learning and Self-Regulation
This part of school readiness focuses on learner characteristics such as curiosity and persistence, and the regulation skills necessary to cope with feelings and managing one’s own behavior. These skills can be developed throughout daily life. Young children are frequently asking questions. The next time your child asks, “Why?” ask them to make a guess about the answer to their own question, and give praise when they persist in thinking through their questions! 

One of the most powerful ways parents can help to shape strong self-regulation skills for children is by modelling these skills themselves. When you monitor and talk through your emotions, you help your child to build language around emotions and to learn strategies for coping. For example, saying, “I am feeling frustrated right now. I am going to take a short walk and come back to this later,” can help a child to learn how to identify emotions and manage them appropriately. 

Social and Personal Competency
Social and personal competency is about building social skills and personal care skills. Although it seems like relationship building skills are more difficult in a time where play-dates and peer-groups are rare, this skill can still be taught at home. Use books or characters to help children notice similarities in their experiences and the experiences of the characters to build empathy skills. Remind children of social rules such as taking turns speaking, looking at someone’s eyes and face when they are speaking, and changing volume levels depending on location (e.g., loud at the park, quiet in the apartment). Recreate social scenarios through imaginary play at a “restaurant” or “school,” and take turns with different roles.


Additional Resources:
Early Childhood Resources curated by the University of Washington College of Education: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ncAPWG5tPXRPbTKDARsGIw9pJ_yFTi43yK0LLPXtR-Q/edit?_ga=2.182232676.2102303318.1611970959-1935884844.1577913772

Activities for families and caregivers
https://cultivatelearning.uw.edu/resource-spotlight/

Supporting science development at home http://stemteachingtools.org/news/2020/guidance-for-supporting-science-learning-during-covid-19



The Role of Family Involvement in Literacy

The Role of Family Involvement in Literacy

Written by: Swee Harrison

How are families involved in a child’s literacy development?
A child’s literacy skills begin at home before they are old enough to attend school!

Children whose parents are more involved with their schooling and at-home learning tend to feel more confident in their own literacy skills. This is no coincidence! Family involvement can influence a child’s success in their school and community contexts as well as the home environment. So, why is this important? It means that you, the parent, and other family members can really help your child improve their literacy skills!

Why is literacy important in early childhood?
Early engagement with literacy is important because challenges with literacy development can impact a child over time, even well into adulthood. Children who struggle to develop literacy skills in elementary school are more likely to have difficulties with reading later on. Challenges in school are linked to behavioral problems. This site provides resources and benchmarks for early literacy development and milestones (infancy to age 5): https://www.pacer.org/ec/early-literacy/parents-play-a-key-role.asp

We also know that family income levels can be related to children’s literacy development. Parent and family involvement are especially important in low-income families. If you are interested in learning more about the role of literacy on children from low-income backgrounds, check out this summary of a study on family involvement and children’s literacy for low-income families: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/08/05/family-involvement-and-childrens-literacy

How to support your child’s literacy development:
The term “family involvement” includes a variety of actions both in school and at home. Here are ways you can be involved in your child’s literacy development:
1. Help with homework and other school-related activities at home
2. Participate through classroom volunteering and communicating with teachers (i.e. attending parent-teacher meetings, keeping up with their child’s progress)
3. Access your child’s school community and discuss education with other families and community members
4. Educate yourself on topics and skills your child is learning in school

Siblings can help each other improve reading skills too!
Studies show that siblings who participate reading or language learning together also improve together! Younger siblings benefit from observing and learning from their older sibling(s). Plus, older siblings learn from teaching younger siblings and demonstrating their own knowledge. Take a look at this website for information on sibling roles in literacy development: https://www.scholastic.com/parents/books-and-reading/raise-a-reader-blog/siblings-reading-together.html

Check out these resources for more information! 
These websites provide suggestions for activities to improve literacy development: 
Kid’s Academy: bit.ly/2N0qbsT
Edutopia: edut.to/3qqDtN2
National Center for Improving Literacy: http://bit.ly/3bxQX5A


Setting Boundaries at Home

Setting Boundaries at Home

Written by: Jennifer VanEtten

By establishing healthy boundaries in your home, you are letting your children know that you care about them and want them to feel safe and secure as they learn about the world. Boundaries help children to understand their choices, which choices are acceptable, and how to identify and communicate their expectations with others. 

What are Boundaries?
Physical boundaries refer to the invisible line between you and other individuals. A physical boundary represents the extent to which you are comfortable with other people touching you, being in your personal space, and how you define privacy. For children, this may also include how far they can travel from a parent without supervision, where they are allowed to play, and activities they may or may not do in the house.

Emotional boundaries are not as straightforward as physical boundaries. Emotional boundaries are the expectations set to respect emotions and feelings. Setting emotional boundaries requires acknowledgment that everyone has different emotional triggers. We have to learn our own emotional triggers and respect those of others. For example, a child may decide they no longer want to be called by a nickname. When they make this preference known, family and friends need to respect that emotional boundary by not using the nickname in the future. Children need practice with following boundaries. This practice teaches them self-control and empathy, and shows them that they can set boundaries when they are needed.

Tips for Practicing Boundaries at Home

• Collaboration: Work together to establish boundaries within the home. Make sure each parent and child verbalizes their own age-appropriate physical and emotional boundaries. Allowing children to be a part of this process will help them to acknowledge how they want to be treated and how to treat others. It may be helpful to create a contract or chart that everyone can sign. Some universal boundaries include: ask before taking, wait your turn to speak, knock before entering, tell the truth, clean up after your messes, etc. 

• Consistency: Children will always push boundaries because it helps them to learn. That is why it is important to be consistent with the boundaries you set at home. Children are less likely to continue pushing boundaries if they are enforced consistently. If there is a time when a boundary needs to be broken, make sure to communicate this with your children. Otherwise, it is important to firmly, and gracefully, remind your children about the boundaries when they are broken, and use consequences if necessary. Remind them why the boundary is important and problem-solve if necessary. 

• Mindful Communication: Be conscious of your body language, facial expression, and tone when enforcing your boundaries. If you laugh or smile when a child crosses an established boundary this may encourage them to do it again (even if you are telling them not to do it). On the other hand, harsh reprimands and loud tones may trigger a child’s fight-or-flight response. You will want to save this urgency for emergencies (e.g., your child is in danger) and be sure to nurture your connection with your child in these moments while they learn. 

• Reinforcement: Offer praise when you notice your child respecting boundaries. Research has found that using critical statements may be counterproductive for shaping behavior, while praise can boost kids’ feelings of confidence and competence. Try using specific language when praising. For example, “I really like the way you cleaned up your toys without being asked!” communicates the behavior you want to reinforce rather than general praise like, “Good job!” 

• Model your boundaries: If you expect children to know and respect your boundaries, it is important that you do the same. If there is a physical boundary in the house that one should knock before entering a closed door, you should do the same for them. If no phones are allowed at the dinner table, hold yourself and your partner to the same standards. Additionally, discontinuing tickling or hugging when a child says “no” or “stop” reinforces physical boundaries. Children learn a lot by watching what you do, which often makes more of an impression than what you say.

A household with healthy boundaries provides children with love, structure, guidance and discipline, and at the same time respect the child’s feelings, opinions, personal space, and right to say no in certain situations. When proper boundaries are set at home, children learn and internalize the ability to set those boundaries for themselves as they mature. 

Tips for Practicing Boundaries at Home
American Academy of Pediatrics: Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children
Harvard Graduate School of Education: Consent at Every Age
Personal Space Camp by Julia Cook