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