School is starting in a few weeks and young children are preparing for September. They practice their ABC’s, numbers and expand their vocabulary. They read, do worksheets, use flash cards and sit with IPADS/technology. Is this enough to be ready? Many of our students struggle in school not from cognitive weakness but sensory, language, behavioral and motor weaknesses that make them less available for learning. These issues interfere with attention/focus, executive functioning, social skills and postural abilities/endurance.
So what does it take to be ready for school? How can we increase success especially for the early elementary school years? How can families facilitate and foster these necessary skills in their daily life?
The first place to start is with a LOVE of learning, curiosity and critical thinking. This enthusiasm and eagerness to explore and discover will position your child ahead of the crowd. This includes encouraging children to ask questions, be curious, take initiative as well as being persistent when uncovering information and trying new and challenging things. Don’t jump in and give answers but expand your child’s exploration and frustration tolerance. Show them your love of learning as well. Use an excited voice and get out there and explore. Go to parks, nature centers, zoos, museums and playgrounds. Ask children their opinions about their experiences, what did they like and not like about the experience, talk about what is the same and different, use prediction, and take apart and build things without directions.
Promote listening skills and foster language reciprocity. I speak and you listen, and now you speak and I listen. This oral language skill translates into social skills as well as increasing attention spans. As a society, our attention spans have been decreasing and we often tune-out before the other person is finished speaking. Your child will be required to listen to his/her teacher to learn new concepts and material as well as hear directions for activities/projects and routines. Increase your child’s capacity to listen for longer and longer amounts of time. Play games where they listen from simple to complex. Freeze dance and hot potato only require listening for one word or music to stop. Games like a Simon says type game with just verbal directions or Cranium Hullabaloo can be more complicated. If you are the creative type, make up your own simple obstacle courses like “jump to the red circle, hop to the blue triangle, then stamp your feet etc. Increase the verbal directions as your child has success.
Provide sensory and motor opportunities and enhance play/social skills. Make sure your child plays in all of their 7 senses: movement, body (proprioception), sound, touch, smell, taste and vision. Many young children spend too much time with just sound and vision and miss critical opportunities for play in the other 5 senses which is essential for cognitive development, motor skills, postural endurance and self-regulation. Children can sit still longer in the classroom without touching others when they get adequate input from complete sensory experiences as well as the core strength to support them during sitting. Through this play, it allows for sharing, compromising, taking turns, and problem-solving, and facilitates compassion and develops empathy. These skills help your child to become socially competent but are also critical for school success especially when working in groups.
The last one is to foster a desire for independence. Children need to complete ADL’s (activities of daily living) on their own. Let them struggle to put their socks on before you jump in. Practice fasteners like snaps, zippers, buttons and laces either on yourself, a doll or costume. Ultimately children have a higher self-esteem when they are independent and feel they have an ability to master their world (within developmental reason). They then bring this sense of accomplishment to all their future academic endeavors.
All of these activities lend themselves to the summer season so get out there. Play, explore, create, use your 7 senses and most importantly have FUN! Best of all, you will JUMPSTART SCHOOL.