Every parent wants to know.
“What does my child need to learn before he or she starts school?”
It’s a great question. A lot of teachers may tell parents to start practicing ABCs and how to count. Some parents will. Some won’t. The bottom line? These aren’t the things your child needs to learn before school starts. Would it be nice? Sure. Would we be very thankful (and impressed)? Absolutely.
But those topics are a teacher’s job to teach.
So if it’s not ABCs and numbers, what should parents teach their kids?
I’m going to lean on Teaching Strategies GOLD for the answer.
As a Pre-K teacher, I’m not looking for kids to enter with advanced phonological knowledge. I’m not even looking for super advanced language development.
The more you ask parents to do, the less they will think you want to do. That’s not a great way to start the year. Teachers shouldn’t mind the responsibility of teaching. The things that I look for are the beginning stages of independence. What does that mean? I’ll show you.
I’m going to use language plucked directly from GOLD.
Parents, these are the absolutely essential skills and development we should see from a child entering Preschool. If kids come in with these basic developmental milestones, I promise teachers will be able to start educating your child on the very first day.
Gross Motor Skills
- Students can walk and do not crawl.
- They can demonstrate balance by straddling a line.
- Students can reach for, pick up, grasp, release, push, drop and swipe objects.
Essentially, kids can walk and stand. They can also move their arms to manipulate objects in their immediate environment.
Fine Motor Skills
- Students can move objects from one hand to another.
- Students can eat with the fingers.
- They can crumple paper.
- They can bang things together.
- They can point to objects and people.
- Students can grab a pencil or crayon with their whole hand.
- Students can scribble, using their whole arm to make marks.
These are basic fine motor skills that come about with time and practice. Picking things up, putting them down, and transferring from one hand to another are essential to play with toys and puzzles. Crumping paper is a good indicator for the strength of your child’s fine motor skills. Banging things together is a similarly strong indicator for coordination. Finger food is a must-have because teachers do not want to have to feed kids in Pre-K. Pointing is a form of communication that compensates for a lack of verbal expression. And finally, the writing and scribbling component gives teachers a starting point for art and writing projects.
Approaches to Learning
- Students notice different sights and sounds. They use their sense to explore their immediate environment.
- Students can imitate others using objects and remembers how to repeat certain actions to get the same result, such as bouncing a ball.
Students being able to attend to sights and sounds is a precursor for paying attention and learning. Exploration using the senses is how students can start to make sense of the world. Repeating the actions of others, or mimicry, is a hugely important skill. When it comes to following directions, most of the first few weeks of school require students to mimic the teacher. This may be the most important skill kids can learn because without it, it’s almost impossible to teach.
- Students can use words and gestures to communicate what they need or want.
- Students use one or two word sentences or phrases.
- Student can be understood by most familiar people, even if language is not immediately familiar to teacher.
- Students understand that changes in volume and tone have meaning and they respond to people appropriately.
- Students know their own name and look to speaker when called.
I’ve had students come into Pre-K and they don’t know a word of English. That was never a problem. I actually enjoyed it because it gave me a chance to work on my Spanish. It also taught children how to be patient with their semi-bilingual teacher. I developed some of my best relationships with students because of our journey in learning language together. So, for the Spanish parents out there, while knowing English helps, it is not required.
However, kids do need to have some language skills. If they aren’t speaking in full sentences, that’s fine. Can they use nonverbal cues (pointing, showing emotion, shaking their heads for yes or no)? Can they respond with “Yes” and “No?” Do they try to speak? I had one student who would stare at you until you asked a yes or no question. Then he would nod his head in response. Parents allowed him to do this at home to the point where they would go out to eat and read the whole menu to him waiting for “yes.” The only reason he never developed language before Pre-K was because he never had to use it at home.
Kids should also know their own name and respond to it. You can imagine how tough it can be managing a classroom of 20 kids who don’t know their names. Also, kids don’t need a full vocabulary but they should be able to tell the difference between a happy tone and a serious one.
- Students should show a special connection with one adult, such as a parent.
- That adult can help child control and regulate their emotions.
- Students can play near other kids, even if not engaging directly.
It’s okay if kids cry for their moms and dads on the first day of school. It’s okay if it takes them some time to get a handle on their emotions. The most basic of these emotional skills asks that parents can at least help get a child calm. As they spend more time in school, they will progress in these areas. The other social skill asks that kids can engage in parallel play. If they can make friends, that’s fantastic. But for now, it’s just nice to know they can play on their own and do their own thing.
- Some Positional Words (up/down)
- Some Size Words (big/small)
- Some Descriptive Words (loud/quiet, fast/slow, soft/hard, same/different)
- Most Colors
The reason these words are important? We will use them on the first day. They are important for learning basic safety rules. We go up and down the stairs. We need to be quiet and walk slow in the hallway. Knowing what the word “same” means is very helpful when it comes to copying actions and following directions. Colors are important for labeling objects in the room. They are also no fun to teach. I don’t want your kids have to start the year by labeling different objects red, yellow, and blue. It’s a droning activity and it is something that is easily taught at home.
And that’s it. That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Kids don’t need to be rocket scientists entering school. They just need to be able to walk, grab, point, play, look, and listen.
Parents, you can do this and you probably already have. Congratulations!
For those who haven’t, you knew enough to ask the question. That’s just as important. Now that you have the answer, you will prepare your kids to do great things.
Happy First Day of Preschool, everybody!