One of the questions I get asked more often than any other by parents is, “What should my child be learning to be successful in Kindergarten?” I often answer by telling the story about my own experience when choosing the right magnet school for my sons entering Kindergarten.
I was participating in a tour and overheard a group of Moms grilling the poor teacher. One Mom said she was worried that her son was not learning enough in his current Preschool. The teacher got a very serious look on her face and proceeded to tell the group of Moms listening how important it was for her new kindergarteners to know two things. Those two things were how to go to the bathroom by themselves and how to feed themselves. Otherwise, she said, they would have fun teaching them the rest! I knew instantly that she was the kind of teacher I wanted for my children.
Childhood Is Not a Race
We are such a competitive culture that even our preschoolers have become the stuff of trophies and bragging rights. As parents, we want to give our children every opportunity to succeed in life. Unfortunately, that desire for achievement can sometimes short circuit the need for young children to play and explore their environment.
Of course we will find age-appropriate ways to help them “absorb” the academic knowledge needed for entry into Kindergarten. But sometimes as adults we need to be reminded that young children (ages birth through five) learn best through play—role play, silly play, game play, active play, creative play, even directed play.
What Your Preschooler Doesn’t Need to Know
While doing some research recently, I ran across an article written by an anonymous preschool teacher. She read a post on a parenting bulletin board by a mother who was worried that her 4 1/2 year old did not know enough. “What should a 4 year old know?” she asked. One mom posted a laundry list of all the things her son knew, including counting to 100, the planets, how to write his first and last names, and on and on. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, some of whom were only 3 years old. A few posted URL’s to lists of what each age should know. The fewest yet said that each child develops at his own pace and not to worry. It bothered her greatly to see these mothers responding to a worried mom by only adding to her concern with lists of all the ways her child was behind.
I wholeheartedly agreed with her. Childhood should not be a race.
What Every Parent Needs to Know
If you have read our Parents Handbook you will see that our philosophy and goals reflect this same style of teaching and nurturing our students. So here are some of the things she and I and all of my wonderful teachers think all parents should know.
- Every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace and that pace will have no bearing on how WELL he walks, talks, reads or does algebra.
- The single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT or SAT scores is reading to children—not flash cards, not workbooks, not worksheets, not fancy preschools, not blinking, noisy toys or computers—but Mom or Dad and other important adults taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books. So if you do not get “papers” coming home every day that your child has “made” at Preschool, please remember, we focus on experiencing the process—not the final product.
- Being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class rarely has any bearing on being the HAPPIEST. We are so caught up in trying to give our children all the “advantages” that we are giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as our own. Let us not forget that one of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
- Our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them all. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they would not be missed; but some things are important—building toys like Lego and unit blocks, creative toys like a variety of art materials, musical instruments (real ones and multicultural ones), dress up clothes and BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS!
- Children need to satisfy the natural urge to explore their environment and experiment, even if it does make a mess in the kitchen while we cook dinner. They need to have a spot in the yard where it is absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit. What are soap and water for, anyway?
- Our children should know that the world is magical and that they are too. We should help them to understand that they are wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” –Psalm 139:14 (NIV)
- And last but certainly not least—our children need more of US.Yes, we all need “me time.” We need time with adult friends, sanity breaks, undisturbed bath or showers occasionally and some kind of life outside of parenthood.But we live in a time when popular parenting magazines recommend trying to set aside 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as “family day.” I am sorry, but that is just not okay. Extra-curricular activities are important and fun, but ballet lessons, play groups, computer games and soccer practice are not nearly as important as time spent with the important adults in our children’s lives.
Whether it’s Mom or Dad or Grandparents or Aunts or Uncles or Preschool Teachers, our children need adults who sit and listen or join in making crafts or reading stories to them and act like idiots with them. They deserve our patience when taking a walk is slower than we would like and when helping with breakfast or dinner makes a bigger mess than usual.
They Just Need to Know That You Love Them
More than anything, they deserve to know that they are a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them. Remember that they learn just as much by imitating those around them. So not only will they grow up feeling loved and worthy, they will also grow up to be happy, loving and compassionate toward others. Can you ask for anything more?