Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Building School Readiness Skills at Home Does Not Start with ABCs

I am meeting more and more parents who envision quality time with their children as a time to teach them their ABCs, to count to 20, and write their names before their first day in Kindergarten.
That's fine. You know, we are so desperate for parents to spend uninterrupted one-on-one time with their kids that I am not even going to argue that.

What I will argue, though, is that ABCs, counting to 20, and forcing little hands that are not developmentally ready to go through strenuous writing exercises is not doing your children any favors. In fact it may be hurting them, just like forcing a six month old to walk. Their muscles are just not ready yet. Besides, once in Kindergarten, they will have a whole community of teachers who have dedicated their lives to developing these literacy skills.

On one hand, if your child knows all there is to know academically for that year, then he will either be bored and loose interested in learning how to be a student or will be neglected as other students who still need to learn these skills get the teachers' attention.

On the other hand, while he may be ahead of everyone else on literacy charts this year, they will not be next year. Not they will not only struggle to learn how to learn in a classroom setting, but he will not experience his first failure until first grade. Dealing with failure gets harder as we grow older, you know. Delaying this experience, I hope, is not your idea of academic success.

What will be doing him a huge favor, however, is to spend some time with him learning how to ask questions, solve problems, organize his thoughts, build things, be creative, take responsibility for actions, deal with consequences, and to socialize. Most of these skills are part of what is called executive skills. These skills are incredibly important to your child's development yet almost always overlooked.

Exercising executive skills uses the same tools that you are using with your child today, mind you, just used differently. So for example, if you write a capital A, instead of forcing your child to trace over it with a pencil, try just with their index finger.
Then ask:
What shape does A look like to you?
(draw that shape next to the A)
Ask how these two shapes are the same, and how they are different.
What will they have to do to look the same?
Here are three spoons (or forks, straws, toothpicks, crayons....) can you build an A? Now let's count how many sides A has. Now it is my turn to build an A.

With this little exercise, you would have used so much more of your child's brain than you would have if you just drilled ABCs down his throat.
You would have also given your child a chance to express his thinking in a safe environment. It will give you a chance to learn more about his thinking.

These new skills are exactly what will set him on the road to success in that kindergarten classroom. With this simple alteration in your agenda, you have prepared your child for the experience he is about to embark on.

I have a feeling you will have a lot more fun along the way too.

More executive suite/function/skill information from the experts:

* Articles, book chapters and videos from John Medina's Brain Rules for Baby  (New York Times Best Seller)

* Papers available for download and videos at Harvard's Center on The Developing Child 

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