It’s back-to-school season and parents all over the country are scrambling to get their kids ready for another 10 months of academic battle.
Well, except you. Your children are not yet of age. They’re just little toddlers too preoccupied with running around and leaving the house in total disarray to care about My Little Pony notebooks or Paw Patrol lunchboxes. But even as you wait for your kids to reach school age, there are lots of little things you could do to prep them for formal schooling.
Develop their writing muscles
An anecdote about how a friend taught a preschool-age kid how to write through an unconventional manner stuck with me. For months, the kid had been given several writing exercises by another tutor. But, for some reason, the kid never seemed to progress. When my friend came into the picture, the first thing she did was ditch the pencil-and-paper exercises. Instead, she played modeling clay with him for weeks, and when he was ready, they picked up the writing exercises again. This time, his writing skills progressed much faster!
The idea is to first develop kids’ fine motor skills before making them use writing tools. Often, parents and even teachers get frustrated when little kids write or color outside the lines, but really, this is to be expected for children who are just getting used to the finer movements that writing requires. Before your kids start schooling, you can develop their writing muscles through toys like modeling clay. Toys that need to be grasped like building blocks can also help strengthen their hands. Some sources even recommend using clothespins and tongs in games to develop their grasp. Important warning, though: be careful to check toy labels to see if your kid is old enough for them!
Develop their social skills
Needless to say, school is going to be much bigger place with a lot more people. Some kids, especially those who are not around other kids often, may find it hard to adjust to this new environment. At home, they may be used to being the apple of the eye or the center of attention. But once they’re at school, there would be many other kids whom they need to share the spotlight with! Early on, it would be great to get your kids used to company. Let them play with cousins or neighbors, or take them to play-places or workshops where they could mingle with other kids. More importantly, train them in basic social skills like taking turns, politely getting someone’s attention, and sharing. You can integrate these little lessons in everyday things, like taking turns with them when choosing which show to watch, using ‘magic words’ and ‘po’ and ‘opo’ when talking to them, and teaching them to share their favorite snack with you.
Build routines with them
One of the most important values that would be really useful once they reach school age (and beyond!) is time management. You can start training them to understand the value of time by getting them used to following a schedule. For instance, you can set a time intended only for playtime or set a specific time wherein they should be preparing for bed. Schedules would help them learn how to focus on one activity at a time, and disciplining them about bed time would help them get up for school fully energized when the time comes. Building routines and following set schedules with them would also prepare them for the strict schedules of formal schools.
Teach them independence
Right now, and I’m sure you’d agree, you are your kid’s 911 hotline. Whether there’s a spillage or soiled hands or any little emergency, you’re sure to hear your child wailing “Mama!” or “Papa!” And this is perfectly normal. However, when they get to school, the sad and hard truth is that you won’t be in the classroom to help them. So, it would be great to start early in teaching them how to be independent.
You can begin with training them to clean up their mess. They spilled something? Give them little clean rags and teach them how to clean up. They got their hands dirty? Teach them how to wash their hands with soap and dry them properly after. You can also teach them simple chores like putting away their toys after playtime, or putting on clothes by themselves. When they’re of age, you can also start teaching them how to handle their spoon and fork properly. Fair warning, though, teaching your kids to be independent could become both a proud and painful experience, as you would begin to realize that their world is no longer just your arms and lap, and it would continue to grow as they learn new things around them.
Read and sing with them
You are more than welcome to immerse your kids in songs and stories way before they enter the classroom. In fact, little kids first learn about the alphabet, numbers, colors, body parts and even animal sounds through songs! Many kids are kinesthetic learners, so it would also be great if you could teach them songs with actions (like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Baa Baa Black Sheep, or counting songs). As a bonus, action songs may also help them develop their writing muscles!
Likewise, reading to kids has a whole lot of benefits. First and foremost, it can help them with language acquisition even at an early age. Reading to them allows them to get used to a language’s phonetics and even help introduce them to new vocabulary. In addition, some sources say that reading time helps develop a child’s ability to concentrate, since they would have to focus on the story to understand it. Reading time may also be used as an avenue for teaching older kids social skills and values, and for introducing them early to critical thinking (e.g. asking them why characters acted the way they did). On top of all these, setting a reading time with your child lets you have a bonding time to look forward to. Important reminder, make sure you use cardboard or cloth books for younger kids, as they would really try their best to rip out the pages. (As I learned the hard way.)
And that’s it. Preparing your kids for school does not need to be expensive or stressful. In fact, forcing your kid to sit down and write or learn to do “school things” could cause them to fear the classroom in the future. So, instead of doing that, you can turn every little interaction you have with them into little lessons. In the same way that schools are considered a child’s second home, your own home should also become your child’s first school. Just always remember, the most important thing in preparing your kids for school or any other milestone is to be involved.
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