This post originally appeared on the blog Mister Smith Learning.
When I work with preschool students, I tend to focus my energy on only a few areas. I like to keep it super simple. This focus will allow for strong growth in these areas and it will lead to improved functional skills in kindergarten.
Just like anything in life, a balance in these five areas will produce the best results. Only letting your child play will neglect the skills needed for academics in kindergarten, while only focusing on pre-academic work will be at the expense of play and socialization.
I know this is obvious, but sometimes people look at play as frivolous. For a child, play is the biggest and most important “job” of childhood. This is how children learn and interact with the world. Many of the things they do through play will touch on the other four ideas that are presented below.
Allowing your child to play with other children will help develop social skills. Playing with other children is not always easy, but this allows your child to be in situations in which they can learn first-hand about conflict resolution, cooperation, teamwork, and competition. Developing social/emotional skills is a huge part of life. This is when we learn not to hit our friends when they take their toy back. This is where we learn to say please and thank you, or learn to deal with people who do not say please and thank you.
Playing outside with friends is great. Climbing, running, tag, hide and seek is so important. This helps develop physical skills, balance and motor planning skills. Playing inside, your child can do board games, card games, trucks, dolls, action figures, Legos, blocks, obstacle courses, etc. Try your best to keep your child off of a screen and interact with a game or with others. These are the experiences that will happen in a kindergarten setting. Any kind of productive play will help your child practice for being a student in kindergarten.
Coloring is exercise for the fingers. I consider it to be like running for adults. Some children find it enjoyable but others do not. They find it difficult, so they avoid it.
It is important that preschool aged children begin to develop their finger strength and endurance in order to be able to hold their crayons and pencils over the next several years in which they express their knowledge on paper.
Do set your child up with achievable activities. They will not be able to color for extended periods, because their hand will get tired. They will not be able to attend that long because that is the nature of a young child. If you give a 3-year-old a large area to color, they will most likely scribble all over the place. Too big of an activity will overwhelm your child.
I suggest starting with small areas, either by using coloring pages that have small areas already set up or by segmenting a large area into smaller ones (like setting up a grid) by using a crayon. We often consider coloring a solo activity. I often color with my students. I color a spot, demonstrating proper grasp and coloring skills, and then they color a spot. This lessens the tiredness of the child’s hands and they will be able to attend to what they are doing. In addition, they are doing something directly with an adult and the finished product will look halfway decent with your help.
Cutting is necessary in kindergarten. Cutting requires motor coordination that needs to be practiced in order to get good at it. I suggest that you start with Playdough scissors. (This is not because I am afraid of child scissors because they are “safe”. You do not have to worry about them cutting their fingers, but they still cut hair, clothing, carpets, drapes, pets hair…you get the idea.) Playdough scissors will not allow you to cut paper, but they will cut Playdough. This is a great way to start developing the motor skills needed to be successful with scissors. Cutting Playdough builds strength.
If you do let your child use children’s scissors, always supervise them until you are confident they will make consistent good decisions. Start with snipping activities, then move onto cutting straight lines.
24 piece puzzles are perfect for children from ages 3-5. Puzzles help with improving problem solving skills, fine motor skills, visual motor skills, sorting skills, attention span, and tolerance of quiet time (alone with their own thoughts). In addition puzzles increase confidence, development of persistence and grit, independence, memory, pattern recognition, practice bringing chaos into order (like cleaning a room) but with a distinct ending point and they are just good old fashioned fun.
A child can easily memorize puzzles if they only have one or two in the house. This minimizes the benefit of problem-solving and gaining new skills. Do not teach children to use the side pieces when using 24-piece puzzles as there are 16 outside puzzle pieces and this does not narrow down their choices as it would if you were doing a 100-1000 piece puzzle. Give verbal prompts to help the child get started and if needed, allow them to struggle for brief periods. If you just do the puzzle for the child, they won’t learn anything. If they get so frustrated that they give up, then they learn how to give up instead of pushing through difficult things.
5. Reading to Your Child
Read to your children. This will expose them to places, things, and ideas that you would not be able to expose them to otherwise. This will teach them how to listen and how to sit and enjoy a story filled with interesting information. This will help your children gain knowledge of things that they will need to know going into kindergarten. They should know their shapes, colors, letters (uppercase and lowercase). And sounds would be great too! Numbers, animals, basic household objects and tools, etc.
In my preschool sessions, I mostly focus on coloring, cutting, and puzzle work. Playing and reading is more of a family activity.
As someone who works with kindergarteners every day, I can confidently say these are the skills parents should focus on to set their child up for success. I hope this helps frame the way in which you might help your pre-school aged student’s readiness.