In last week’s post, I discussed the hallmarks of a child ready for kindergarten. If your child isn’t ready, relax, August is still several months away. Or maybe you have a two year old, and you wonder how to begin preparing him so he will be ready for kindergarten. One of you has more time than the other but otherwise the path is the same.
First, let’s talk principles. We should begin with the end in mind. What do you want your children to look like at age five, thirteen, eighteen, and beyond? What kind of people do you want them to become? What do you want them to love? That’s important. You want to get from point A to point B, but you can’t accomplish that if you don’t know where point B is. Take Olympic training for example. If you want to be a champion gymnast, you begin with tumbling, you might lift weights, or even build power with sprints—those are steps along the path to becoming a champion gymnast. But dribbling a basketball might not be helpful at all—that step puts you on a path that ends elsewhere. Know where you’re headed with your children before you begin.
The goal for children in classical, Christ-centered schools is that they become life-long learners who not only think, but also act, righteously (Hicks, Norms and Nobility). While you’re preparing your preschool-aged children for their first days in school, stay focused on that. Creating a love of learning “isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon” to quote a favorite teacher and mentor, Mrs. Phillips. It requires planning and practice just like a marathon, and it won’t end when you take his picture for the first day of school. Take pleasure in this time with your child; think about ways to make the process enjoyable for you both.
So now for the list. This is merely meant to spark ideas for activities to make learning fun while you cover the basics in preparation for kindergarten. Remember, it’s not an exhaustible to-do-list but something to get you started.
Play games—a lot!
This is a big one. Games teach many skills and virtue as well. Memory matching is one of my favorites, and it’s not only useful to train memory, but also to teach upper and lower case letters by matching them or to match a number with a representative number of items, to name a couple. The card game War can help children order numbers, Candyland can help teach colors, and … you get the idea. Whatever you do, don’t always allow your children to win the game. Children need to learn to lose gracefully. Even that takes practice.
Color, cut, and paste!
Sure, this might make a mess, but if children are to imitate our Creator, they also need to create. Coloring and cutting in the lines and making something beautiful builds fine motor skills and attention span. It can also be relaxing (haven’t you seen the rise in availability of adult coloring books?).
According to a study reported in the April 2004 issue of Pediatrics, researchers found a positive correlation between early TV watching and attention issues in children. Swings, ladders, balls, and other equipment help develop gross motor skills, but so do skipping, jumping, and hopping around the back yard.
Read lots of good books.
(Ditto my note on number 3 regarding screen time.) Reading just for the great story is reason enough to read, but you also get the positive effects of building attention span. That means that sometimes you need to read longer books, or chapters from longer books. Good examples would be the Little House on the Prairie or The Chronicles of Narnia series. You can add the exercise of searching for letters in the text every once in a while to integrate alphabet recognition skills. Set aside a special time to read (like before bed), or build a fort together to read in. If part of your vision is for your adult child to love reading, you’ll have that in mind while you’re thinking of ways to make it an enjoyable experience.
Have them help around the house.
Even little ones can match socks, fold napkins and washcloths, and set the table. All these activities teach responsibility, following directions, ordering, and independence—things important to a child beginning school.
Teach them to obey the first time even when they don’t feel like obeying.
Matt Whitling, a classical school assistant principal and frequent conference speaker, has a helpful saying, “We obey right away, all the way, with a good attitude, every day.” Think more about your vision here. If your child doesn’t obey the first time when you tell him to stop at the crosswalk, his life could be in danger; likewise, God desires our obedience to live the life He has called us to. Practice and use fun games to teach listening for your voice and obeying the first time.
I hope these suggestions prove fruitful for you. Remember, begin with the end in mind: you want to spark wonder and a love for learning that will last a lifetime. Practice these ideas in your home and add your own creative ways of accomplishing the same objectives to give your child the foundation he needs for kindergarten and beyond.