By Karen Trudell
Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be. Gone are the days of graham crackers and milk, naptime mats and learning to use scissors and paste. These days, kindergarten is more like first grade.
With schools taking a faster pace of instruction than they did 20 years ago, it is essential now that children enter kindergarten properly prepared. But that doesn’t mean just knowing their ABCs and 123s before fall of their first official year in school. And it isn’t just about learning to sit still, follow rules and pay attention in class.
In the kindergarten of the new millennium, children have to be emotionally and cognitively ready to learn. And that’s a quality that preschools are ideally suited to instill.
Most important among the skills needed for a good academic start are a sense of curiosity and a desire for academic exploration. Studies have shown that children who have a positive experience in a preschool setting have just that: They enter kindergarten eager to learn.
Preschools create an interest in learning by providing the support necessary for children to develop a strong sense of self. When children have ample opportunity to explore an environment that supports and challenges their abilities, they gain a sense of competency. From there, they develop confidence and independence through successful interactions with materials, teachers and other children.
Ideally, the journey toward kindergarten readiness begins when they are toddlers and continues through the age of four. Here’s how it happens:
When children first arrive in preschool as toddlers, they learn to trust other adults outside of their families. As two-year-olds, children can develop a sense of self as autonomous individuals when mom or dad drops them off at preschool. Three-year-olds grow in confidence as they develop independence though practicing self-help skills, using language to express themselves and experimenting with large motor skills. Four-year-olds learn self-control, problem-solving skills and how to assert themselves in a socially acceptable manner.
Preschool teachers view each child as unique, each with his or her own individual style of learning, and each with his or her own timeline for growth and development. They design curriculum to meet the different learning styles and rates of development within a specific age group. And they set appropriate goals and expectations, encouraging children to actively participate in the learning process. They provide experiences to promote learning in all developmental areas: physical, social, emotional, language and cognitive.
Preschools promote the development of a confident, competent child. Children need to be successful in all that they try. Just the act of exploring a new activity is success in itself. The outcome is not as important as the effort to accomplish the task.
And that’s where preschools help children to succeed as students. Children who attend preschool see themselves as capable because from the time they were toddlers, teachers have been telling them, “You can do it.”
Preschools teach so much: How to behave in a classroom; how to help others including their classmates and instructors; how to organize themselves by putting their belongings in cubbies and putting away toys; social skills; emotional self-control; self-care and more. By learning all these skills before they start kindergarten, children already know how to function in the classroom and are ready to get down to the important business of learning academics.
As a parent, your top goal for preschool is for your child to develop a strong sense of confidence—the “I can do it!” spirit and the desire to keep trying. You want your child to graduate from preschool feeling, “I want to learn how to do that,” and, “I can learn how to do that.”
While it’s important for children to learn their ABCs and 123s in preschool—before they enter kindergarten—and while it’s essential that they learn to share, follow instructions and trust other adults to take good care of them, the most important lesson your child will learn in preschool is how to learn. Ultimately you want your children graduating from preschool with a love of learning and the knowledge that yes, “I can do it!”
Karen Trudell holds the following California State Credentials: Early Childhood Education Teaching Certificate, State of California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Child Development Site Supervisor Permit and Associate of Science Degree in Early Childhood Education. Karen also serves as a Professional Growth Advisor with the CCTC (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing). She has been in the field of early childhood education for 18 years and the director at Woodside Parents’ Nursery School for over a year.