– Ellen Booth Church
You may be hoping your child will learn how to read and write in the first few months of preschool or kindergarten. But there are many other skills she needs to master before an academic focus is appropriate. Studies show that the most important skills to learn at the beginning of the year are social: cooperation, self-control, confidence, independence, curiosity, empathy and communication.
In the first months of school, early childhood teachers are most concerned with children who have behavioural and attention problems. It’s simple: If a child is not able to take turns, listen and sit in a group, how can they learn what is being taught? That is why teachers spend a good deal of time early in the year on the basic social skills of preschool and kindergarten. Even if your child has been in a child care centre or another type of program, they still need to learn the social and emotional dynamics of this new group. Luckily, their previous experiences with social interaction both at home and in other programs will help them make the transition. Once these basic social interaction and group behaviour skills are in place, they are more ready and able to concentrate on academics.
The first basic skills: The four C’s
Here are a few examples of teachers’ goals for the beginning of the school year. Ask your child’s teacher to tell you about her objectives and for her suggestions on how you can support these skills at home.
- Confidence: One of the first skills teachers focus on is the development of your child’s sense of confidence or self-esteem. This means helping them feel good about who they are, both individually and in relationship to others. This is a lifelong skill that will help them feel competent now and as they continue in their schooling.
- Cooperation: Games, stories and songs help your child learn how to work with others — no small task at this age! This teaches them how to empathize and get along with others.
- Curiosity: Perhaps one of the most important skills she needs to develop at this stage is a true thirst for learning. Their teachers will use a wide variety of interesting materials and ideas to engage your child’s natural curiosity. Recent research shows that novel or unusual activities and materials engage the brain more than predictable ones, thus causing the brain to pay close attention.
- Communication: Expressing themselves and representing their ideas, feelings and knowledge about the world is a key skill for your child. It is at the core of all reading, writing, math, and science skills. If they feel comfortable talking about an idea or opinion, they will be more open to learning and taking the risks of thinking that are needed to learn anything.
What you can do
Help your child develop essential social and emotional skills by making connections with school friends at home. Ask them who they would like to invite for a playdate. It is often easier for children to make friends in their own space one-on-one than in school. Many teachers have found that a child who is having difficulties making friends or sharing in a large group often can make a close connection to a new friend on her home turf. This relationship can then carry over to the classroom setting. Once there is a connection to one child in the classroom, more are soon to follow!