So this isn’t quite a Course Notes post, but I absolutely loved this Continuing Ed seminar I took a couple weeks ago on core foundational skills essential for learning. It especially informs our thoughts on school readiness and I want to share it with you all. So here we go!
Ready or not, your little one will soon attend school and you will most likely have concerns if they’re prepared or not. School readiness refers to the range of proficiencies — language and literacy, cognition, social and emotional skills — needed for your child to easily transition into school. But to be successful in these skills, certain foundations need to be in place.
Quality over Quantity
Qualitative skills are necessary for learning and development. They are:
Joint attention. Also known as shared attention, this is the ability to focus on the same thing with someone else with the intent to interact with one another. When your child tugs at you and points to an object asking what it is, that’s joint attention. This skill is necessary for developing communication, building relationships, and learning from others.
Social referencing. With joint attention comes social referencing, which is understanding unfamiliar situations by observing the responses of people around us. This helps us know what actions and responses are appropriate in various settings. For example, when your little one falls down and looks to you on how to respond (freak out and cry or stand back up because it’s not a big deal). Another example would be when someone tells you to “Read the room,” to prevent a socially awkward moment.
Initiation. This is the ability to start an action, whether that’s in the form of communication or play. It may be in the form of your kid yelling, “Mama!” every few seconds to grab your attention or running ahead of you to investigate something that caught their eye. This skill allows your child to build on their communication skills, understand their environment, and be in control of their learning.
Purposeful play. This is when play is organized and focused on developing/strengthening age-appropriate skills. One form of purposeful play is object play, which involves engaging with an item, like when a young child using blocks to build towers during pretend play. Purposeful play helps your kid process sensory information, develop and refine gross and fine motor skills, as well as improve their attention and confidence to complete tasks.
Social play. This is any kind of play where activities are shared with one another. Any time you’ve seen your kid run off with a peer at the playground is a form of social play. Social interactions help your child learn and cultivate how to communicate their thoughts and feelings as well as build empathy towards others.
Functional communication. This refers to making one’s basic wants and needs known to others. An example would be when your little one gestures or points to things they want, like their cup or a snack. As they start to use their words, they may say things like, “More”, “All done,” or even the all-time favorites of “No” and “Mine” as they learn to self-advocate.
Self-regulation. This is the ability to change our arousal levels to meet and manage the energy demands of a presented task or situation. It also involves how we adapt and respond to daily stressors in our environment. It’s taking a deep breath to calm our system when we’re stressed or taking a quick stretch break after sitting in a chair for too long. This skill allows your child to learn, process, and retain information as well as help make appropriate and rational decisions.
Problem solving. This is identifying an issue and figuring out a solution. For instance, if your child’s ball rolled under the sofa, they may try to move the furniture or use a broom to sweep it out. Working on these cognitive skills also helps manage emotions, build resilience, and promote creativity.
With these, your child can learn and develop new skills as well as sharpen the established ones required in an academic environment.
A Bit More than ABCs and 123s
School readiness is not typically discussed until your child is in preschool headed into kindergarten (4 years of age), but there are some activities you can do with your little one to prep them for when the time comes. In fact, you might even be working on these skills now and not even know it.
- Practice Self-Care. Work on self-care and personal hygiene skills like dressing, toileting, and eating with your child. Start giving your child more opportunities to do these tasks independently. You may start fading the amount of physical help you provide to only verbal cues (“Remember, get the sock over the heel to take it off.”) Yes, it may not be pretty and it may be a bit time consuming, but remember that it will become easier and more refined each time they do it.
- Get Social. To meet people and make friends, you gotta put yourself out there. Same thing applies to our kids. Help them work on their social skills by taking them to places where they can meet and play with new peers, like the playground. You can also set up playdates with same-aged kids, if that’s your jam. Keep in mind that they look to you for cues, so a simple Hello to another kid or a nudge to introduce themselves can give your child a little bit of bravery to make a new friend.
- I’m Board. Play board games to help teach your child the concepts of turn-taking, sharing, waiting, and how to cope if they don’t win. These also lay down the concept of set rules and order/process.
- Read. Little ones are never too young for reading. Read to them often as it helps with literacy and language, and ask them questions about what the characters are doing. Also, it help build attention and stamina as they must wait until the book is finished.
- Let’s Sit Through It. Get your child used to completing tabletop tasks, like coloring or finishing a puzzle. This would also be a good time to incorporate fine motor activities to help build strength and dexterity in the hands and fingers.
- Mind Your Manners. Start working on socially appropriate behaviors, like using an indoor voice when indoors or asking permission to leave the table when eating. Asking questions politely, tidying up after they’re finished playing, etc.
- Play All Day. Provide as many opportunities for your child to play as it helps them act out their imaginations, allow for creativity, and process what they observe in their daily life.
So if you’re worried about school readiness, put down the flash cards for a bit and actively work in social skills and critical thinking. These are going to be just as important when you walk through the school doors.