Think about the word….”pre-schooler.” If we define that word by saying, “school” is a place where you learn and “pre” means before, then we are almost saying that this is a time before learning. In reality, this is a time full of learning – everything! Well, not astrophysics, but you know what I mean. From birth, children learn at an amazing speed: language, problem solving, cognitive reasoning, social skills, and much more. So instead of preschoolers, we should call them prepare-schoolers.
The best environment for “prepare” learning is a natural, real-life setting-- the home. Artificial environments full of dozens of peers do not provide the correct stimuli and interaction needed for young children to learn these crucial skills. A busy daycare full of jabbering, socializing toddlers and preschoolers is not where your child will learn best. “But my preschooler needs to learn to socialize with their peers,” you say. Okay, then take them on a play date or to the park a couple of times a week and teach them how to play nicely with others. No toddler on the planet ever taught another toddler how to ask nicely or say thank you.
More than half of all learning takes place during the first few years of life, this might make you want to cram as much as possible into those years, but we must make sure we are teaching in line with their developmental abilities. By the time your toddler is ready to be called a preschooler they can: symbolize (they make the sound of a real car for their toy car), play make-believe, anticipate consequences (know that you cannot put a round peg in a square hole), learn 50 words a month, and ask “Why?”.
Parents Number 1 Task!!
Language. Language is the most important skill for all preschoolers (and toddlers). They need lots of interaction with mature speakers. They need to participate in conversations where both parties are talking. They need to hear stories and learn to develop their ability to tell stories. Tell them stories of your childhood and encourage them to tell you about something they have done recently or remember doing. Practice oral narration, first with pictures then without the book. This expands their general knowledge, thinking skills, strengthens their vocabulary and develops composition skills for later on. Just listening (to TV and YouTube) will not develop these skills. We want their activities to be filled with talk so that they can develop comprehension and reasoning, learn to organize their ideas, practice verbal expression, and develop listening skills. Reading to them is an obvious way to develop lots of vocabulary, sequencing, and listening skills.
Do Not…. Starting teaching reading and writing—yet. Most preschooler do not have the ability to hear the fine distinctions between sounds to start a phonics program. And their eyesight is also not ready for reading. They are naturally slightly far-sighted and their binocular vision is not coordinated. Several major wrist bones are still cartilage, so writing is very difficult. Do, however, make them aware of type…as you read to them, signs you drive by, etc.
Preschoolers start learning to solve problems through play. As they interact with different environments, such as pretending to play store, it allows them to set up scenarios of real life situations and figure out how to deal with them in their own way. In this way, they also experiment with concepts of the world around them. Studies show that children who are allowed more time to play have higher creativity and a higher use of language. To help with this, parents can limit the number of toys, so that they can decide what to play with and not be overwhelmed.
So… give your preschooler some of your time. Read a book. Play store. Work a puzzle. Go for a walk and talk about all you see, collect things as you go. Limit screen time and encourage imaginary play. You will be helping them prepare for school more than any computer game or fancy gadget.