Emma’s mom looked at the calendar. It was still summertime. August stretched before them promising beach days and popsicles. But August would also be the last chance to prepare Emma for the thing that would change her three-year-old’s life forever – school. Would Emma be ready? Would Emma know what her teachers expect her to know? Would Emma be happy in a new building with people she’s never met? Would the bus ride be too much?
For Emma’s mom, and parents of children registered for full day kindergarten everywhere, it’s reassuring to know that educators and child development experts ask us to re-focus our adult lens; to shift from children’s ‘school readiness’ to children’s ‘readiness to learn’. Only then can we recognize that responsibility for children’s comfort and success in the school environment is shared. Long before that first day of school, childcare providers and family members nurture strong readiness to learn skills every time they help children share, take turns, listen to others, and express their feelings and ideas.
The Learning Partnership’s Welcome to KindergartenTM program, offered to families with pre-school children in seven provinces across Canada, suggests ways parents can nurture children’s readiness to learn. They highlight:
Talking and listening: The ability to learn hinges on children’s ability to understand and express themselves. Children need to know what words mean and how to comment and ask questions.
Research shows that conversations motivate children to talk, and are associated with children’s later academic success. (Rodriquez, Tamis-LeMonda, Spellman, Pan, Raikes, Lugo-Gil & Luze, 2009-Journal of Applied Technology; Dickinson, Darrow & Tinubu, 2008; Neuman & Dwyer, 2009-Early Education and Development) Other studies show that the number of words children know at the beginning of Grade 1 is a good predictor of their reading level at the end of Grade 1 and at the end of Grade 3. (Senechal & LeFevre, 1998; Senechal, LeFevre, Thomas & Daley, 1998).
Getting ready for school idea #1: Help your child learn new words every day! If your child knows the word “red” for example, introduce the word “crimson” or “ruby red”. Then use that new word often throughout the day so your child sees how that new word applies to their world in a variety of ways. Action words like race, trudge, and snooze; and emotion words like embarrassed, frustrated, and dazzled are fun words to learn too!
Sharing stories and books in the preschool years predicts kindergarten vocabulary and reading for pleasure by Grade 4! (Monique Senechal, 2006)
Getting ready for school idea #2: Read books together that capture your child’s interest every day. If your child wants the same story read over and over again, it means there is still something about the ideas, pictures, or emotions in the book that your child needs. Books such as “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, “Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten” by Joseph Slate, “The Night Before Kindergarten” by Natasha Wing, “Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes” by Eric Litwin or “How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?” by Jane Yolen may be helpful in sparking conversations about what to expect during those first few days at school.
Playing with the sounds in words is a first step in discovering how oral sounds and printed letters are connected. Mem Fox, in her book Reading Magic, says that “Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re four years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re eight.” (p. 85) Rhymes help children hear when word endings sound the same. It helps them hear beats and syllables in words too.
Getting ready for school idea #3: Say or sing nursery rhymes. Read rhyming books. Once your child is familiar with the rhyme, song or book, pause at the end of the rhyming phrase for your child to chime in with the missing word.
School readiness will inspire Emma’s kindergarten teachers to prepare the classroom environment and program well for Emma’s first days at school. Readiness to learn has already inspired Emma’s parents to chat, read, and sing with Emma - at the beach and at home all summer long.