Sure, it’s fun to boast when your little one knows all his letters and can count to 30 before hitting kindergarten. But look beyond academics. Early learners also need to work on several social and emotional skills to make it through school – and life. Preschoolers need to use playing and pretending to gain confidence, develop friendships, show empathy and take baby steps toward resolving conflicts without adults acting as referees.
Foster these social and emotional areas to help prepare your child for kindergarten in the fall:
• Entering a group. Kids must learn how and when to join a group of kids without bulldozing in, knocking down block towers in progress or insisting on “being the mommy.” Help them learn how to briefly observe what friends are doing before joining in.
• Impulse control. Following the rules of simple games such as “Simon Says,” “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Red Light, Green Light” help a preschooler focus, take turns and control basic impulses to run ahead or jump when “Simon doesn’t say.”
• Self-awareness. This includes learning how close is too close to another person, and asserting oneself with phrases like “I need some space” rather than whining. It also means seeing oneself as part of a larger group, and accepting being the “odd man out” once in a while. Or, as one 4-year-old remarked during an activity limited to four children: “You’re the person making it too many people here.”
• Expressing feelings through words. Help them express themselves with phrases like “I feel angry when my sand castle gets knocked over. I worked so hard to build it,” or “I feel sad and shy when Mommy leaves.” Along with naming feelings comes the all-important developmental step of learning to care about the feelings of others – that words like “poopy head” or “you’re a baby” or “your lunch smells gross” are hurtful. Listening to a friend’s show-and-tell, sharing your favorite stuffed dragon or helping to pick up a mess go a long way toward learning empathy and building friendships.
• Problem-solving. Confident kids resolve conflicts – such as two Thomas the Tank Engine toys for three kids – without always enlisting the help of a teacher. They’re able to ebb and flow and not melt down when a game doesn’t go their way. And they’re learning to look within themselves, not to teachers, for self-satisfaction about their ability to climb the monkey bars, hop on one foot, catch a ball or draw a funny face.
Teachers have found that these things also prime kids for a more successful kindergarten experience:
• Confidence in self-help skills. These include washing their hands, taking care of their own bathroom needs, putting on their clothes, drinking out of a cup without spilling or opening their own lunches. Another biggie: Learning to keep their fingers out of their noses at circle time.
• Some tolerance for messes and other unexpected things. Inevitably, there will be mulch in their shoes, paint on their fingers, cookies that get broken or foods that touch each other. If your child melts down at sandwiches cut into the wrong shapes or can’t cope with messy clothes in art class, he may have more trouble adjusting to grade school. An oversensitivity to touch and noise will make it tougher to navigate the new school cafeteria, for example, with lots of accidental knocks and bumps.
• Proficiency at helpful, everyday tasks. These include sweeping, stirring, washing tables and sorting toys.
• The knowledge that “Stop!” means whatever you’re doing to your classmates, they don’t like it and want you to quit.
• The ability to stand, and walk, in some semblance of a line without bonking into other kids or touching everything along the journey. And the knowledge that not being the line leader isn’t the end of the world.
• Recognition of what’s socially acceptable and what isn’t. The bottom-line rule, as one 3-year-old told a baby doll: “You can’t go with us because you’re naked.”
Betsy Flagler, a journalist based in Davidson, is a mother and preschool teacher. Email email@example.com or call 704-236-9510.