My daughter is transitioning into pre-k in the fall. This is a huge milestone and one I'm both excited for and dreading at the same time. As any mother can attest to, we want our babies to fly but we worry about them as soon as they leave the nest. Fortunately, our pre k is only half a day so she won't be out of the nest for too long.
As a clinician I spent a lot of time in preschools, 3-5 year olds were the majority of my caseload. And I'm here to tell you that if your child can not write their name at the age of 4, it is OKAY. If your child can not identify all 26 letters of the alphabet, it is OKAY. My daughter can do neither of these things, and I'm not concerned.
But for the sake of transparency, I have had my moments when I compare my child to other children her age that do know how to write their name, that can identify all the letters of the alphabet and even read simple books. It's so easy to become entangled in comparison. We all want what is best for our children. We all want our children to be successful.
But there are other skills that I want my daughter to master before academics. Her entire academic career will focus on those things listed above. She will be tested and graded on those skills, she will stress for exams, and scramble to meet assignment deadlines.
Right now I am focused on her "soft skills". The skills that will contribute to her ability to learn and be successful in school. These are the foundation skills that she will build upon as she develops.
Here are 5 "Soft Skills" I am focusing on to prepare my daughter for preschool.
1. Self Sufficiency
Have you ever heard the term "learned helplessness"? This is when a child learns to be insufficient because a well meaning parent or caregiver has always swooped in and done things for them instead of allowing them the time and space to learn the skill themselves.
And as a parent, this is so incredibly easy to do. It is hard to watch a child struggle, but it is also part of the learning process. As I help my daughter prepare for preschool, I try to give her as many opportunities as I can for independence.
Again, for the sake of transparency, I definitely do not do this in the mornings when I have to be out the door at 7:40! It can be quite frustrating when you're in a hurry to allow your child to take 20 minutes to put on their shoes. That completely resonates with me.
Some days are total survival mode!
But when I do have more time and am not rushed I encourage her to do as much as she can independently. We work through frustration (frustration tolerance - another important life skill) and take as much time as we need.
"Chaining" is a strategy I use to assist her. Let's take zipping a zipper, I may align the zipper and secure it in place and then allow her to zip it up. This gives her the satisfaction of success and allows her to develop the skills necessary for independent dressing. You can also reverse chain, which means they begin the task and you finish it.
2. The Ability to Transition
This is a huge area that many preschoolers struggle with. To successfully transition, a child must leave one activity to move on to the next, or leave one area and move to another area.
Preschoolers have several transitions in their day. Several transitions occur before they even arrive at school - from getting up, to getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, getting on the bus...etc. The ability to transition between environments and activities is crucial to success in preschool.
I work on this skill by announcing our plans. "First we are going to eat lunch, then we are going to clean up, put our shoes on and go outside". This allows her to know the sequence of events about to take place so there are no surprises.
Another effective strategy to facilitate transitions is to announce how much time is left..."We are leaving the playground in 5 minutes". Your preschooler probably has very little concept of time, but again, this removes the element of surprise out of the transition. They know it's coming and can prepare for it. Structure and predictability are very important. There are also visual timer apps that you can download for free!
Do these strategies always work? No. But they do help. This is why the majority of preschool teachers use a visual schedule. Preschoolers have very little control over the events that occur in their day, having a schedule gives them some security. Imagine if you had no idea what was going to happen in your day or what time it was going to happens. It makes me anxious just thinking about that.
Kindness is so much more important to me than reading and writing. It is crucial to developing friendships and establishing relationships. I think this one speaks for itself. Teach your child the importance of kindness.
4. Sensory Regulation