Published Date: 01/09/20
“But what are they learning?”
“Social and emotional skills.”
“But I need her to start reading. She’ll be in kindergarten next year. I want her to be prepared.”
This is the conversation I have with so many parents. Panicked parents concerned that their child will not be ready for kindergarten after play-based preschool.
So, I’ll tell you exactly what your child is learning, how they’re learning it, and why it all manners.
Let’s get something out of the way first. Children typically don’t struggle in kindergarten because of academics. Yes, it’s true that academic pressure has increased over the last several decades from the earliest ages. However, children cannot learn academics in a traditional school setting if they’re not equipped with the social and emotional skills needed to participate in a classroom environment.
When we looked at kindergarten report cards from around the country, almost every one had social and emotional metrics that the children were evaluated on. Examples of these metrics include:
- Keeps hands and feet to him/herself
- Works well with others
- Not easily distracted
- Exhibits safe behavior
- Works independently
- Practices self-control
Imagine your child struggles practicing self-control. Or maybe you don’t have to imagine that. Struggling in that area will certainly disrupt his or her learning, and will likely impact the entire class.
Think of preschool as practice. Every day that your child goes they’re practicing how to learn. Children are sponges and eager learners. Outside of the basics, the content doesn’t really matter.
During play - both structured and unstructured - there’s tremendous development going on.
For example, when we look at imaginative play - dress up, pretending to be characters, making up scenarios when playing cars - children are exercising their creativity. Big real, right? Well, it is a big deal. It’s notable that a survey among 1500 CEOs ranked creativity as the number one most important factor for future business success.
Beyond business, research into the area demonstrates the cognitive development that occurs during imaginative and pretend play. Studies have shown that it increases the capacity for divergent thinking, helps children express and regulate both positive and negative emotions, and develops independent verbal ability.
I had a parent tell me that everyday she asks her 4-year-old what she learned at preschool and she wasn’t satisfied with the answers.
“I don’t know,” her child says. Typical for a child of any age, but during preschool it’s actually true.
Her 4-year-old neither understands nor has the vocabulary to express what she learned, other than the occasional anecdote about the letter of the week.
The 4-year-old can’t communicate that during free time she learned negotiation skills when three friends all wanted to play with the same toy. She can’t tell her mom that she practiced her empathy skills when a little boy cried because he missed his dad. The child is unable to verbalize that she exercised emotional regulation when she didn’t get her turn on the swing because it was time for snack.
But she’s learning. All day, with every conversation and with every activity. She’s learning.
And these are the skills she needs to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. When children have social and emotional intelligence the academics can fall into place. Without them, school becomes a challenge.
So, unless a teacher tells you that your child is struggling to grasp early academic concepts, don’t stress. Enjoy watching how your child blossoms. And read to your child often. That's the best thing you can do to prepare your child for kindergarten.
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