School readiness is a source of pressure for parents. Lorraine DeJong, coordinator of early childhood education at Furman University, shares what to do and what to skip.
“My number one (advice is) to read every day because it only takes a few minutes,” DeJong said. “And as much as possible, make it interactive so that the child gets to point and engage with the book, so it makes it more meaningful.”
Make a story part of the bedtime routine, starting in infancy, she said.
With infants, talking to the child about the events of the day teaches language, DeJong said.
At age 2 or 3, “give lots of art materials,” DeJong suggested. “Paint, crayons — even though (a picture) doesn’t look like what the object is, they are starting to express themselves using paper.”
“Talk about what the child is scribbling,” DeJong said. “The parent can ask, ‘What is it?’”
She suggested teaching through play: magnetic letters, letter puzzles and toys with letters, such as a homemade name puzzle cut from cardstock. Even modeling dough builds muscles in the hands to hold pencils, DeJong said.
Teaching letters and numbers either in play or in context of the environment works better than drills.
For example, a grocery store trip can be a learning experience by reading signs of stores along the road. Let the child hold the shopping list. Read the words on the list. Point out letters on the list and items purchased. Count the numbers of items you purchase, DeJong said.
At age 4, DeJong suggested introducing alphabet books.
“We point out signs, making meaning from environmental print – looking at the words around them,” she said.
Another example DeJong gave was to ask the child, “Do you want some milk? M-I-L-K, milk? And showing the words.”
Finally, DeJong suggested giving the child paper to pretend writing a note when the parent writes a note.