23 June 2017

Helping Your Child in the Pre-school Years

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Your baby is developing fast and becoming a person. What now? You may or may not be fortunate enough to have a good, convenient nursery school on your doorstep, but in any event there are many ways in which you can help your young child to prepare for school.

Here are some ideas:

Developing the Concept of Number Count with your child for fun - steps up and down, buttons on coats, letters in the post, spoonfuls of sugar. When you are outside you can look at house and car numbers, count petals on flowers, windows on houses, or wheels on lorries, and count as you blow the seeds off the dandelion 'clocks' in summer; or as you catch the leaves which blow off the trees in the autumn.

Very simple play shopping using single penny coins can start off a child's appreciation of value and could introduce elementary addition and subtraction. Similarly, sharing out sweets or pennies makes a start with division while discussing the numbers of sets of legs on hens, dogs, insects etc. can give an early idea of multiplication.

Introducing the early Concepts of Weighing and Measuring
Remember that men made primitive linear measurements by placing their feet end to end in a line! Children can guess how many of their feet will fit along the 'fridge, the bath or the doorstep.

In the same way, how many ruler lengths will fit along the bread bin, the window or the mat, or how many hands' widths will measure up to mother's knee for instance (horses are still measured from ground to shoulder in 'hands'!) You could make you own variations using pencils, sticks or skewers.

Children love playing with water in a basin or the bath; so provide plastic funnels, tubes or containers of different shapes for pouring. They will learn how deceptive different shapes can be and they will absorb an early concept of capacity and liquid measurement. Similarly, they can appreciate a rudimentary idea of density by trying out different materials to see whether they sink or float, and how a 'holed' container sinks slowly (like a stricken ship).

Weighing can be understood more easily when 'balance' type scales are used. As well as seeing how much flour or sugar balance how many weights, children can amuse themselves finding how many shells balance how much sand, or how many buttons balance how many stones, for instance.

Developing readiness for Reading
The children with a well-developed vocabulary and an interest in words will come to approach reading most readily. So talk to your small child in whole sentences of good English. Introduce the concepts of full, empty, big, small, heavy, light and other opposites you can think of.

Have fun with rhyming words - eg. bun, fun, sun - and words of similar sounds but different meaning - eg. son, sun or great, grate. Watch television programmes and look at books with your child. Talk about the scenes or the pictures. Don't be afraid to introduce new 'grown-up' words occasionally; children are great imitators and will soon be trying out the new words themselves to see their effect!

Read stories to your child - not just at bed-time - and talk occasionally about word beginnings, such as ant, ambulance, apple. Later you can point out a lower case letter 'a' which makes that sound. Go to the library and choose books together. It is always a help to read a page or two of the proposed book in the library, so one can see whether it is in fact a suitable choice!

And at home, one can stop the story in the middle to discuss the characters, the plot and possible endings. (When your child has started to read this is a good way of enticing the reluctant reader to finish the book for himself!)

Developing social readiness for School
Parents can help children by encouraging their independence. When they go to school they should be able to dress and undress themselves, hang a coat up by the loop; put boots on the correct feet and if possible tie shoe laces. So don't always do these things for your child; however long it takes, have patience to let children try to manage for themselves when you are not pressed for time.

It is quite a help to lay down a jacket or coat on a bed so that the child can practise buttons and zips off the body. Boys often find this sort of manual dexterity harder to master than girls, but deftness can be encouraged through various 'fiddly' activities like sorting buttons or puzzle-making. Children should be helped to hold a knife, fork - and pencil as well - correctly.

They should also be able to take themselves to the loo satisfactorily, before starting school, and should be encouraged to make a habit of washing their hands afterwards. When they are little they need a small box or step under the basin so that they can reach the taps, which should, of course, be loose enough to turn.

Remember that there are many periods of play and social activity in the first term of a child's school life, so it is a great help if small children have learnt to give and take and share with others.

This is particularly important for 'only' children, and a good scheme is to find another family with children of the same age and arrange 'swops': one day in the week all the children play in your house and another day they visit the friends.

This has the added advantage that one day a week each mother has a morning free for herself and the children learn to manage away from her, while learning to play generously with others. Many mothers decide to join a Parent & Toddler group (for children 0-3 years), or a pre-school nursery class.

A child's school day will be alternated with child-centred taught activities and social or 'free' activities, so it is a help for both child and mother if this pattern can be mirrored beforehand at home. Some mothers, for instance, designate the morning for their activities or chores, when the children must either 'help' or play on their own.

The afternoon can then become child-centred. One could begin by listening together to a story tape or a small children's radio programme like 'Listening Corner', and talking about it afterwards.

Then perhaps plan a walk or bus or train ride to a garage, a farm, the library, or occasionally a zoo. If you talk to your child about the animals, vehicles, plants, etc. that you pass this will arouse interest and help vocabulary development; it might also stimulate a drawing or painting activity at home afterwards.

Look at different footprints in the mud or in the snow, and examine reflections in puddles, for instance. Child-centred activities at home could include cutting out with blunt scissors; simple sewing with cardboard pictures or 'binca' and a blunt bodkin, or simple cooking. (After your own baking, if you add salt to the pastry you can keep it in the fridge for rolling and cutting on a wet day!)

Children love imitating so keep a box of your old clothes and shoes for dressing up purposes; ensuing games stimulate vocabulary development, encourage confidence and can arouse an early interest in drama. Also allow children to wash, dry and 'iron' dolls' clothes, wash their toy cars and dolls' hair.

Try simple gardening too: a broad bean seed planted inside or a sunflower seed planted outside in the spring can be watched and watered and measured at frequent intervals. In fact any close association with the plant or animal world will encourage awareness of nature which, in turn, would be an excellent preparation for the scientific studies described for young children in the new national curriculum.

If your children after mastering some of the preparatory skills outlined here seem keen to try a little early writing, buy thick 'maxi' pencils and help in the formation of large lower case letters. Simple short words or Christian names could be attempted.

Bearing in mind all the various activities suggested here, it is worth considering the equipment which might be useful. A little money spent at the outset can prove invaluable in the long run, and, of course, some of the items mentioned could be given as Christmas or birthday presents at the appropriate age.

First, a folding easel with plain wood on one side and blackboard paint on the other with a 'box tray' for paints, chalks etc. at the bottom can prove invaluable. Rolls of lining paper for drawing, colouring and painting can be bought cheaply from D.l.Y. shops and pieces can be cut off and pegged to the easel with wooden clothes pegs.

You can dry the pictures on a wooden clothes horse and this, covered with an old sheet or blanket, could double up as a frame for an imaginary shop or play house on other occasions.

Silver sand kept in a wooden box with a lid, preferably outside, can give hours of wet or dry play. Provide old saucepans, colanders, spoons, plastic spades and variously shaped plastic moulds and containers to add interest.

Long-sleeved cover-up garments for wet and dry play are essential. The best ones fasten down the back so there are no gaps for paint or flour to squeeze through! Some can be made from old shirts, reversed and shortened with elastic sewn into the base of the sleeve, but the P.V.C. ones for 'wet' activities are best bought ready-made. Anticipating the odd accident, why not dress your children in dark colours for everyday wear; dirt will not show up so easily and frustrations, hopefully, kept to a minimum.

Preparing for school meals Recent research has shown that the presence of vital vitamins from a good balanced diet actually improves concentration and so enhances intellectual performance; and many school catering departments are becoming very enlightened in this sphere.

It would be a shame, therefore, if your child had not been prepared to benefit from these thoughtfully prepared meals. So don't always offer at home easy to eat foods like fish fingers or mince. After weaning, gently try to introduce different healthy foods regardless of the protestations that often greet something new and untried!

Here are some tips which you might find useful:-

1. Raw vegetables like carrots can be dipped in an appetising sauce for a healthy snack.
2. Many children dislike the fibrous feel of stewed red meat, so try making healthy stews with fish (cod or coley steaks for example), chicken or turkey pieces; and the addition of tomato sauce always seems to help the reluctant eater.
3. As Mary Poppins said, "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down", so a few grains of sugar added to french dressing will make salads more acceptable and even some savoury dishes and dips more enjoyable.

I think on the whole, a growing child has a sweeter tooth than the average adult and it is perhaps better for the whole family and more popular if additions are made to individual portions rather than the whole dish.

Developing right attitudes
Even when your children attend school full-time, taken throughout the year, they will spend 15% of their lives there. It follows that they will spend 85% of their time at home, though in the pre-school years the figure is nearer 100%.

Therefore, the parent at home has by far the greatest influence on children. "Do as you would be done by" is a good attitude to inculcate early on, so that a child who takes another's toy can be reminded gently that things would not be so rosy if the roles were reversed! (The same with hitting, biting etc.). And later on this way of thinking can he extended to their attitude to adults and animals.

Even in very primitive societies property-right is one of the first things children are taught, so your youngsters must understand that certain things are theirs or their family's, and other things are not.

Objects both large or small belonging to other people or groups cannot be purloined or defaced. (Later this attitude can be extended to the importance of keeping the house, the street and the countryside tidy - and refraining from defacing public places with graffiti etc.).

When children go to school, they will be expected to tell the truth, so the importance of honesty must be explained at a very early age. And it follows from this that parents must set the very best example; a father who brings ball point pens back from the office for the children is not doing this, nor is the fare-dodger.

Neither must parents break promises, or use idle threats; if they tell the child that "there will be no television until the toys are put away" they must stick to that stance, or they will not be believed or obeyed in the future.

Here parents by tradition meet a paradox: for centuries sayings have been passed on like: "Eat up your crusts - they'll make your hair curl", or "If you make an ugly face (or cross your eyes) - and the wind changes - you'll stay like that", or "Daddy's gone to choir practice" (when he has really gone to the pub!).

Children can become disillusioned when they discover the truth. Similarly, if the popular Father Christmas myth is 'taught' too definitely by parents, children can feel shocked and betrayed when they discover, perhaps from a mocking child, the truth.

So to sum up, lead your children on by gentle, truthful example and remember that attitudes fostered in them by you will be relayed to your grandchildren and so on to future generations in decades to come.

In these days of talk about working mothers and day nursery provision, remember that the mother who elects to stay at home with her small children is fulfilling a very important role too.

Try to enjoy your young children; the pre-school years can seem endless to some, yet in the context of a life-time they are really very short, and it is certain that a child's success and happiness in school and beyond can be enhanced by thoughtful preparation in a caring environment.

Gillian Ross is a consultant for ISIS (Independent Schools Information Service) which can help you with information about independent schools.

Please telephone 020 7 222 7274 for a copy of the handbook (covering ages 4-18) or the nursery list (21/2 - 5 years) for your area. Consultations, for which a charge is made, can be arranged by calling 020 7 222 7275.


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