Under normal circumstances, young children go about their day where their actions, social interactions, and experiences allow them to learn new skills and prepare them for kindergarten readiness and future academic skills. As the expectations for kindergarteners continue to become more and more rigorous every year, pre-schools and child care centers spend a great deal of time and effort in collaborating with the local school district administrative teams. But this year, things have been very different due to social distancing.
Typically, preschool teachers try to ensure that their curriculum will put children on the right track for kindergarten readiness skills. Staff development, in-servicing, research and a lot of collaboration go into preparing and implementing programs that will provide a strong foundation for young children’s future learning and academic skills. Early science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as well as early literacy are all critical pieces in providing this foundation.
So, during these uncertain times when children are no longer attending child care and preschool, what is happening to these skills? Are they still being cultivated at home? Perhaps, to some degree, these skills are still practiced, but what about the other set of skills, the soft skills?
Some experts say that soft skills are even more important for kindergarten readiness than academic skills. Soft skills consist of manners, empathy, self-regulation, self-control, collaboration, confidence, creativity, and critical thinking. It is critical that children have soft skills developed before they are able to effectively learn.
After all, if a child cannot sit in a chair and have self-control, how can they learn new content? If a child lacks any confidence, how can they raise their hand and attempt to answer a question? If a child has no empathy, how can they build social skills and react appropriately in social situations at school? These are the skills that really create the foundation. However, I would be willing to bet that these are the skills that are really being cultivated in homes all over the country right now. Many children spend days on end at home with their parents, grandparents, caregivers, and siblings.
I know a lot of parents are feeling the stress of the responsibility of providing education to their young children to keep them on track with their learning and developmental milestones. But I would encourage parents to give themselves some grace when it comes to the school lessons. Just continue to do what comes naturally: parenting. By consciously parenting, we are teaching children the vital skills to make them empathetic, contributing members of society. We are also making them ready to learn new information, grow, and develop new skills. Here are some of the best ways to continue to prepare your child for kindergarten, even if you are practicing social distancing.
Simply by playing a game with a child, parents are encouraging language, communication, and turn-taking. This builds self-control and listening skills. Parents likely instinctively praise children during this one-on-one interaction, building self-esteem in the child, and trust in the parent or care-giver.
Children are likely encouraged to “pitch-in” more often right now. Maybe young children are setting the dinner table and helping to fold laundry. Or looking after a younger sibling for a few minutes. This teaches collaboration. Children are learning that by working together, everyone succeeds and it builds confidence to know that they have a part in that. This also builds a child’s sense of worth and self-esteem, knowing that they are contributing to the family.
Simply talking to young children builds soft skills by enhancing the child’s vocabulary, language, and communication skills. It also teaches self-expression and trust in the caregiver. With children home all day, there is most definitely a heightened level of back and forth conversations happening all day long!
Experts call these conversations “serve and return.” Recent studies have identified serve and return conversations as the most important predictor of future academic and literacy skills. The more serve and return conversations a young child experiences, the higher they score on literacy and academic skills in third grade. These simple things are happening naturally all day long in most households right now simply because most families are home together.
Parents are using creative strategies to keep children entertained. Sidewalk chalk, building forts in the living room, simple science experiments in the kitchen, and lots of storytime are prime examples. These activities are teaching children creativity, critical thinking, and simple ingenuity.
These soft skills are happening organically all around you. Don’t worry if you didn’t get to the math lesson today. Children are learning great life skills just by being home with you or their caregiver all day! All of the things you are doing naturally are working wonders to prepare your child for kindergarten. So give yourself some grace and enjoy your time with your little one!
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