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School Readiness — Good Parenting

Welcome to Good Parenting, our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Headshot2011School Readiness — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

I’m a busy stay-at-home mom of a 2-year-old and 5-year-old. My older daughter starts kindergarten at the end of the summer and I just wondered what you think we should be doing to get her ready, and maybe even her little sister. We do lots of different activities every day – read books, explore nature, climb and jump, make concoctions in the kitchen, build with blocks, sing, dance, color, and play “house” or “restaurant” or “veterinary clinic” with simple props I mostly find at yard sales. My soon-to-be kindergartener has been to programs for preschoolers at the library, parks, and other places, so she knows how to “sit in a circle” and pay attention to the teacher. She was a little nervous when I took her to the Kindergarten Round Up last week, and I think it’s too far in the future for her to really understand what going to that building every day (for more years than she’s been alive!) will actually mean.
She’s really good at playing. How do I prepare her to be successful with school?

Looking Ahead

Don’t miss last week’s column about teaching toddlers to clean up.

Dear Looking Ahead,

Expecting that children come to school with wide variation in their prior experiences, kindergarten is designed to build upon the knowledge and skills each student arrives with. Besides academic lessons and “P.E.” there will be lessons in how school works – raise your hand, use your locker, follow the daily schedule, as well as “unplanned” lessons in getting along with others. Like every student, your daughter will face stresses and challenges along her educational journey. Trust her to master school as well as she has mastered play. And because you have successfully supported her in play, she knows that Mom is a good resource in a jam.

Both of your daughters are on the right track for success in school. It sounds as if they enjoy learning, creating, and interacting with others. And your evident enjoyment of the children is sure to go a long way toward making them successful in school and in life.

It’s true that the early years — pre-birth to 6 years old — are critical for brain development. Her growing brain is supported not only with mental stimulation — conversation, music, story books, making discoveries about the physical world and making creations out of her imagination — but also with positive relationships that build a foundation of social-emotional well-being. Your daughters’ physical well-being is important to school success, too, so be sure to keep up healthy habits for sleeping, eating, and exercising.

School readiness has been the focus of a group of local educators, health care providers, and others, including myself, who make up the Anne Arundel County Early Childhood Coalition. Our work over the past 6 years has been to examine and address the issues that can affect success long before children enter school. Key to success with school is the kind of attentive, stimulating caregiving your daughters are getting. One of our projects was called, “Talk, Play, Read” which is just what you’re doing with your girls. Here are examples of the kinds of things parents and other caregivers can be doing with young children in the years before school, mostly using materials you already have at home. For a booklet on school readiness click here.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to assure school success long before school begins, you should attend a free Early Learning Summit for parents and other early care providers, “What Every Child Needs: Collaborating for School Readiness.” The event is a collaboration between Anne Arundel County Public Schools and members of the Anne Arundel County Early Childhood Coalition. It will be held Saturday, May 4, from 8:30 am – noon at Old Mill High School in Millersville. Doors open at 8 a.m. for check-in and light refreshments. Pre-registration is required. For more information about the summit, call the Anne Arundel County Information and Referral Line at 1-800-485-0041.

It’s not so much the specific experiences your daughter has had, but the overall quality of your interactions with her, including letting her figure things out for herself, that help her to be ready for success with school. Talking with, playing with, and reading with your child in the years before school – while her brain is making essential networks for all her later learning – can make all the difference.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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