Here are a few things to practice at home to have your children ready for school: These are more life skills than “school” skills, but since preschool is your child’s (and your) next amazing adventure, the following will help your child feel happy, proud, confident and successful. You probably already know all these, we want to emphasize their importance through this summary:
– Please practice eye contact when you speak to your children and when they speak to you. You can say this in simple words: “I see you want to tell me about …. please stop and look at me when you tell me the story so I can hear/understand your words. I want to hear everything you tell me, I do not want to miss anything, but I can only understand if I can hear your words “. Get at their eye level, ask them to stop and look in your eyes. This way you create this little space of trust and communication, while modeling how to communicate; use gentle voice and simple messages: “This is what we are doing now.” or
” This is how we do ….this.”
If your child doesn’t do it, state simply: “let’s wait a second until you stop and look at me so I can hear your words/or you can hear my words”.
Then- and this is important to get a sense of their comprehension-ask them to tell you in their own words what you said “could you please tell me in your own words what I told you?”
You can very gently place your hands on your child’s shoulder or hold hands- to hold their attention and model communication, especially if your child doesn’t have good eye contact or moves away while you talk.
Gentleness and love- and humor for me- are a must.
Eye contact is connected to the children’s comprehension and ability to follow instructions. Making sure the children look and listen to the teachers is also a matter of safety: we want the children to be able to respond to us when, for example, we invite them to play a new game and we want them to understand the game, but more importantly we must know they can follow our instructions in case of emergency. If there is a moment when the children need to immediately listen to us (in case of fire, earthquake, lockdown, etc), we need them to immediately look at us ( the teachers) when we call their attention, not run away from us, comprehend and follow our simple and clear instructions, so we can keep them safe.
– make sure the children get enough sleep and no (or very very little) screen exposure.
I cannot stress the importance of our little students getting enough sleep, nutritious food and no (or very very little) screen. A tired child or a child that watches too much screen, typically struggles with eye contact, low attention span, with maintaining focus, understanding simple rules and instructions, and is not able to enjoy preschool. Tired children often cry without being able to respond to our comforting words, don’t play with their little friends,could be hyperactive or lethargic,have a hard time learning, disrupt the class and sometimes hitting or hurting other children. Tired children throw big tantrums without being able to be comforted and have a hard time learning tools to regulate their emotions, no matter how hard the teachers and their classmates are trying to help.This is hard not only for that child, but for all the children in class.
I want to describe the distinction in a child’s behavior between lack of sleep that happens every now and then due to life events (dog passing away, grandma visiting, or heat waves), versus a regular lack of sleep. In the first situation, the children are able to understand, they respond to us comforting them, they are able to tell us how they feel. In a word, they use previously learnt intellectual and emotional tools to function well in their little preschool society, even if tired. Chronically tired children do not develop these tools to learn and regulate their emotions, cannot respond to the teachers’ help, and their school life is not happy. This is affecting them and is affecting all the other children.
Our responsibility is to take care of all the children and keep them safe, so our school’s ‘sleep’ policy is the following:
-depending on the level of tiredness, for the children that are tired every now and then, we first try to comfort the children while being mindful of everyone’s safety, and if it doesn’t work, we will call the parents for early pick-up.
-If a child comes to school chronically tired, we will try to comfort the child, call the parent for immediate pick up, and set up a meeting with the parents to help establish healthy sleep routines. We will do that to the best of our abilities, as we are first and foremost Montessori teachers not child/sleep therapists; We can only give suggestions, but it is the parents’ responsibility to make changes in the home dynamic. We might also suggest parenting classes, and/or recommend changing school schedules if this is possible for the school. Continuing to come to school tired after the parent-teacher conference, not not following the school’s recommendation on seeking help from a child therapist with more knowledge in establishing a bed time routine, are grounds for losing enrollment at Learning Garden Montessori School.
-Please let children do age-appropriate tasks by themselves instead of doing it for them.
Children that are encouraged and allowed to do tasks by themselves have good comprehension skills, good attention span and focus, great problem solving, self trust, ability to self regulate their emotions and engage with their new social environment successfully. They are typically self aware and aware that other children exist around them. When grown ups do most of the things for the child, the child doesn’t know how to think for herself, struggles to make choices or problem solve, has poor self awareness or awareness of others, etc.
As teachers we can intuit home dynamics right away based on our little students’ behavior. We want our children to grow up into people that can figure out the world, and this is a lifelong process that starts when they are tiny, with tasks that are age appropriate, that makes them feel successful and confident. Please give your child age appropriate tasks so they learn to be aware of themselves and others and grow into successful, able and happy people.
– Remember that learning a new skill takes practice: If we take on playing violin, or becoming a surgeon, or learning to fix bikes, or learning how to grow a garden, we have to practice over and over so our brains build new neural pathways; it is hard at the beginning, and we master the new skill with practice. That is easy to understand for us, the grown ups, but sometimes as parents we have a harder time remembering this when we see our children going through the emotions of learning a new skill. Children go through the same process when they learn basic life skills like washing hands, cleaning their toys, getting dressed by themselves, putting their plate away after dinner, going potty or complicated skills like addition or reading.
As teachers, we see the children so ready to learn everything- it is truly amazing to witness this hunger for knowledge, joy for life, fearlessness in exploring, and boundless curiosity. When children go through any learning process at school, we often tell them: “here is how we do this. Let’s practice: do you want to practice together or try by yourself? I trust you, you are smart and able, and I am here to help you when you need me.” We do this with gentleness and love and we see children growing very fast in their abilities.
This is important for the kids as individuals as they build self confidence, and also because they are part of a school social group. In very practical terms, as teachers we give each child our support to learn new skills while we have a whole class full of children to manage and teach. We think of each child in relation to all of the children as a class, we give our attention to all of them at the same time. This is another reason why we ask you, the parents, to practice new skills at home (ex sitting down when eating, putting away toys, potty training etc): these are important in a school social setting: it doesn’t make only your child successful, it makes the whole class successful and it allows the teachers to give our attention equally to all our students. The collective benefit of learning is harder to see as parents, as we are emotionally wired to focus mostly on our own child. But, as teachers, we have a collective angle of understanding the school, where we give our attention to all our students, as a group, and to each student individually in relation to all the other students. I am grateful to all parents for working with us, as a team.
–give your children time and opportunities to speak for themselves plus a crash course in how to speak to children
Giving children the space and time to express themselves helps them develop their vocabulary, thinking, self confidence and social skills. In my view, learning to express ourselves is the essence of being human, it gives us the basic building blocks of creativity, imagination, intelligence and helps us become happy members of society.
I know that sometimes it is easier and faster to help your child before she/he even uses words to express themselves, but we don’t do them a service by doing so. Think about the end goal: we want our children to learn to express themselves and solve problems with confidence in all situations- anywhere from learning to learning to navigate a new school environment to asking for help if getting lost in the aisles at the grocery store (can your child speak? speak clearly enough to be understood?, be able to ask for help even if they are scared? Of course you will never let this happen, but life happens and we want our children to be able to navigate everyday life and the unexpected moments).
Phrase things simply and model them, even the most simple tasks, do not assume the children know what you mean. Sweetness, gentleness, love, soft voice and humor always work. Threats, ultimatums and yelling never work, and they will result in serious behavior problems in the long run.
Statements like the following work wonders; show the children what you tell them by modeling the action; never just assume they understand, the children are very new to the world, afterall.
–“this is how we push the chair under the table.”
-“This is how we pull up the underwear after going potty.”
-“This is how we wash hands- please first watch then let’s practice.”
-” the rule in our house is that we speak kindly to each other, no hitting or yelling at each other”.
-“This is how we ask for help” ( this works wonders especially if your child and you established a pattern of screaming, whining or crying to ask for help; stating the rule and modeling behavior helps break the pattern of screaming or crying: “I notice you scream when you need my help. This is hard for me because the loud screaming hurts my ears and I cannot understand your words. I want to help you and understand you. Please use a regular voice when you need my help…. this is how you ask for help…I love you so much, I am always happy to help you, but I can do it only when you use regular words.”
Any behavior in our children is the result of our behavior as parents, so if for example, you want to stop tantrums, you have to change first: for example you have to establish good bedtime to make sure your child is rested, which is the first thing we recommend when we see behavior in children. Then, when your child is rested, healthy, has good food in her belly, make sure you state the rules of the house, make sure you model the behavior you want to see in your child with calm and love, and make sure you stick to it even if your child screams, whines or cries).
–“This is how we look at people, in their eyes, when we talk with them. We stop, look at them, maybe tap them on the shoulder to get their attention, and when you see them looking at you, you know they are ready to hear you.” At school we, the teachers, model interactions like these and the children think we are the funniest people around. Then we practice with the children. It is really fun and the children are so proud of themselves, while feeling so confident!
–” this is how we ask a friend to play.”
-“This is how we ask a friend to share a toy.”
-“This is how to fold a shirt. Please first watch me fold it, then you will have a turn”
-“This is how we clean the toys when you are done playing.” Have your child sit quietly and watch you model cleaning all the way to the end. At school we are mindful not to slam and smash toys in the trays, buckets, because we only have one of each toy and by being gentle with our school materials we model care for the school environment (which overflows into the idea of care for the others, our planet, etc).
–“This is how we carry a glass of water.” for example, walk slowly around the table while holding the glass of water, look at the glass, pay attention, then place it where you want your child to place it, in a place that is age appropriate.
– “This is how we set the table.”
The examples are endless. Each one of our students will find their own way of interacting with their world based on who they are as human beings, but these concrete examples give them the building blocks of kind and successful interaction with the world around them.