Top 10 tips from our Early Childhood Development experts
We asked our Smart-Kids ECD experts to come up with some tips for parents with preschoolers. These are all things you can do easily at home to help your child succeed at preschool and later on at big school.
1. Help your child to follow instructions
Before giving an instruction ensure that your child is looking at you and paying attention. Ask them to repeat what you have asked them to do to make sure that they have listened and understood what is expected of them. Also try to give short, clear instructions to make it easier for them. Some children find it more challenging to follow instructions and do what is expected of them. To increase the motivation to co-operate, you may want to use a reward chart. You can download a Smart-Kids reward chart here or make your own.
2. Get into a routine
Most children, and especially children who struggle with maintaining their attention, benefit from structure and routine. Preschool is a good time to start developing good routines at home. Mornings are often a rush and the whole family will benefit from a consistent routine in terms of using bathrooms, eating breakfast and packing bags for the day. Where possible follow a similar routine each afternoon with regards to eating, playing and possibly assisting with chores. Also try to keep the evening routine consistent with regards to dinner time, bath time and sleep time. Once a consistent morning, afternoon and evening routine is established, you should find it easier to encourage your child to assist with tasks such as packing their school bag for the day, making their bed or setting the dinner table.
Some children benefit from having additional visual cues. To assist in establishing a morning, afternoon or evening routine make use of a picture chart with the sequence of events. Here sketches or photographs can work well. For example stick the following sequence of pictures on your child’s cupboard door: alarm clock (wake up), toilet, put on clothes (some children will need you to put these on the bed in the order that they need to put them on), eat breakfast, wash face and brush teeth, pack school bag, leave for school. If your child is struggling with a specific part of the routine you may want to just make a picture chart for this section. Making something like this is time consuming initially, however it can reduce stress levels and tears later on.
3. Do physical activities with your child
Try to create opportunities at home for your child to engage in physical activity. If you have the facilities, swimming, jumping on a trampoline or going on a swing are great. Otherwise a walk to the park or shop, or playing sport for a few minutes each day when you get home from work are fun family ways to encourage exercise.
4. Develop your child’s independence gradually
While it is important to encourage independence in as many areas as possible, this can became a source of stress and frustration for you. It is often better to introduce independence gradually by continue to help your child with certain activities initially. For example, Johnny finds it difficult to wake up in the mornings. Each morning his granny wakes him up and tells him to get dressed. When she checks on him 10 minutes later he is still looking out of the window. Johnny then gets into trouble, granny becomes frustrated and the family are late for their morning commitments. In a case like this it may be better for granny to start helping Johnny with the ‘getting dressed’ part of the routine and to check in every few minutes. At night and on weekends when there is less of a rush he can be encouraged to be more independent in this area.
5. Help your child practise social skills
Sometimes children who struggle with impulsivity and hyperactivity also struggle with social interactions. They may need more guidance than others about what is appropriate and what is not. Try to create opportunities during the day where you can have family discussions. This is a good way to reinforce turn taking during conversations. Examples of discussion starters include: “What was the best and worst part of your day?”, “What was the funniest thing that happened today?”, “What are you looking forward to tomorrow?”. Be sure to give each person a chance to answer the same question. Developing turn-taking skills in other situations is also important. Here you may want to introduce times during your week where you can play a quick game such as Snap, Dominoes or Snakes and Ladders.
6. Start to develop your child’s number concept
The best way to develop your child’s number concept is by frequently playing card, dice and board games together. Use numbers in your environment to create an awareness of numbers. For example, point out house numbers in the street, on car number plates and on birthday cards. Sing number songs with your child when getting dressed or travelling in the car. You can use sing-a-long CDs to sing along with if you don’t know any repetitive number songs. Point out the numbers on coins and notes. Your child will love to play shop-shop with toy money!
7. Help your child find shapes and patterns and build three-dimensional objects
Look for patterns in nature together, for example the one side of the butterfly has the same patterns as the other side. Look for shapes in the world around us, for example tables and chairs made up in different shapes, photo frames are different shapes and so on. Point out different patterns and shapes on the clothes we wear. Point out shapes printed on T-shirts, curtains, table cloths, etc.
Buy or make some building blocks so that your child can experience three-dimensional shapes. Create a hop scotch game outside and name the different shapes as your child jumps in them. Give your child construction games and toys so that your child can build different objects, for example a rocket, car, robot or building. If you don’t have construction toys, use boxes, toilet rolls and bottles to build things.
Build puzzles with your child. Start with puzzles with a few pieces until your child is building puzzles with 24 or more pieces.
8. Play vocabulary games
Take a pipe cleaner and twist it to form a worm. Put a box on the table. Play the game “Where is Wally worm?” Tell your child to use the box to hide Wally worm: on top, under, below, next to, in, out, in front of, behind, , in the middle of, between 2 objects, next to, left, right side of the box. Show your child how Wally can slide up/down the box and sit at the top/bottom. Point out that there is a top and bottom of a flat page as well.
9. Read together
Read stories and non-fiction books together. It is important for your child to be able to handle books carefully and to get a sense of reading from left to right. Children also need to develop the concept that there is a relationship between the words we speak and those that are written down.
Ask your child questions about the stories you are reading to develop his or her early comprehension skills. It is also important to learn to predict what might happen next in a story. Start by looking at the cover of the book and asking your child what he or she thinks the book is about. Then you can ask your child what they think might happen next as you are reading the story.
The illustrations in stories are also very important. As your child starts to learn to read later on, he or she will need to be able to interpret the visual clues in the pictures. Start to develop this by asking your child questions about the pictures.
If your child enjoys listening to stories at a very young age, he or she will have a much greater desire to learn to read in Grade 1.
10. Develop a love of learning
Your child’s time at school will be much more enjoyable if he or she loves to learn. Make learning fun by introducing colourful learning material like simple flash cards and activity books into your home. Spend time working together with your child and never force them to work for longer than they want to or to do activities they are not ready for. If your child doesn’t want to do an activity, it is probably because he or she is not ready for that stage of development. Don’t stress about it! Just go back to that activity in a month or so and see whether your child is ready for it. Always consult your child’s preschool teacher or your doctor if you are concerned about his or her development.