For your child to get the most from Prep the first thing they will need to be able to do is to sit in a chair, listen and follow directions. Teachers report that unless a child can do this they will find it difficult to learn. They also need to have settled behaviour, the ability to socialise in groups, to engage with drawing and books and to communicate with mature language skills.
These abilities are the precursors of the five domains of the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) – physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills; and communication skills and general knowledge – which are used to measure early childhood development. It is estimated that almost 1/3 of children entering Prep are developmentally vulnerable on at least one of these domains – and it is these children who are most likely to have literacy and numeracy challenges throughout their primary school years. If you arrive at school already behind in the developmental domains you will have trouble catching up.
Even for otherwise bright children these seemingly simple tasks are difficult if they have developmental immaturities. Many children will develop coping strategies to respond to their vulnerabilities, but as children progress through the school system and the work gets harder their strategies stop working (usually around year three).
Here are 5 things you can do to help progress your child’s development and establish a strong foundation of motor, sensory-motor and language skills to have them ready for the classroom –
1. Swing, spin and roll
Swinging, spinning, rolling, tumbling, zig-zag running … all these movements stimulate and develop the vestibular system which is the unifying system in our brain, controlling our sense of movement and balance. The vestibular system influences nearly every other sensory system and is critical for language development and academic learning. It helps the brain co-ordinate information from all the sensory systems, in particular, information from our eyes and ears. A well-developed vestibular system enables concentration and a focus on learning.
2. Increase play
Value your child’s play! Games, drawing, puzzles, painting, story telling, dress-ups etc. … through all of these your child is learning and preparing for life. Play is a testing ground for language and reasoning skills – a laboratory for learning to connect to future challenges such as literacy, maths and science. As Dr. Rhonda Clements says … “Our complex society requires clear thinkers, playful attitudes, humour and creativity for complex problem-solving”. Play helps children grow and develop their creativity and begin a lifelong love of learning.
3. Decrease technology
Setting and enforcing limits on the amount and content of your child’s “screen-time” can enhance their sleep time, reduce their risk of obesity and improve both their grades at school and their cooperative behaviour. “Screen-time” means the total time your child spends watching TV, DVDs, iPads, smart phones, Facebook and video games. Whilst some programs have real merit it is important to understand that time spent by young children on technology is time not spent, and forever lost, to the play activities that develop readiness skills for successful learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one hour of screen time per day for primary school children (and no more than two hours per day for secondary school children). They also recommend no screens in children’s bedrooms.
4. Eat real food
Foods affect learning! Real food doesn’t come out of a packet. If your great-grandmother didn’t eat it – it probably isn’t real food! It’s important for your child (and you) to eat a balanced diet of whole foods. Eat food with the minimum of human intervention and processing. Try to eat seasonal foods. Eat more veges
than fruit (a ratio of 7:2 per day is recommended). Vegies have less sugar than fruit and are more nutritionally dense. Avoid additives. Avoid lunchbox packets like fruit juice and sweet yoghurts. Instant noodles are not real food. Occasional treats are not a problem.
5. Take the emotion out of meal-time
Sit at the dinner table as a family and have a conversation. It’s a great place to practice many of the basic skills needed for Prep, e.g., sitting still in a chair, listening and taking turns with conversation. Take the emotion out of mealtimes by planning a weekly menu and putting it on display so there are no surprises. Be clear on the rules: The adults decide what to eat, with input from the children (talking about the different tastes and textures is an important part of a child’s nutritional education). The children decide whether to eat and how much. If the child decides they don’t like something they can refuse it (after tasting it) but they do so knowing that they wont be getting a substitute meal. If, however, you are serving something a bit challenging, do also provide a simpler option on the plate alongside it.