A mind blowing 90% of a child’s brain development happens before the age of five. Therefore the baby steps in education we encourage our children to take early on in their school lives, can lead to massive strides forward later on in life.
Dianne McLean, Learning Enrichment Teacher and Lower Junior School Leader at the Australian International School Malaysia, has identified seven key areas in which parents can support their children at home and at school in those crucial early years.
In order to be successful at school, children need to learn to rely on themselves rather than others. Teaching them to help manage on their own will help set them up for life. At home, assign them chore charts and give them responsibilities. For school, make a chart showing what they need to pack each day. Letting them do things for themselves will develop confidence and competence. It may take a few goes to get it right, but that’s ok, as we learn from our mistakes.
As the saying goes, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, and that can mean saying NO, a lot. It’s important that children learn from a very early age that they’re not always going to get their own way. If they don’t hear the word ‘no’ enough at home, they’re going to find the adjustment to school life a real struggle.
It’s also important for parents to not overprotect or shelter their children from ever experiencing a problem or the need to negotiate. If you do you are depriving them of the chance to develop emotional resilience and problem solving skills, as well as awareness of the needs of others, not to mention the fact that being a ‘concierge parent’ who caters to your child’s every need can be exhausting!
Whilst play dates can occasionally end in terrible tantrums due to unwillingness to share or anger at not winning a game, being able to get along with others is crucial in the classroom. When spending time playing with others, children learn the importance of fairness, being able to share and taking turns. They also learn to negotiate and develop the ability to be kind and thoughtful to others. Dianne suggests the key to a successful play date is to keep them short and sharp to avoid tiredness and hold them on neutral ground like a park or play area.
Children also learn how to behave by watching you. For example, if you are welcoming and kind to a new parent at the school the chances are that your child will follow your lead and help a new student.
It’s not uncommon for children to struggle when learning to write. They can find it difficult to hold the pencil correctly or their hands get tired easily, which leads to frustration.
Rather than making them sit down and spend hours practising their writing skills, get them to strengthen their muscles by climbing trees or hanging on play equipment. By developing the larger muscles in their arms, eventually the smaller ones will also get stronger and this leads to a better grasp of the pencil.
Before a child can read or write they need to develop strong oral language skills and a large vocabulary. There are a wide variety of ways you can help with this. Encourage them to answer questions like ‘what do you see?’ and ‘how do you feel?’, or ask them to re-tell stories to you and regularly introduce new vocabulary to them.
But the most beneficial way to help your child is by spending at least 20 minutes a day reading with them. If you do this over the course of just one year they will hear on average 1,800,000 words. Not only this, but they will hopefully develop a lifelong love of reading and literature.
Phonological awareness skills are crucial for students to be able to tune in to sounds they hear in words. It allows children to develop important listening skills which are invaluable when learning to read and write. Learning phonemic awareness or knowledge of the sounds in words helps children begin to segment and blend sounds into words.
With mathematics, children need to learn to walk properly before they can run. It is important to help them understand the basics, so that this knowledge can be built upon at school. This can be done in a variety of fun ways such as learning counting songs, or measuring out ingredients for recipes together.
Be involved in school life. Research shows that this improves student outcomes significantly. It helps build a strong bridge between home and school. Also if there is a problem be open with the class teacher.
Focus on positives and successes. This will help your child build strong self-esteem and a growth mindset.
Try to not cram too much into your child’s day. Make sure they have time to rest and play.
Spend at least 20 minutes a day reading with your child. Not only is this a special time to share with them, but the consistent exposure to new words and ideas will also have a profoundly positive effect on their school work.
Help teach your child to be organised by letting them pack their own school bags. Introduce a chore chart at home, give responsibilities and teach them to have self-discipline.
Replace screen time with green time. Encourage them to go outside to play.
Technology is important, but must be monitored. Research by The World Health Organisation states that children under two should not be using iPads and phones and those between the ages of two and four should have no more than one hour a day. You should be nearby to check that what they are watching is appropriate and limit the time they are using them, as too much use can lead to isolation and addiction.
Finally, encourage them to develop a sense of curiosity and wonder by introducing them to new and interesting objects and places. This will encourage a love of learning for the rest of their lives.