How to develop your child’s foundation skills before school
Although most of us would view the term ‘pushy parent’ in a negative light, it is only natural to want the best for our offspring. Admittedly, we don’t want to appear brazen about it. However, if we’re being honest then the majority of us would feel a twinge of sadness or jealousy when our little Johnny doesn’t appear clutching his first reading book, but his best friend does.
It is so difficult, but I think as parents we need to bear in mind certain issues; for instance not every child will be ready for a book at the same time. It honestly isn’t a slur on your child’s intelligence or some kind of favouritism by the class teacher. It’s easy to forget that within a school year there can be a year’s age difference from the youngest to the oldest child. People often talk about summer born children being at a disadvantage, especially during their formative school years, and to a certain extent they are playing catch up throughout this time. During the Foundation Stage, there can be huge differences between four and five-year-olds and their subsequent ability levels.
I also think as parents we place great emphasis on English and mathematics, often to the exclusion of other areas of learning and development. The new Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum (EYFS) (2012) state that there are seven areas of learning: Personal, Social and Emotional Development; Physical Development and Communication and Language. These are classed as prime areas. The remaining specific areas are Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts and Design.
This emphasises the need to develop those fundamental skills which precede competency in literacy and numeracy. As the wording of the Foundation Stage curriculum suggests; children need to establish the firm foundations and skills before they are able to embed these into more sophisticated learning. As clichéd as it sounds, rather like the construction of a house; without laying the firm foundations, then the rest of the building would collapse before very long.
How to develop these foundations?
Personal, Social and Emotional development is perhaps the most important of all the areas of learning and development. It is paramount to life to learn how to function socially in relation to others and equally how to form strategies to care and look after ourselves. After all, what good is it to be able to recite the works of Shakespeare if we are unable to boil ourselves an egg for tea? Ok, that may be an oversimplified analogy but you get my drift.
- Providing activities for your child that encourage turn-taking and sharing.
- Setting up role-play areas that reflect our multi-cultural society.
- Selecting books, puppets, and toys to help your child explore their own and others’ feelings and viewpoints.
- Introducing activities that require collaboration, e.g. ring games, parachute activities etc.
A child does not have the immediate ability or strength to be able to pick up a pencil and write. It may seem glaringly obvious and can often be overlooked, but as a prerequisite to the physical act of writing, children need to develop their large (gross) motor movements which will, in turn, lead to more refined smaller (fine) motor movements.
Activities to develop gross motor skills:
- Throwing and catching a large ball.
- Encouraging your child to move in different ways and at varying speeds, balancing, target throwing, rolling, kicking and catching.
- Making large swirling movements with ribbons etc.
- Using large paintbrushes and water to make drawings/patterns outside.
- Making large-scale patterns/movements in sand, paint, water etc.
Activities to develop fine motor skills:
- Using grabbers/kitchen implements (remembering safety first!) to hunt for treasure in the sand.
- Using tweezers to hunt for treasure in the sand (as fine motor ability becomes more refined)
- Encouraging making patterns with fingers in the sand, shaving foam, gloop (cornflour/water mix)
- Providing activities that allow the opportunity and motivation to practice manipulative skills e.g. cooking, painting, clay and playing instruments.
It is extremely interesting that within the new EYFS curriculum, the heading of this area of learning has changed from Communication, Language and Literacy to purely Communication and Language. That is, the importance of establishing speaking, listening and communication skills has at last been recognised and implemented. If we think about ourselves learning a new language, we can always comprehend more than we can speak. Similarly, we are more capable of speaking a language than reading or writing it, at least to begin with. It seems it has taken a long time for the government to realise that the skills of listening, speaking, comprehension, reading and writing are not simultaneously achievable but hierarchical.
Activities to develop Communication and Language:
- Planning for lots of rhyming and rhythmic activities and as your child progresses, point out the rhymes/talk about similarities in rhyming words. The use of rhyming from the youngest of ages cannot be underestimated and its bearing on your child as a future competent reader.
- Encouraging your child to interact with other children and perhaps sing songs together, describe an event, listen to their peers doing the same.
- Providing opportunities for your child to talk for a wide range of purposes e.g. describe what they have constructed, explain, instruct, discuss, justify their decisions.
- Reading your child stories which incorporate repetitive phrases and repeated refrains/structures.
The above lists are by no means exhaustive and we are, without a doubt, our children’s best teachers. However, if we can bear in mind that there are so many other aspects to our children’s development then merely what stage reading book they are on, we will be well on the way to nurturing happy, enthusiastic learners in all areas. Again, another cliché, but Rome wasn’t built in a day!
What do you think is the most important skill that your child can learn during these important early pre-school years?
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