What does being ready for elementary school really mean? It used to mean starting the first day of school with all the supplies on the list, but now we know so much more about how young children’s brains develop. More and more parents are aware of the positive effects of a high quality early childhood education for their child’s success. This knowledge has also led to extra emphasis on acquiring academic skills. Experts suggest parents take a step back and look for programs with a balanced approach to school readiness.
“With young children, everything is connected: their minds, bodies and emotions; creativity, happiness, security and intellectual progress,” says Dr. Robert Needlman, author and nationally acclaimed pediatrician. “A balanced approach to readiness celebrates this reality about children. It’s our best hope for turning out students who can think, feel and act independently and effectively.”
What is a Balanced Approach to Learning?
From birth through age five, development in all areas of the brain is rapid. Research suggests that the quality of interactions children experience during this essential time can have a far reaching effect on future learning and the formation of satisfactory relationships. It is true that early childhood education programs have become more learning-focused in light of the research on childhood brain development, but high quality programs take a broader perspective. The focus of a balanced early childhood education program should be on helping children develop physical, social-emotional, creative and academic skills.
Nurturing guidance and attention to every part of a child’s development during this crucial stage helps children not only learn reading and math skills, but how to show compassion, independence, resilience and curiosity — all qualities that could be taken for granted, but that are taught and encouraged in a quality preschool setting.
“Children who are confident, self-regulating and able to relate to others will have a better experience transitioning to elementary school, regardless of their exact reading or math skill level,” said Dr. Mary Zurn, vice president of education for Primrose Schools, a family of 220 private preschools across the country. “On the academic side, it is as important for children to be eager to learn, to ask questions and to be able to think as it is for them to know letter names and sounds and be able to solve mathematical problems.”
When looking for an early childhood education program, research is the first step to selecting one that will provide your child with these lasting benefits. Dr. Zurn recommends looking for these five key factors in a preschool:
1. Focus on mastering concepts, not just memorization: Look for a preschool that teaches children to love learning. They develop an understanding of concepts through hands-on activities, play and by expressing what they have learned to others.
2. Physical Activity: P.E. or even recess can often get cut from public programs, but being physically active is key to curbing childhood obesity and to forming positive life skills. Purposeful instruction in motor skills and outdoor play are both part of a well-rounded preschool education.
3. Music: Did you know that early exposure to music not only enhances a child’s ability to create and enjoy music, but also fosters other aspects of brain development? Early exposure to music can improve IQ scores, motor coordination and social skills. Research shows that music potential needs to be nurtured with song, dance and play before age five or it is not likely to develop. An early childhood education music program supports the development of your child’s sense of rhythm, pitch, melody and motor coordination, all while having fun.
4. Character Development: Look for programs that intentionally and consistently teach your child to be honest, kind, compassionate and respectful. Social-emotional development during preschool is key to a successful transition to elementary school and lifelong healthy relationships.
5. Parent Resources: Finally, it’s important to remember that learning does not stop outside the classroom — your interactions with your child at home are equally important. Consider the resources, tips and tools that a school can offer parents. Frequent communication with your child’s teacher can give you insight into how your child is advancing and help you reinforce balanced learning at home.
If you are still wondering if your child will be ready for school, you can find a list of school readiness resources and advice from moms who have been through the child care journey at www.justaskaprimrosemom.com.
Choosing a Preschool
Dr. Joanne Nurss, professor emeritus of educational psychology at Georgia State University in Atlanta and former director of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy, has conducted extensive research and published numerous articles in the field of children’s literacy development. Dr. Nurss encourages parents to look for high-quality early childhood education programs with the following criteria:
— Physical Development: Is indoor and outdoor physical activity part of the daily schedule? With childhood obesity on the rise and research that shows that movement plays a role in early brain development, daily exercise such as running, stretching or even dance should be a part of the curriculum.
— Social-Emotional Development: Does the curriculum include programs specifically designed to nurture your child’s social and emotional development? Look for programs that promote an understanding of concepts like friendship, generosity and honesty.
— Creative Development: Are enrichment programs such as art and music woven into the day’s activities? Young children naturally engage in creative activity in their day-to-day thinking, but ongoing enrichment activities lay the foundation for later creative skills.
— Academic Development: Does the classroom teaching method go beyond basic memorization to encourage concept mastery? Academic success is not just about fact memorization. Learning how to think critically, use mathematical concepts and expand listening, speaking, reading and writing skills will help your child develop a love of learning.