Taking the first steps towards being ready for a school setting begins long before preschool. Children are born ready to learn and their first teachers are the adults around them in the home. As with all phases of development, there are subtle, simple ways to help support a child’s natural inclinations and abilities as they get ready to transition from learning in the home to learning in a preschool setting. Consider the following as you interact with and nurture your toddler:
One of first big steps in showing readiness for school is being able to separate and join a group other than your family. Consider some simple activities that can be introduced from even a very young age to support successful separation such as: having a babysitter/non-parent caregiver stay with your child, join playgroups and activity classes that encourage parents to step away while toddlers play and interact, have playdates with family friends where your child is comfortable to stay and play, even for a short time, without you.
2. Toilet Training
Toilet training is a very personal and individualized process for all children. Once children can walk and begin to pull garments up and down, they can begin to have an awareness of toileting. There are many methods of toilet training and as the ultimate expert on your child, you’ll be able to determine which one best suits your family. Summer months are a perfect time to test out wearing cloth underwear and have some more freedom from diapers! It’s important, no matter which method your family choses, that training be kept positive and supportive. It’s a process that takes time and effort!
3. Self-Help Skills
As parents and caregivers, we can get accustomed to helping our toddlers throughout the day. In our routines, it’s sometimes easy to miss when a toddler is ready to try some tasks on their own. Consider allowing children to try: putting on and taking off clothing, washing hands in the sink, drying hands, blowing and wiping nose with a tissue, putting on and taking off shoes, drinking from an open cup, cleaning up toys, and buckling their car seat. Give some of these areas a try when time allows. It’s always such a pleasant surprise to see young children rise to a new level of independence. They are so proud of their efforts as should you be for supporting them!
4. Story Time
Reading aloud to your child is such a special and often rewarding time together. Through books, you can share a laugh, work through emotions, find time to rest and recharge and take pleasure in developing a lifelong love of learning. It’s helpful to take note of how your child responds to stories — can they sit for the duration of a story? Do they show that they are understanding the story in a variety of ways? Consider visiting your local library once your child can sit for a story with you. The next step towards school readiness is being able to sit in a group while listening to a story that’s read aloud.
5. Free Play/Unstructured Time
Children love to play and explore. In the day-to-day routines it can seem convenient to choose an activity for children to help them occupy their time. However, consider the value in offering unstructured time at home. Allow your child to choose an activity and encourage them to find something that they can take out, play with, and clean-up on their own. As children become more comfortable with this kind of free, independent play they will increase their comfort and confidence in making choices, develop resilience as they problem solve, and navigate frustrations as well as take pleasure in imaginary play.
Toddlers are eager learners. They are naturally full of curiosity, wonder, and questions. While lives are often busy and fast paced, life with a toddler can be a gentle reminder of the joy in simple successes as children gain new understandings each day. As parents and educators of toddlers and young children, our work is to bolster them as they face challenges, to support them as they engage, and to set the stage for a lifetime of learning and play. The steps you take to help your young child be ready for preschool will be a gift that will come back many times over!