Today we’re chatting about questions parents seem to stress themselves out over. Things like, “Will my child be prepared to start school?”, “Am I teaching them enough at home to prepare them?” or “What can I do to make sure my child is ready to enter a classroom?”
Sure, a student reciting their alphabet and counting to ten are pretty high up on the priority list. But as a former Kindergarten teacher, I can tell you that preparing your children socially and emotionally for a school environment is absolutely crucial! These skills will be exercised in school starting day one, and most days until they graduate high school. It’s a lot of pressure! Luckily, I’m going to share some tips with you today to be sure your kiddos are ready to enter school.
EXECUTIVE FUNCTION SKILLS DEFINED
Back when I was teaching we had a short test that we’d give every incoming Kindergarten student. Some of it measured their academic skills, but most of the skills were questions centered around things like problem solving, teamwork, and memory. Primrose Schools, an early education provider, focuses on these skills as part of its teaching and curriculum. But every school will want their students to learn executive function skills because they’re important for a child’s academic careers and beyond!
Executive function skills is just a fancy term for skills like teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving. These are common sense skills that we as adults don’t really think about anymore, but they’re essential for young kids to master! Interested in learning more about executive function skills? Check out this video then keep reading to see how Grace and I practice these at home!
HOW WE WORK ON THESE SKILLS AT HOME
There are so many things you can do as the parent to help prime your kids for these skills at home. Many of them are embedded into family activities like building with blocks, game nights, or reading stories. Here are a few of my favorite ways to work on critical thinking and problem solving at home with my toddler.
ASK OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS
Open-ended questions are my favorite thing to do when I’m reading with Grace. Open-ended questions are basically questions that don’t just have a “yes” or “no” answer. I’m going to include a list of examples below, so make sure to keep that on hand, but an example would be if you’re reading the book “The Cat in the Hat” you can ask your child, “where did the cat come from?” Their answer is correct no matter how they answer it, because they could use their imagination and say “The cat came from the store.” or it can be realistic, based on something they saw in the book, like “the cat came from outside.”
Open-ended questions encourage critical thinking because children have to use their imagination and make inferences based on the illustrations in books. These are higher-level thinking skills, yet you’re practicing them every night before bedtime during your nightly ritual! How easy is that? See my list of open-ended questions below for more ideas!
COMPLETE PUZZLES TOGETHER
One of my favorite ways to work on problem solving is to do puzzles with Gracie. Melissa & Doug makes an adorable bear puzzle set (pictured below) that has a mama, papa, and baby bear. It took Grace quite a while to understand that the papa bear’s clothes only fit in the spot where the papa bear’s body is, and she couldn’t just put the baby’s shorts in the spot for the mama bear’s shorts. It took a while, but with encouragement and support, she finally understood the size and shape of each piece, and loves to play with the puzzle by herself now. (She loves playing any type of puzzle though.) Wooden puzzles with a limited amount of pieces are a great way to get a child’s problem-solving mind going.
ENGAGE IN PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD
Engaging in imaginative play, painting, or anything that involves having a conversation with your child will spark opportunities for learning. I know it’s so easy to have those independent activities going and take a break (and believe me, there’s a time and a place for that) but be sure to take time each day to play with your child. You are engaging in teamwork by taking turns, learning new vocabulary by talking about the imaginative play, and teaching them new skills by doing activities together!
LIST OF OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS:
You’d be surprised at how easy these come to you when reading with your child after a bit of practice! I find myself asking the questions all the time, even when we aren’t reading! It really encourages children to exercise that creativity muscle. And if there’s one thing we know about toddlers and young kids, it’s that they love to be heard 😉
- Where is ________ at? (Ask about setting on the page when reading a story.)
- Where do you think they are going?
- Follow-up: Why are they going there?
- Where would you go if you were _________?
- How does _________ feel?
- Follow-up: Why do you think she feels that way?
- What do you think will happen? (Before turning a page.)
- What is ________ favorite color? (Character in book.)
- Which page was your favorite? Why?
What do you think ________ did after? (At the end of a book.)
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