How to prepare your preschooler for formal education

I get asked a lot from parents about how to prepare their preschooler for formal education at school. Some parents say they have been teaching their child how to count to 20 while others say their child isn’t interested in fine motor craft but really great at building forts.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to soaking up your child’s creativity, but if you’re looking to challenge your preschooler that bit further then I have a solution.

Teaching Early Concepts

Teaching concepts is the basis of any topic. For example if you are wanting to challenge your child with shapes just understanding that there is a concept of shapes and what they look like is the first step. It’s not saying the shape name with the shape as that comes later with mastery. It’s providing an open dialogue with your child that there is this weird thing called ‘shapes.’ Then you practice over days/weeks/months what shapes look like in the real world and when you draw shapes in the sand. Use descriptive words like: round, sharp, turn, slide, and flip.

Preliteracy Concepts

Have a look at this word. Don’t answer it or try and find out what it means. Simply think about what concepts you would have to retrieve from your prior knowledge to learn what this word could be or how to even pronounce it! This is exactly what your child is going through. When they start school they will have to have a certain amount of prior knowledge to dip into in from their long-term memory in order to try and make sense of the question.

You would need to know what the letter phoneme (sound) or morphemes (groups of letter sounds together) to hear it’s pronounciation. The syntax or organisation of the letters together. The alphabetic principle which is the letter visually written to relate the visual image with a sound.

All these things that you had to learn early in your formal education before even attempting to make sense of this hungarian language.

Assess your child’s strengths and weaknesses

Write down a list of strengths that your child is good and not so good at. Click here for more information.

Here’s the KEY IDEA:

Once you already know what your child is good at – use that empowered confidence to increase knowledge in what they aren’t good at.

If your preschooler has a great basic concept that – there are these little things called letters and when my mummy looks at the letters she makes sounds with her mouth when she reads a story – then that is your basis to build from. Start talking about words as a concept. That words help us understand our world like a road sign that says “stop” or a shop that is “closed.” Start at the basic concept that these small little black squiggles put together make sounds (phonemes).

Eventually, you’re child will start to notice that some of those squiggly things parents call letters look similar in different words. Then start comparing and contrasting the shape of those letters. Write words down for them to copy. Compare how words have similar letters: for example Mummy and daddy both have the same last letter. You aren’t teaching phonics but you are teaching them alphabetic concepts.

Over time, you’re child will start to understand that letters are a concept as are numbers are a concept. Shapes, animals, colours etc are all concepts they can be categorised and manipulated.

If you’re child is more hands-on kinaesthetic learner use their trike to drive over letters in the dirt but not numbers. Or jump on a trampoline and grab the letter but leave the shape.

The aim is to get your child writing/copying these squiggly images parents call letters onto anything as much as possible. Reading is important but if your child can’t write their idea (even if the spelling is wrong) they won’t enjoy any genre of writing in elementary school. Chalk on the driveway, water letters on the concrete, use oil pastels instead of old crayons, or use a stick to write letters in the mud.

Formal education is when they can use their prior knowledge of letter concepts to relate into words. Leave that for formal education! Each school has a different way of doing this so I’m actually helping the teachers when I say this.

AIM: To have your preschooler write their own name before they enter formal education. That’s it! If you’re child is interested in writing other peoples names, words or short sentences then don’t hold them back but don’t stress about teaching phonics or syllables – leave that to the teacher to lead you and your child.

If you’re child can write their name move on to a different concept like basic science (STEM), gross motor upper body strength, proprioception/vestibular balance, reading that involves holding the book the right way up and turn a book page by page. Shapes, colours, numbers, social skills and even two-step instructions: if I hold your doll and it drops to the floor what would that look like? Is it a doll or a doll on the floor? Work on weaknesses that you can provide your child with support now before that time runs out.

Feel empowered as a parent that you know your child better than anyone else and use your preschoolers strengths to develop their weaknesses will build concept quicker than explicitly showing concepts. It also uses their cognitive and metacognitive abilities to empower their self-efficacy (confidence) to learn about things they aren’t interested in.

Comment below if you have any further questions about concepts for learning before formal education.

Written by Sarah Courtney

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