As your child nears Kindergarten, the term “school readiness” takes on a heightened sense of importance. “Is my child going to be ok?” “Does my child have the skills needed to be successful in school?” You're not alone; questions like these pop into many parents’ minds. To address these questions, it’s important to truly understand what is meant by “school readiness.”
School readiness is essentially a measure of how prepared a child is to be successful in a classroom setting. This measure looks at the cognitive, emotional, and social skills a child will need to master the transition into more formalized academic settings.
Often, there is a lot of focus on the development of cognitive skills. But most experts agree that social and emotional skills are equally – if not more – important to a child’s school success.
Let’s look at some of the social and emotional skills a child needs, and how you can support the development of these skills at home.
1. Identify and Regulate Emotions
Children do better in school when they understand their emotions, and are able to control them to some level. This means they can identify when they’re angry (for example) and express that anger in healthy ways that don’t impact others.
At home, you can support this development by:
- Allowing your child to express his emotions. Help him name the feeling, and then support him in finding appropriate ways to show the feeling.
- Reading stories or looking at pictures with your child. Talk about the emotions a character or a person in a picture might be feeling. Ask your child to guess how the person is feeling, what might have led them to feeling that way, and how they can express those emotions.
- Children learn a lot by watching adults. You help your child become emotionally-competent as you model emotional regulation. Talk with your child about the emotions you experience and model healthy ways to express those emotions. Especially when little eyes are watching.
2. Establish Positive Relationships
In a classroom, children must be with other children and adults for many hours. To learn in the classroom, a child must be able to navigate these relationships. This doesn’t mean they have to be friends with everyone; but they do have to be courteous and kind to others.
- Making sure she has opportunities to socialize. Arrange times for her to be with other children. After these get-togethers, point out ways you saw your child being a good friend.
- Sharing stories that show children in social situations. Start conversations about how you see a child building positive relationships with others or discuss alternative behaviors when the characters aren’t showing these skills. Books like Best Friends by Miriam Cohen, Margaret and Margarita by Lynn Reiser, Jamaica’s Find by Juanita Havill, and This Is Our House by Michael Rosen are wonderful stories that explore these themes.
3. Balance the Needs of Others
In a classroom, a child is one of many and very quickly learns there are times where his needs will not immediately be met. As family members, it’s difficult to prepare children for this. However, there are times when these circumstances occur naturally.
- Waiting at the doctor, standing in line at the grocery store, or having to wait for a story while dad bathes the baby. These situations call on children to balance their own needs and desires with those of others. When these situations arise, acknowledge your child’s efforts and give them coping strategies. “It is so hard to wait; you are being so patient. Thank you. Let’s look at all the other people in line and count how many are wearing the color blue.”
- You can also prepare your child for these situations by making books during the lead-up to Kindergarten. You can work together to make a book named, “Sometimes we share” and/or “When I have to wait,” and read these books together as the first day of school approaches.
4. Solve Social Problems
In a classroom, it’s inevitable that conflicts will arise. One of the greatest gifts we can give a child is the ability to resolve these challenges peacefully and respectfully. As a child grows, it’s important that adults take a step back and give him time and space to solve problems, coaching him in techniques such as negotiation, collaboration, compromise, and perspective-taking.
- Children’s books can play an important role in helping young children gain social skills. While reading a story, pause when the character faces a problem. Lead your child in a discussion as to how the character might solve the problem. Dissect both your idea and the resolution at the end of the story. What might have happened if the character used your ideas?
- Model appropriate problem-solving techniques. Talk through ways you resolve social problems so your child can learn from you. There is often not one “right” way to solve a conflict; there are multiple avenues you can take. As your child learns to identify and evaluate solutions, they learn to navigate our complex social world.
As adults, we often give children practice in the physical and academic skills they need to be ready for school. But it’s just as important to help them develop social skills. A child competent in these skills is a child more likely to be school ready!
Have a parenting, development or early education question for us? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!
-Michelle Salcedo, M. Ed., Sunshine House Chief Academic Officer