Themed Play vs. Free Play

When it comes to planning activities for children, one thing that parents, teachers, and children seem to enjoy is a fun theme. Whether we are deciding nursery decor, planning a birthday party, or just a simple craft on a Saturday afternoon, many of us like to utilize a good theme. Right now, Pinterest is full of Valentine’s day themed projects and learning activities for children. Next week, we will start seeing a lot of green art projects and flowered crafts for St. Patty’s Day and spring. I’m no exception. In fact, I’m working on an idea for an activity planner for young children, and how is it organized? By themes!

Themes can make playtime more exciting. Having a theme is a good way to explore one subject in many different ways. That’s especially beneficial for families with more than one young child, or for a group setting like a preschool or child care center. One child may not be too fond of journaling about the weather, but making her own tornado sensory bottles might be most fun she’s had all week! And when your son loves to put together his own mini-pizza for a snack on Little Chef day, your daughter might prefer to create her own restaurant menu with a piece of paper and crayons.

And yet sometimes, our children want nothing to do with a theme. We may have spent a lot of time and effort putting together a Pirate theme day, filled with homemade pirate hats and eyepatches, decorating our own paper towel tube spyglass, following a treasure map using our directional skills, and count and sort our treasure after we’ve found it. We just knew it was going to be the best day ever! After all, little Betty Boop from the Super Happy Blogging sure loved it! Instead, our little ones complain that the felt eyepatch is itchy. They slop a little paint on a paper towel tube and announce, “I’m done!” after a record time of 10.8 seconds. They whine that they’re too tired to follow the treasure map, and they’re disappointed when they finally find the treasure and realize that it’s only card stock with gold glitter and not real treasure!

So what can we do?

Here’s my best plan:

-Have a plan. I’ve found that if I don’t have a plan and the materials for the activities ready to go, interest on the children’s behalf fades fast. From a child’s perspective, nothing is more boring than waiting!

-Start the activity as planned, but then hand over the reins to the children whenever possible. If you offer your child the opportunity to draw their own treasure map, but they prefer to draw a football field instead, let him! I recently borrowed an idea from Arlee at Small Potatoes to make homemade play dough and add some animals and trees for a fun winter animal play scene that I was sure my six-year-old would play with for hours! (Yes, I can be a bit delusional at times.) He was completely uninterested. He wanted to go back to playing floor hockey in the living room, which I reminded him was a bad idea since his dad and little brother were taking a nap. In an attempt to keep him at the table longer spark his interest, I started shaping a cave out of the play dough. “Great idea!” my son said. “Can you make another net on this end so I can play soccer with the animals?” For a moment, I was disappointed that he didn’t enjoy the activity in the way I had imagined. But I realized that he was enjoying the way he imagined instead, and that it was a much more memorable and valuable play experience for him. He played for quite a long time, whereas he would have whined and complained and shut down in about two minutes had I insisted on him playing my way.


-Be adaptable. That’s one of the best qualities that a parent or teacher can have. Children are so unpredictable. From the time they are first born until who-knows-when, just when we think we have them figured out, they change. It’s the ebb and flow of growing up, of a child’s discovery of who they are going to become. Our job as parents and teachers is not to determine WHO they will be, but to help them learn HOW they will get there. If our child wants to be a ballerina, but we are pushing them to be a soccer player instead, we’re not doing anyone a favor. If we’re trying to teach them to kick, pass, and shoot when they just want to twirl, bend, and leap, there is going to be a constant struggle. And they will probably still end up being a ballerina.

Now this isn’t to say that children should just have free rein of their world. Certainly, some limits need to be in place–for their benefit and ours. I certainly don’t mean that if a child isn’t interested in practicing math at home that we should ban math from our routine. It just means that if they want to make up a subtraction story about a basketball team rather than about spring chickens, let them! Another option is to let them know that as soon as they have completed the planned learning activity, they may have free play to explore the items any way they choose. They might just end up surprising you by how much they learn through their own free play.

Which do you prefer, themed play or free play? Which do your children prefer?


Guest Post: Top Five Books on Child Development

**I am so pleased with today’s guest post written by freelance writer, Naomi Esterly. She contacted me a short time ago about a guest post for Close Families, and she came up with a very informative post featuring five books for child development. I hope you enjoy it! Thank you for contributing here at Close Families, Naomi!**

About Naomi:

Naomi Esterly is a stay-at-home mom to two rambunctious, yet adorable, little boys and a newborn baby girl. In her spare time she balances writing freelance for 1800Wheelchair.Com and coaching her community’s little league.

Top Five Books on Child Development

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The health and development of a child will be established in their early years. It might seem unlikely but it’s within these formative years that the child develops the foundation of the person he or she will be. There will be milestones, tell tale signs, that parents, family and health professionals may need to note in order to ensure a child reaches their full potential through adulthood.

Here are five books on child development that could be beneficial in this arena.

How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor
By Robert S. Mendelsohn

A renowned pediatrician and author, Dr. Mendelsohn looks to demystify the medical profession. In this book, he hopes to give parents practical advice about relying too heavily on pediatricians and how they should take a stronger role in their child’s care. Subjects include Protecting Your Children Before They are Born, The Mythical Menace of Strep Throat and The Child Who Never Sits Still.

Baby Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies and Toddlers
By Monta Z. Briant

Studies have demonstrated that signing babies will talk sooner; maintain a stronger bond with parents; have larger vocabularies; show a greater interest in reading; show less frustration and spend less time crying and throwing tantrums; and will have increased IQs. This book hopes to encourage parents to explore these possibilities with their child through fun and easy steps to signing together.

Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children
By David Elkind

Children are going to play. The Power of Play explores the idea of how imaginative, unscheduled play has a significant, long term impact on a successful social and academic career. Play is as important as learning and parents may need to curb those beliefs that a child should be constantly engaged in educational activities. The book combines research and personal anecdotes to make its argument.

What to Expect the First Year
By Heidi Murkoff

Considered a milestone in guides for child care, this book covers the first year of the relationship between parent and child. It incorporates advances in pediatric medicine in an exemplary user friendly manner. Topics include the expanded role of the father, sleep problems, causes of colic, SIDS, returning to work, siblings, weaning, sippy cups, how to give a bath and much more.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting Book
By John Gottman

With an intent of increasing self confidence and contributing to greater mental, social and physical health, this book explores coaching your child to regulate their emotions. The author believes doing so will have long lasting benefits in school performance and beyond. Subjects include empathetic listening and validation of feelings, solving issues in rational manners and labeling emotions with words children understand.

Children are spontaneous and mercurial. Their reactions are actually natural, if not considered acceptable. They do grow out of it, but how they do so is an important consideration. Parents should see these formative years as the perfect opportunity to help the child’s emotional growth. They should use them to engage with the child in emotional, physical and educational manners to ensure the best possible outcomes. The five titles above all have tremendous potential in that area.

Making Math Fun!

“It’s time to do your math homework,” I call to my son.

He drags himself to the kitchen table. “Ugh,” he sighs. “Do I have to do this now?”

“Well, if you don’t want to do your math homework, then you will be the one at school explaining that to Mrs. H tomorow.”

He takes a big exaggerated breath, and lets it out through his pursed lips. Not unlike a horse. “Okay, fiiiiiine.”

He does his homework. He does a good job. But he doesn’t like it. Being a writer, I understand where he’s coming from. I would much rather get lost in a good book–a story filled with the unknown and many possibilities, all carefully described by the creative mind of the author–than to calculate numbers on a worksheet with only one right answer possible.

Still, basic math is a skill that we all need. We need it to get through the education system, and we need it in the real world. And like any other skill, being good at math requires practice. Teachers are begging parents to help their children practice these skills at home. But I think my son might run away screaming, if I bring him more worksheets to do.

So I took an idea from my son’s “Math at Home” suggestion at the bottom of his homework, tweaked it to our liking, and we made math practice FUN! For both of us! It was fun for him, because he had choices, and it involved using his favorite toys. It was fun for me, because he was practicing math and writing numbers without a single protest, whine, or sigh. Success!

How to make math fun:

  • Let your child choose some favorite toys. It can be a bunch of random toys, or a specific set of toys. If your child is having trouble narrowing it down, you can give them suggestions such as Squinkies, Hot Wheels cars, action figures, stuffed animals, etc. We used these little football helmets that my son collects from quarter machines at the grocery store.

  • Let your child choose a writing utensil (marker, crayon, pen, pencil, chalk, paint) and something to write on (copy paper, chalkboard, poster board, notepad, scrapbook paper). A few small choices let your child feel like he has a whole lot of freedom! We used my son’s dry erase board and dry erase marker that he LOVES to use!
  • Know what your child is working on in math at school. Right now, my son is working on greater than, less than, and equal to, so that’s what we focused on, but you can certainly use this same idea with addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. He is also working on numbers 0-5 in school, so we stuck to those numbers, but again, you can go as high as you like with this activity, assuming you have enough toys. (I know we have no shortage over here!) 😉
  •  Ask your child to separate the toys into groups. For example, we started with four helmets vs. five helmets. Talk about the two groups in a way that relates to what your child is learning at school. I asked my son, “Which group is greater than the other?” “Which group is less than?” and “How can you make the two groups equal to each other?” If your child is practicing division, ask your child to pick ten objects, and then ask, “How can we divide these into five equal groups?”
  • Finally, let your child practice writing the equation.


Most importantly, play around with it and have fun! If your child starts playing with the toys, play along! Just find a sneaky way to add in a little math. If he starts racing the cars around the floor, ask him, “How many cars are in the race?” Let’s say he says eight, then you could ask,  “How many should we add to make fifteen racers?” He’s still doing math, but in a way that is much more entertaining to him, and less stressful for you!

Happy Learning!

Play the Part: Parents are a child’s best teacher

Folks, it’s Friday, and I usually keep it light. I like ending the week on a little note that’s short and sweet, so that I can spend most of the day preparing for the weekend. But something happened yesterday that really touched my heart, and I need to share it with all of you.

Now I realize that I can get a bit preachy at times, especially when it comes to a parent’s responsibility to their children. So I need you to bear with me and understand three things:

  1. I write about parenting and children, because I care about the kids. My kids. Your kids. Kids that I see in public. Kids that I hear about in articles or on the news. Kids that I have never heard of. If I were to be defined my one “passion,” it would be all about the children.
  2. These are just my thoughts and opinions, but I do read a lot of research-based articles that help me form these opinions, along with the collaborative thoughts, comments, and observations that I witness in parents that I see all around me (including my husband and myself).
  3. I am not a perfect parent. I mess up as a parent all. the. time. I get frustrated when my son has asked me the same question five times, when I have answered at least four of those times with the same response, leading me to believe that he is simply not listening to me. So I might lose my patience and snap, “Son! If you would LISTEN to me after you ask the question, you would only need to ask it ONCE!” I have been known to give him a sugary snack right before bedtime (during last year’s football season, we had a tradition of Sunday Night Sundaes… Mmm… I think I might bring that tradition back…) My husband and I will argue about the best way to parent. I usually think I’m right. He usually thinks he’s right. But we try our best to meet each other in the middle.

What I strive for on this blog is to reach others while I am simultaneously reaching myself. To keep all of us parents on the right track.

Now that we’re all in the same boat, I have to get back to sharing what happened yesterday. Yesterday was my first PTO meeting. And it got me a bit fired up about our job as parents when it comes to our children’s education. In our small school of just over 400 students, I think I counted four or five parents that attended this meeting that were not also part of the school’s faculty or staff. That’s it? Yes. That was it. And that was including myself. It was my first PTO meeting, and I didn’t know what to expect, but I was completely shock by lack of turn-out from parents. I’m sure this is not always the case, and I know that we can’t do everything that we would like as parents. We are moms and dads, not Wonder Woman and Superman.

But as I listened throughout the meeting… Fundraising goals falling short. Need more volunteers. Help us raise more money. And it’s not about raising money for luxury items. They need the money for tables to accommodate the students. They need grants to help support the children that come from low-income families (we are one of those families). And it’s not just about the money.

The majority of the PTO meeting was spent listening to the principal and teacher reports. Reporting on how the school year is going so far. Reporting on what is going on in the classroom. And the one common request… plea… that I heard from every teacher, reading coach, math coach, etc?

“We need parents to help their children work on this at home.”

“Parents, we need you to practice this at home.”

“Parents can go online to find out about the data that we are using, the core curriculums that we are striving to meet…”

“We need parents to read to the kids or let them read to you every day.”

The fifth grade teacher had several students that still were struggling with addition and subtraction. My son’s Kindergarten teacher has one child that only knows four letters of the alphabet. There are some children who begin school that don’t even know their full name, just the name that they go by.

Parents, our teachers are struggling, and they need our help. Most likely, if you’re a follower of this blog, you are already involved in your child’s education. And that is wonderful. Some children get homework sent home every night. Some parents make sure that their children complete their homework before dinner. I think that the responsibility of a child’s education needs to fall mostly onto that child’s own shoulders. I’m not suggesting that we as parents need to force our children to sit down and study for hours. But we absolutely need to be involved in their education. We need to set aside a time each day for homework, math or reading practice, or other areas of interest to our children. It doesn’t need to be all worksheets and flash cards either. I am a huge advocate of learning through play, so make it fun! If you make sitting down to work on these skills seem like a chore, then that is how your children will see it, and it will be a struggle. But you can play with Lego blocks and sort them by size, shape, color. Add them together. Subtract them. Sort them into three groups of five, and use multiplication to come up with the answer. Set out twenty pieces and challenge your child to divide them into equal groups (two groups of ten, four groups of five, five groups of four, etc.) Let them play, and they will amaze you with the imaginative and creative ways that they come up with all while working on basic math skills. Go outside with a stick and some dirt, and practice writing sight words in the dirt. There are tons of resources out there that provide parents with thousands of examples on how to help your child’s education at home, and I will link up a few of those at the bottom of this post.

Something we need to keep in mind is that we are our child’s constant teacher and role model. They will learn more from us than they will from any one teacher that they have. Sure, I had several teachers that touched my life and had a great, positive influence on my education. But if you ask me who my biggest role model is? My mom. Hands down. I may not have turned out to be just like her, but she is without a doubt the biggest influence on my life. My son informed me this morning that there are 153 days in his school year (keep in mind that we don’t go to school on Mondays!), which leaves 203 days that they are with us. What we do at home with our children can make such a huge impact on their learning abilities. Also keep in mind that your child’s teacher has twenty or more children whose education is equally important. That’s a big task, especially when you have one child who doesn’t know how to write his own name, and you have other children reading at a first-grade level. How many children’s education are we concerned with? One or two? Four? Six?

Another topic they talked about in the PTO meeting was that teachers and schools are bumping up their standards. The state of Missouri got a waiver on the “No Child Left Behind” act, and what was once considered second-grade material is now being taught in first-grade, etc. Our teachers have high expectations of our children. Shouldn’t we? Some parents take on the attitude of “Well that’s why I send him to school!” or “That’s what I pay his preschool to do!” I’m telling you that it isn’t enough. From the time that children are born, they look to their parents to teach them. Teachers can only accomplish so much in the time that they have the children. It’s up to us to do the rest. And if your child is doing well in school, does that mean that we’re off the hook at home? Absolutely not. Chances are, the reason that they are doing well is because of our past involvement in their education, and we need to maintain the attitude that we can always learn more. Find fun ways to challenge your child. Or if they have the math skills down, give them some paint and a big piece of paper and let them express their creativity instead. If they already know all of their sight words, encourage them come up with a story and write it down on paper. Bind the pages together and help them create their first, original book.

On a side note that was only indirectly addressed at the PTO meeting, we also need to keep in mind that learning starts at birth. Parents As Teachers is a wonderful organization that gets your child on track right from the beginning. I love this quote that they have on the website in reference to a child being prepared for school: “This study says those states that wait to start early childhood education until age 4 are making a huge mistake…by starting at birth, Parents as Teachers starts at just the right time.” –Dr. Edward Zigler If you have a child that is under the age of five, please visit their website and use their “Program Locator” to find the program in your area.

I’m sure that most of you are already involved in your child’s education and their school. I know it has always been important to me. But I also know that I can always do better, and that sometimes I slack. I am challenging myself to step it up a notch. To really be there for my son, for his fellow classmates, for the school, for the community.

How do you stay involved in your child’s education?

Parenting Resources: (homework help, fun learning activities at home, how to get involved in school, and much more!)

Save It for a Rainy Day

This post contains so many things that I enjoy. I enjoy a cool, rainy day.

I enjoy seizing the moment.

And I enjoy creating new experiences for my children.

Tuesday morning, it was rainy. It was an early morning rain that flooded our senses in all of the best ways: the distant rumble of thunder, the earthy aroma of fresh-falling rain onto dry fields, and a calm, cool wind touching our skin. Even though today it is back to being warm and sunny, it was the kind of rain that came as a reminder that summer is turning around the bend, and fall is nipping at its tail.

After I took my oldest son to school, my little one and I returned home, with a whole day ahead of us and no major plans. I decided to take the opportunity to let him really experience the rain. We sat outside and dipped our bare toes in puddles forming on the porch floor. We listened to the wind against the trees, and we watched the branches sway back and forth. We listened to the rain pouring on the grass below and on the roof above. I mimicked the sounds. My little one “oohed” and “ahhed” (literally). I sang to him softly some songs about rain: “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring” and “Rain, Rain, Go Away.”

When he started to get sleepy, we came back inside, and I laid him down for his morning nap. While he napped, I threw in a load of laundry, and then I began creating a couple of rainy day sensory activities for the afternoon.

I made a “thunder drum” out of an empty formula can, some rocks, a photo of dark clouds from a National Geographic magazine, tape, and a pair of scissors. This is so simple to make and there are a variety of ways that you can play with it. My son is very much into reaching for and “beating” on things that he can reach, so we turned it right side up for him to beat like a drum. I shook it slowly back and forth to make a “thunderous” sound. During tummy time, I put it on its side in front of him, and because it was weighted by the rocks, it didn’t roll away from him when he reached for it. If you have a crawler, you can make it without the rocks and it will roll away from him, so that he can chase after it. If you have a toddler, you can put in less rocks and use it as a musical “thunder” shaker. I love projects that can be so versatile, don’t you? 🙂

How to make a thunder drum:
1) Wash, rinse, and dry an empty formula can and lid.

2) Put rocks inside it (or not) and seal the lid shut. There is a bit of a sharp edge on the inside of these cans, so even if you aren’t using rocks (careful, because they are a choking hazard for the little ones!), it’s still a good idea to super-glue the lid shut.

3) Place tape around the outside of the can and on the lid, and cut your rainy picture to fit the can and lid (you can draw a rainy scene on paper if you don’t have a magazine photo available. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, let them make the picture!).

4) If you want to keep the little ones from ripping the picture off of the can, you can use contact paper or clear packing tape over the pictures. This isn’t baby-proof, because kiddos are clever and will still get the pictures off. However, the picture will last a bit longer if you do this step.

Another sensory activity that I created for my little one on our rainy day was to put some water in a plastic bowl (or a water table for older babies or toddlers) and add a couple drops of blue food coloring. I only needed two drops for our little bit of water, and it didn’t stain our hands or clothing, but make sure you test that first! Water + babies usually = a splash-fest and you never know where that water is going to land! The food coloring made it a beautiful blue color, and I added a blue sponge and a blue cup for different textures for him to explore. He loved it!

We read a book with beautiful rainy illustrations, and although the story itself wasn’t about the rain, I pointed to and talked about the rainy elements of the illustrations. “Oh, look! It’s raining on the Mama and Baby Bear.” “What are they wearing in the rain?” “Are they wearing raincoats to stay dry?” “Look at that blue umbrella!”

Embracing the rain made our day so enjoyable. What do you like to do on a rainy day?

**I’m linking this post up with the weekly Kid’s Co-Op again. I always find some really fun ideas here, so if you have children (infant to school-age) give it a look!**

“Look out, Kindergarten! Here I come!”

It’s back to school time for children all over the United States, and that includes my handsome little guy. Just look at how ready he is for Kindergarten:

My big boy ready for his first day of Kindergarten today! Handsome, huh? 😉

But how can we be sure that our children are really ready for school? Starting elementary school is an important life change for our children, and we want them to be as prepared as possible for it. But how do we do that? (I realize this post is a bit late for those of you who already have students, so this is more useful for those with the little ones. Trust me, it goes by fast, and it’s never too early to start thinking about this and preparing for it!)

This question can be answered a number of ways. First are the essentials. Upon enrollment, every district requires certain information to be provided by the parents in order to get your child in the system and prepared for school on paper. This basically involves you filling out and turning in various forms about your child. Easy peasy.

Another way we can talk about preparing our children for Kindergarten is by helping them get ready for the change physically, emotionally, and mentally. The first few days of school (like any life change) can be super stressful for all involved, it can be smooth-sailing all the way, or it can be somewhere in between. I’m guessing that in most situations, the beginning of the school year will be somewhat in between. How can we help ease this transition?

  • To help our son physically prepare, we started sending him to bed at 8pm and waking him up at 7am every morning for a few days prior to the first day of school, in order to get his body adjusted to the sleeping schedule he would need during the school year. Summer can get a bit relaxed if your child stays at home with mom or dad, and starting them on a healthy, consistent sleeping schedule will prepare their bodies ahead of time. Our school does not do naps for Kindergarten students, and it is a full-day program. Therefore, we also cut out naps this summer from our daytime schedule. School can be exhausting for little ones at first, so they may need to take a short rest or nap when they come home from school. Your best bet is to watch your child’s mood, and adjust his or her schedule accordingly!
  • The start of school can feel like an emotional roller coaster for children (and parents too!). We feel excited, anxious, nervous, scared, intimidated, happy, sad, and many other mixed emotions as the first day of school approaches. The best way to reach out to our children emotionally is to talk it out. Ask questions about how they’re feeling: “What do you think about school starting soon? How are you feeling about going to school?” Share with them your own memories of starting school. Or if you don’t remember how you felt then, relate it to the feelings you have when starting a new job. Be honest with them. My son has been feeling about “10% excited” about starting school. What the other 90% covers is a mixture of all the other emotions on the list. He is sad about not being able to spend all day at home with mommy and brother, scared of the unknown, and worried that it will be “too hard.” We can’t make any of our children’s worries go away for them, but what we can do is be there to listen, and let them know we’re there to support them, however they may feel about the situation.
  • There are several things that teachers need from children mentally before they start school. This is where all of you parents of the little ones that are thinking “Kindergarten still seems like light-years away” come in. It’s never too early to start on these fundamentals that teachers want all children to have in their learning toolbox. These are things that take time, practice, patience, and effort on both the part of the child and the parents and caregivers. Some key ingredients for children who are prepared to learn are listed in this article as:
  1. They show an enthusiasm towards learning. Children have curious minds. From the time that they are born, we should be aiding in the development of their curiosity. Those toddlers and preschoolers who ask about 5,000 questions per day? Those infants who point at everything in sight? They have are expressing an enthusiasm for learning. We want to keep that going! It can be frustrating to answer the same questions over and over again, but repetition and exploring their environment are probably the two greatest keys to successful learning. And if they aren’t natural explorers (and certainly, if they are), show your own enthusiasm for exploring the world! In your backyard, “Wow! Look at how tall that tree is! How on earth did it get to be so big? Where did it come from?” In the car, “Look at that big sign over there! What shape is that? What color is it? I wonder why it’s there.” While grocery shopping, “Do you see all these letters? They are everywhere! Let’s see how many of the items we need start with the letter “C”… carrots, cantaloupe, cauliflower… How many “C” items are in our cart?” Learning opportunities are everywhere, and the more excited we are about it from the beginning, the more likely our children will be too!
  2. They have a good foundation of oral language skills. Children develop vocabulary at such a fast rate. They go from babbling, to repeating “mama” and “dada” all day, to speaking in sentences in just two short years or less. Experience is key. Wherever you go with your children, talk about what is around you. Go to the zoo and talk about the different animals. At the store, talk about the different types of food groups and the specific foods within them. Exposing your children to a variety of nonfiction books can help with this as well. Teachers want your child to recognize the difference between a crayon and a pencil. A cat and a kitten. A tomato and an apple. Language development has everything to do with exposure to language, the words that we use to describe what is around us. The more we talk to our kids using a varied vocabulary, the more words they are able to learn.
  3. They are able to sit still and listen. Young children have short attention spans; that is no secret. The key to getting them to remain interested in an activity or story for a longer period of time is to practice, practice, practice. Read to your children every day, for at least twenty minutes. If they interrupt or lose focus, simply say, “When you are quiet and ready to listen, I can continue to read.” If they remain uninterested, stop reading to them, and try again later. But don’t give up! You can’t force a child to listen. You can’t force a child to sit still. Patience and practice are the way to win this one for even the squirmiest of young learners.
  4. They want to be independent. Preschoolers love to do things for themselves. “Let me do it!” “I want to try it!” So let them! Whether it’s pouring their own milk in a cup, or zipping and unzipping their coats over and over again, child have to learn to do things for themselves. In most cases, it’s easier and faster to do these things for our children. However, if we constantly help our children, they will remain reliant on that help. Twenty-something children can’t ask the teacher to put their coat on for them, or else recess would be over before they could get outside! So if your child insists, “I want to do it all by myself,” let them! And for those who are constantly asking, “Mommy, can I have a drink?” or “Daddy, can you help me put on my socks?” give them a firm and encouraging, “Let’s see if you can do it! Give it a try!” Independent children are generally responsible children, and responsible children tend to care more about their own education. At school, “I want to try holding that pencil” turns into “Look at how nicely I wrote those letters!”
  5. They have strong fine-motor skills. Again, practice is key here, and it starts when an infant uses their pincher grasp to pick up their first finger foods. Things like threading a shoelace through holes on cardboard to make a pattern, or squirting each other with a water gun on a summer afternoon are ways to help develop those small muscles in the hands and fingers that children need for things such as writing, gluing, cutting, and coloring. Make it fun, and they won’t even know it’s going to help them in Kindergarten. 😉
  6. They know the letters of the alphabet and can count to ten. I also want to add that they may want to know how to spell and be able to write the letters of their name. Taking the opportunity to point out letters and numbers all around us is a great way to get this information into their little brains. Reading and books that are geared toward counting help with this tremendously. Our Kindergarten student is probably reading on a first-grade level at this point, partly because he attended a great preschool program, partly because of his own ability to catch onto things quickly, and partly because of our encouragement.

No matter how early we start preparing our children (and ourselves!) for this life change, things can still go wrong. My son is geared much more toward an enthusiasm to be active and learn to play sports than he is to sit at a table or desk and learn about letters and numbers. Do I think he will do poorly at school because he isn’t showing an enthusiasm to learning on his first day of school? Absolutely not. I think he will do just fine. The reality is that our child’s learning experience is up to them. Once they start Kindergarten, we can’t make them sit still, or listen to the teacher, or control their feelings towards school. What we can do for them, however, is show our own love of learning, to show them that learning never stops, and to expose them to as much as we can in a safe, relaxed learning environment. Once we’ve done what we are capable of to prepare them for this day, we can only sit back and watch our child say, “Look out, Kindergarten! Here I come!”