Providing a Foundation for Academic Success in Preschool Friendly Ways

Back to school

I am firmly in the learning through play camp when it comes to preschoolers and early academics. Done in a good way, this doesn’t mean just let them play and they’ll be ready. It means thoughtfully providing academic experiences in fun, engaging and play based ways.

Early Literacy Skills to Keep in Mind – Early literacy is focused on the experiences we can provide children to later become successful readers.

Vocabulary – There are so many ways to build a young child’s vocabulary; read aloud everyday, talk about all the things they are seeing and doing, take them on outings and highlight the new vocabulary of that place and aim to teach one new word in context every few days.

Print Motivation – This is a child’s interest in and awareness of books. Motivation can be encouraged by having books available on every level of the house and in the car, and using reading as a reward (“You can stay up late if you are reading”). You might also offer extended learning activities, if you read Blueberries for Sal then make blueberry muffins. Attending library and bookstore activities with read alouds and checking out library books also build motivation.

Print Awareness – This is the child’s understanding about how books go cover to cover, and the words go top to bottom and left to right. It is a gradual understanding of word spacing and later sentence structure. This comes from a child’s shared and independent experiences with books. Reading aloud everyday and occasionally following along with your finger is a good ways to call attention to the print. Pointing out words that match pictures in books may help. Listening and looking at books on tape together is beneficial.

Narrative Skills – Narrative skills include being able to retell a story, understand the order and be able to eventually sequence events. Answering questions about what’s been read and recalling specific details of a story is a good place to start. Occasionally discussing what happened at the beginning, middle and end of a story is helpful. Calling grandma each Monday and retelling a story about something that happened over the weekend is a good way to practice this.

Letter Knowledge – This is the child learning the shapes, names and sounds of each of the letters. It’s tempting here to go more old school academic with flashcards and worksheets, I’d still err on the side of play. Have a letter of the week and collect small objects in the house that start with that sound. Go on letter hunts in the grocery store to find as many individual letters as you can and cross them off a list, have a B shopping trip to buy bagels and butter, blueberries and beans and go home to a B lunch. Paint and sculpt the letters. Play matching games, memory and go fish with the letters.

Phonics – This is being able to put the individual sounds together to make words, pull individual sounds out of words, recognize beginning, ending and eventually middle sounds of words and later learn the common patterns of sound blends. It is helpful to play rhyming games, have listening challenges and sing nursery rhymes. It can be helpful to read aloud books that have basic rhyming patterns such as Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose books.

READ ALOUD EVERYDAY – The Department of Education cites reading aloud as the most important activity to build the knowledge and interest for children to become successful readers. There are many ways to enjoy reading aloud with young children and with children as they get older. The main idea is to start on day one and continue to build the love of books and reading together as long as they will listen. For younger children just enjoying books together, looking at and talking about the pictures, making up stories, finding details in pictures all count as time with books. For older children you might alternate who reads, read their homework aloud or read separately and have book club talks.

Early Math Language to Keep in Mind – There are four areas of math language that can be built in to all the play and activities you are doing in the regular flow of the day. This language builds the foundation for understanding basic math concepts.

Numbers and Counting – Count napkins when you set the table and apples as you put them in the bag at the grocery store. Count often and challenge children to gradually count larger groups of things. Estimation language is a piece of this. Once children are versed at basic counting, estimating how many cookies in a jar or marbles in a bag helps with later math skills.

Position – Position language includes in, on, over, under, near, far, above, below, next to, in front of and behind. You might hide toys and give clues to finding them using this language. You might build an obstacle course and narrate or have people narrate themselves moving through. You might play Simon Says or Follow the Leader using this language.

Measurement – Measurement language is talking about how big or small, short or tall, heavy or light things are. For younger children this might be sequencing big, bigger, biggest. For older children this might be measuring things in inches or feet and then comparing.

Amount – Amount includes some, more, a little, a lot, more than and less than language. This also includes actual amounts like a quarter cup, half cup and whole cup. Baking and cooking activities are an easy way to build in actual amount.

Motor Skills to Keep in Mind – There are many fine motor and gross motor skills that are important for later academics, particularly for handwriting which is important across academic areas.

Pincer grasp and in-hand manipulation are important for eventual pencil grip and pencil pressure. Pincer grasp is practiced by putting pennies in a bank, using tweezers to move cotton balls and putting together puzzles with gradually smaller pieces. In-hand manipulation is practiced playing with small manipulatives including duplos and legos, bristle blocks, Lincoln logs and tinker toys.

Bilateral integration is important for eventual coordination for handwriting. Bilateral integration is using both sides of your body and in this case both hands in a coordinated way. For using your whole body this includes crawling, skipping, and swimming. For your hands this includes most craft activities such as lacing and sewing cards, weaving looms and latch-hook rugs. Midline activities and crossing midline activities include songs with clapping and simple motions like The Wheels on the Bus and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This also includes popping bubbles and throwing or rolling and catching balls on one side of your body and the other.

Offer a wide range of art supplies – There is a different pencil grip and pressure to using thick and thin markers, different crayons, pens, pencils, dot art, roller art and pebble and ball crayons. The wider range of experience the better. Once they are comfortable provide a wide range of writing activities. This includes scratch paper, invisible books, dot to dots and mazes.

Offer in range of postures – Think of the different postures for art and writing at a table versus on the floor, or in a bean bag versus at an easel, or laying on your back with paper taped to the underside of a table. All of this benefits handwriting.

Easy Ways to Bolster Early Math Skills

One of the easiest ways to support early math development is to build math language into your daily play and conversations with your child. Math language includes numbers, amount, measurement and position words.

  • Numbers – Count napkins as you put them on the table, or count toys as you put them in the toy box. Talk about how many animals you see at the zoo and how many french fries are on their plate.
  • Amount – This includes using descriptors such as some, more, a little, a lot, more than, less than, a couple, a few, several and many.
  • Measurement – Discuss how small, big, short, long, light or heavy things are.
  • Position – This includes words such as in, on, over, under, near, far, above and below.

Other ways to encourage early math skills include:

  • Play board games – Many children’s board games practice early math concepts including Memory, Hi Ho Cheerio, Chutes and Ladders, Colorama and Uno.
  • Talk about the daily math you do – When you go to the grocery store, you may be calculating how much time you have, how much money you have, the weight of fruit and the discount of coupons. The idea is to discuss the basics of this math with your children.
  • Cook together – Most recipes include directions about measurement, temperature and time. Point out and discuss the math as you enjoy cooking together.

Ways to Avoid Summer Academic Loss

Sisters reading book in summer park

Many studies site that children have an average of a two month academic loss over the summer months. With a little effort, you save their hard gained knowledge and may even help them make gains! Here are some ideas to support them while still having fun:

  • Practice school skills in real life – If your second grader was learning to count money, make them the “family cashier” for the summer. Stop using your cards and carry cash, let them count the money to and from at each transaction.
  • Play school – Little ones may willingly take turns being the teacher and the student. When they are the teacher, ask them to explain a math skill they recently learned. When they are the student, ask them to read aloud to the class.
  • Take field trips – My family is lucky to live in the Washington D.C. area. We have the Smithsonian Museums, National Zoo, Virginia battlefields and Baltimore Aquarium all within an hour drive. Within a day trip we can travel to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Island and fantastic museums in Philadelphia. Take advantage of academically related field trips in your community.
  • Take nature walks – There is so much to be learned in the world around us. Summer is the perfect time to get them out in nature. A great book about this is Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Louv.
  • Make writing fun – When you travel, encourage them to write post cards and keep a daily vacation journal. Provide other writing activities like invisible books, spirograph, stencils, mazes and Mad Libs.
  • Challenge math in everyday ways – Talk about the math involved when you pump gas. For older children, teach them to calculate miles per gallon since the last fill up.  If you eat out, teach them to calculate the tip. Take them bowling and teach them to keep score.
  • Read aloud everyday – Reading aloud to children everyday is sited by the Department of Education as the single most important activity to build successful readers. Aim for 20 minutes a day and enjoy when it’s longer. Read aloud to them through high school if they’ll listen.
  • If they are reading aloud – Encourage children to practice their own read aloud skills. This can be reading to a sibling, to the dog or even a stuffed animal.
  • Encourage quiet reading time everyday – Again, aim for 20 minutes and appreciate when it lasts longer. Make this easy for them, bring books in the car or let them stay up later at night if they are reading.
  • Plan a book club – If they are at all interested, invite a few friends to read the same book with them. Then plan a party to celebrate.
  • Investigate library activities – Public libraries in our area host many fun children’s programs in the summer months. They also have a children’s reading challenge that ends with earning a coupon book for area businesses. Check out your local library!
  • Focus on vocabulary when you travel – There is new vocabulary available everywhere you travel. Discuss all the things you see with your children, provide definitions as you are able. There is beach vocabulary, zoo vocabulary, farm vocabulary, airport vocabulary…
  • Puzzles, board games, cooking and crafts – Play provides learning opportunities such as puzzles for spatial reasoning, board games for social skills and often math skills, cooking and crafts for following directions, tending to details, math and fine motor skills. Spend time this summer playing with your children.
  • Workbooks – My least favorite, but probably most reliable, way to do a little summer review work is workbooks. My children didn’t mind the Summer Bridge Activities workbooks. http://www.summerbridgeactivities.org/

Please share your own ideas below!

Early Math Skills

I had the pleasure this morning of talking to 220 home daycare providers. Most of them work with children birth through five years old. The topic was the importance of introducing math concepts and ways to best do this by age. Below are a few take-aways for parents from the workshop.

  • Math is much wider than numbers and counting – Of course, it is numbers and counting, but early math also includes sorting, matching, drawing similarities and differences, shapes, weight, time, space, balance, proportion, sequencing and patterns.
  • Introduce math concepts through play – Add measuring cups to your sand or water table. Play “Mother May I” requiring them to ask and count out the specific steps.
  • Include them in your everyday math – This is as small as 1:1 correspondence of counting the napkins when you set the table and as big as keeping a running price tally in the grocery store.
  • Following recipes and cooking together is an easy way – Talk about the sequence of directions and the importance of following each step. Highlight the measurements and temperatures.
  • Carry school concepts to real life – If they are learning about counting money in first grade, start using cash and let them be in charge of paying as you go.
  • Read about it – There are lots of good books below.
  1. Counting Crocodile by Sierra
  2. Henry the Fourth by Murphy
  3. Mouse Count by Walsh
  4. Mouse Shapes by Walsh
  5. Each Orange had 8 Slices by Giganti
  6. Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On by Ehlert
  7. Ten Flashing Fireflies by Sturges
  8. Sorting by Pluckrose
  9. Length by Pluckrose
  10. Double the Ducks by Murphy
  11. Pattern by Pluckrose
  12. 12 Ways to Get to 11 by Merriam
  13. When a Line ends a Shape Begins by Greene
  14. Animals on Board by Murphy
  15. Just Enough Carrots by Murphy
  16. More or Less by Murphy
  17. Size by Pluckrose
  18. The Mission of Addition by Cleary
  19. Subtraction Action by Leedy
  20. Mission: Addition by Leedy
  21. Elevator Magic by Murphy
  22. Tally O’Malley by Murphy
  23. Math for all Seasons by Tang
  24. Math Potatoes by Tang
  25. Math Curse by Scieszka
  26. Math Fables by Tang
  27. The Grapes of Math by Tang
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