Play Builds Academic Foundation

Our Preschool Play Program is very play based. Open play is available the whole class time, with group play activities presented throughout. While we don’t focus on academics, we have a firm belief that play provides a strong foundation for later academics. Here are a few ways:

  • Challenges in Play Build a Sense of Industry– The more you can challenge kids to do something faster, build something taller, to problem solve together or think about something in a new way, the more they are having experiences at rising to meet challenges. As children meet challenges, they build an ‘I can do it’ or ‘I can try it’ attitude which is helpful later in the classroom.
  • Pretend Play Builds Representational Thinking– It is a cognitive jump when children start using representation in play. This happens when they use the block as a ‘telephone,’ or the sidewalk as their ‘pool.’ Representational thinking happens most often during pretend play. It lays foundation for later symbol use and academic representation. This means the letter ‘B’ can more easily represent the sound ‘buh,’ and the number 3 can more easily represent three objects.
  • Open Ended Toys Pull for More Flexible Use and Creative Problem Solving – Children playing with basic toys such as blocks, balls, art and craft supplies and dolls tend to use the toys in more flexible ways. Buy toys that do less, so the children will do more. This means, if you are buying a doll, buy the basic one rather than the one that talks or grows hair. When the doll has a given function, children play in a more narrow way; buy open ended. Flexible use of toys often includes more creative problem solving in play.
  • Reading Aloud Daily Helps Build Successful Readers– Reading aloud with children to encourage a love of stories and books is one of the single most important factors in their eventual reading success.
  • Social Problem Solving Practice Benefits Group Work – Much of elementary school work happens in groups. The more practice children have at solving social conflicts the better.

Tips for Starting Kindergarten

The start of Kindergarten is an exciting time! If your child is starting this fall, there are many things you can be doing to get them ready.

  • Preview the school – Spend some time this summer playing on the school’s playground. Visit their website with your child to view pictures and videos. If there is a preview day or back to school night, attend this as a family.
  • Read books about the start of school – This includes Kindergarten Rocks by Davis, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Slate and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
  • Talk about your own positive early school experiences – Parents stories can go a long way towards providing a sense of comfort and excitement. Keep your stories about school upbeat during this time.
  • Get back to your bedtime routines at least a week before – Being well rested helps to provide a smooth start to the school year as a whole and to each school day. It is good to set a firm bedtime and routine for the evening and the morning. It’s best to start this at least a week prior, so it is expected once the year begins.
  • Provide and start using a calendar with them – The start of the school year is a great time to introduce the calendar and mark days off as you go. If you can, start this in Kindergarten with tracking field trips and other special events, it will be easier to use tracking tests and projects as they get into the later elementary grades.
  • Read aloud with them everyday – Reading aloud as a daily activitiy is one of the best ways to build readers. For Kindergarten, it lays foundation for phonemic awareness and builds listening skills.

Kindergarten Readiness

As a follow-up to my Kindergarten Readiness workshop today, I wanted to post a few notes:

  • Kindergarten teachers are not often as stressed as parents about an individual child’s readiness for Kindergarten. From the teacher’s standpoint, there are two main categories, academic readiness and social readiness. Across studies, social readiness ranks higher on teachers’ scales of importance. Social readiness includes things like being able to listen and follow directions, being able to sit still, being able to participate in a group activity and play skills like sharing and turn taking.
  • It may be important to consider the tendency to wait a year of other families in your school district. With some children starting who turn five the day of requirement, and others who bypass that by more than a year, there is a wide age range for children entering the classroom. This increases what was already a wide range of skills.
  • If you are planning to delay the start of Kindergarten for a specific reason, the next step is to start thinking about the best use of that year. If there is a specific concern, see the right people, get the right homework, read the right books. Make a plan to use the time wisely.

This is a topic that could stand further discussion. Please post your related questions in the comment section below.

Types of Preschools: From Our Panel Discussion

I learned so much at our recent panel discussion on types of preschools, and am excited to share this with you. Each year we invite speakers from a variety of area preschools to speak about their philosophy and the importance of their approach. Each also talks a bit about what happens in the typical day of a child at their school. I’ve included a few highlights as well as contact information from the various programs.

Nature Immersion Preschool – Discovery Woods

Think: education through nature. If you have an appreciation for the outdoors, Discovery Woods provides a perfect environment for children to learn literacy, math, social studies and science through an outdoor curriculum. Their indoor program provides inquiry based learning with teacher-child negotiated projects while their outdoor program encourages a deep study of the local environment. An overall goal is to build early learning habits and dispositions to create a life-long learner.

Laura Champe Mitchell, Parent and Office Coordinator

Vienna, near Wolf trap

Play Based Preschool – Country Day School

This school provides a play-based program that nurtures the the whole child and looks at individual progress. Over the preschool years they introduce academics in engaging, play-based ways. There is a strong focus on daily life and social skills. I am partial to Country Day, I enjoyed being a teacher and then a a parent there.

Wendy Jones, Parent Educator

6418 Georgetown Pike in McLean 22101, 703-356-4282

Cooperative Preschool – Sleepy Hollow Cooperative Preschool

Sleepy Hollow is a cooperative preschool that has a parent run board and parents working in the classrooms to support the classroom teachers. The focus for two year olds is is to help them find a sense of security in their first experience away from home. The threes and fours enjoy a child-interest driven curriculum. Added benefits of cooperative preschools often include a community of like minded parents and a chance to make lasting friendships as parents spend so much time working together.

Mary DePippo, Parent

7610 Newcastle Drive in Annandale 22003, 703-941-9791

Montessori Preschool – Brooksfield Montessori

Montessori is known for providing rich work materials that support math, language, practical life and sensorial development during independent time. Children work and meet challenges at their own pace. Brooksfield provides this classic montessori experience and adds imaginative play, creative dance and spanish.

Mary Anne Duffus, Founder

1830 Kirby Road in McLean 22101, 703-356-5437

Reggio Emilia Preschool – Beverly Hills Church Preschool

In a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool, teachers are trained to watch, listen and learn from children to build the cirriculum around the class interests and strengths. Teachers help children to fully explore and expand on their ideas through a project centered approach. Children are also encouraged to work together to enrich the group and individual learning process. There is also a strong focus on open ended art.

Kelley Organek, Director

3512 Old Dominion Blvd. in Alexandria 22305, 703-549-7441

Waldorf Preschool – Potomac Crescent Waldorf School

Waldorf is known for their open-ended all natural materials. They are focused on building a child’s imagination and creativity while laying strong foundation for later academic challenges in the preschool years. The experiential approach builds an intrinsically motivated learner.

Alice Trembour, Teacher and Director

923 South 23rd Street in Arlington 22202


High Scope Preschool – Columbia Baptist Preschool

Columbia Baptist is newly becoming a High Scope program. High Scope strives for hands-on teacher and child initiated activities across five areas including literacy, social and emotional development, physical development, arts and sciences. Teachers observe children across experiences and note their progress through Child Observation Records. The program provides an exciting learning environment to challenge the individual child. in Falls Church

Hosted by – Parenting Playgroups

Our own Preschool Play is a small, play based program open to children two to four years old. Children participate in open play in the preschool classroom, two art projects, a sing-along, movement game, snack and story time each day.

Rene Hackney, PhD.

Falls Church and Alexandria, 703-237-0733 or 703-922-0044

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

Parent Tips from Teachers

This time of year, I provide a lot of teacher trainings at area preschools and grade schools. I have been listening the last two weeks and wanted to share some tips from these teachers for parents as we all start the school year.

  • Know the school’s policies – This means, read the handbook. If you have follow-up questions, please ask. This can often save time and frustration for all. The more everyone knows the plan and is on board the better.
  • Offer to help when you can – If you have some free time, even after school hours, your offer to help is always appreciated and often accepted. There are so many ways teachers can put you to work from cutting art supplies at home, to organizing a craft cabinet, to reading at story time or helping in the lunchroom.
  • Be on time – Teachers often have set activities during the drop-off window. It tends to ease separations if children arrive to the same activity each day. Children who arrive late may also miss valuable information and have a harder time completing morning work.
  • Let teachers know if there are changes at home or other concerns – It can be very helpful for teachers to be aware of changes and stressors like a move, lost job or significant illness in the family. This can help explain changes in behavior or participation. It is also helpful if teachers are made aware of issues such as frequent aggression or learning difficulties.
  • Plan playdates with all the kids in the class at least once (ok, this one is mine) – The idea is to have a bit of time to connect with each classmate at some point during the year.  This can go a long way towards helping your child socially by making everyone a familiar face and someone they can sit with or ask to play.

Parent Participation in School

Something to keep in mind as the school year starts is the importance of being involved. Overall, you want to provide your child with a sense of a home-school connection. This means the child grows up feeling that my school values my parents and my parents appreciate my school.

At the school, this can happen in big ways like being a room-parent, helping plan class parties or volunteering time in the classroom. This can happen in smaller ways, by sending in the party supplies, keeping up with the weekly schedule and having open conversation about their daily experiences or attending extra curricular activities.

At home, this can include checking homework and helping them study, reading aloud daily and taking outings or finding websites related to what they are learning about in school. This can be as easy as telling them what you like about their school or teacher.

Children who grow up with this home-school connection from parent involvement tend to have better test scores and higher graduation rates. They tend to particpate more in the classroom and report greater enjoyment in school.

>Learn Thru Play

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

Our four year-old is scheduled to start Kindergarten in the fall of 2008. We want her to be ready. Should we encourage her to “learn through play” or introduce academics?

Rina, Mother of one
Four years-old

Dear Rina,

You can and should be doing both. The idea of “learning through play” is the most appropriate approach to teaching young children prior to school entry. This approach is likely to capture their interest and keep them involved in the learning process. Unfortunately though, many parents assume this means just letting their children go play and, as a result, their children will learn what they need for later school success. By all means, learning through play should be more structured and incorporate academic ideas.

In the years before Kindergarten, learning through play might include activities to teach the alphabet shapes and sounds. The focus is just on keeping the process fun. You can name a ‘Letter of the Week.’ It’s often best to start with the first letter of your child’s name, and then, plan lots of fun activities around that letter. For example, if your child’s name begins with the letter “A” you could have an A-hunt in the grocery store, finding all the upper and/or lower case letters you can. You could make a jar collection of all the small things you can find that start with that letter. You could plan an A-meal day, offering at least one food that starts with A at each meal. You can trace, cut and paint the letter. Then pick another letter the next week.

I would not expect many four year-olds to want to sit and listen to how to write a letter and then repeatedly practice in the same way. Likely, they would be bored or easily frustrated by this approach, and you are sure to lose them before you are half-way through the alphabet. This is the same with the rote use of flashcards or over-reliance on workbook pages.

Teaching numbers and early math concepts can be equally successful using the more playful approach. You can count fun things; then, write the number next to the fun things you just counted. You can introduce money and count change together. You can teach one to one correspondence through setting the table or matching pairs of socks. It is helpful to remember that math is far more than numbers at this young age. Preschool math concepts also include measuring time, space and weight, sorting, categorizing, grouping, seeing and creating patterns, recognizing shapes and matching.

And relax! Most children are more than ready for Kindergarten. Our public schools open their doors to children with a very wide range of life experience and academic learning. On the first day of school, there will be a few Kindergarteners who are just learning their letters and a few others who can already read independently, but most of the children will fall somewhere in between. Of course, the more ready they are the better, but keep it fun. The learning through play approach helps insure that children will be interested in the learning process far past their year in Kindergarten.

Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parneting Playgroups, Inc.