Helping Your Four Year Old Excel in their Preschool Classroom
By Shayna Schroeder, Director of Curriculum, First School
There are certain things parents of four year olds can do at home and on errands that will help them easily grasp concepts introduced in their preschool classrooms.
When making projects at home, for example, ask how many bows they are adding, or when drawing a person, ask does the person have everything they should? Does the drawing have 2 eyes, nose, mouth, 2 ears, etc. Drawing a complete body with arms, legs, feet, hands and facial features is something they look for in Kindergarten.
When out and about driving, have your preschooler look out the window and look for letters. The letters could be on signs, storefronts, in the vehicle, etc. Have them tell you the letter. This is a great use of environmental print. When you are grocery shopping, have them listen to your instructions and have them help. “Could you go get a bunch of bananas, please?” Then work on adding more directions. You are working on following 2 to 3 step directions.
In my four year old preschool classroom, a typical curriculum might follow working on recognizing the first letter of classmates’ first names. Working on recognizing the letter mixed in with other letters, letter sounds, writing the letter and being able to find the
letter around the classroom are very age appropriate lessons. An example of this is when we read a book we talk about the letters in the title. We point out the different letters in the month and the days of the week. When we write words on the chalkboard we talk about the sound and the letter. We also work on lots of shapes including basic shapes and even pentagons and octagons. We have worked on numbers 1-10. By the end of the year I want the students to understand 1 – 20 concretely and to be able to count on from 20.
When at home and also when driving around, it should be easy to have your preschooler point out numbers and shapes and letters. This is a very fun and easy way to help them grasp these concepts and will set them up to be engaged, creative, life-long learners.
I don’t know what it is about the holidays but I get all giddy about traditions. My family has many traditions but one specifically that I love. It’s a tradition passed down from my in-laws. When my husband was born they bought him an ornament and then every year after that he would get an ornament to represent something from the year. We have little booties, a car, a briefcase, a Santa lifting weights and many more random things on our tree. When my son was born on December 1st , 14 years ago I knew we would start this tradition. Every year on Christmas Eve my kids get an ornament representing something special about their year and a pair of Christmas jammies. I have many, many pictures of my little loves with their ornaments and their Christmas jammies in front of my tree. We have world globes, Mickey and Minnie, musical instruments, a little potty, shoes, black belts and many more. I love my tree of randomness and it’s so fun to get them out each year and remember why we bought it.
What are some of your favorite family traditions?
This One is for the Mamas!
I watched a video this morning about a young man, 7th grade, who had been going through some deep struggles. He suffered the loss of someone very special to him when he was in 3rd grade; he was teased when he was in 4th grade for not being like the other boys who played sports, and a few other things. This all resulted in a downward spiral of emotion and physiological trouble. He made a pretty severe threat at his school which resulted in an arrest during his 5th grade year and time in Juvenile Detention. This all sounds very rough not only for the child but from a parent’s perspective as well. I don’t want you to focus on all the bad though…this young man said one thing that really stuck out to me. He said, “During this time, my mom would write me notes. When I was really down I would read one.”
Did you catch that? His MOM. She was his biggest cheerleader.
Mamas… I know there are days that are hard. Kids throwing a temper tantrum in a store, or upset because you didn’t make macaroni and cheese again for dinner, or fighting you on going to bed. Whatever the struggle or hardship that you are facing today or this week remember, you are your child’s biggest cheerleader. They need you rooting them on in the midst of their melt-down. They need you cheering for them when you really just want to pull your hair out.
The work you put into your children and family each day is important work and they know it. Even if they don’t yet, they will.
TEACHING HANDWRITING AT PRESCHOOL AND AT HOME
(From our PROCARE software program. We thought a reprint of this blog would be interesting to our current and future families).
Handwriting is a necessary skill, even as technology continues to advance. Modern students are as likely to complete school work on a computer or tablet as a piece of paper. This trend will continue to grow in the coming years.
Still, handwriting is important for a number of reasons:
- Handwriting Improves Academic Performance: Studies show that students who learn handwriting skills at a young age achieve higher reading and spelling scores.
- Handwriting Enhances a Child’s Ability to Focus: Handwriting is difficult at first and requires a child’s full attention, forcing them to develop focus. Once they learn this valuable skill, they can shift their focus to conveying their thoughts via words.
- Handwriting Increases Critical Thinking Skills: The ability to think critically is one of the most important skills you can have. Without it, children won’t be able to make important decisions when they grow up. Handwriting hones critical thinking skills because writers have to think deeply to write coherently and prove their points.
- Handwriting is a Practical Life Skill: We don’t write things by hand as often as we used to. Still, handwriting is needed to write checks, sign documents, take notes and accomplish a wide variety of other tasks on a daily basis.
Handwriting is important. The question is, how do you teach it effectively at your preschool? We have some ideas!
Four Tips to Teach Handwriting at Your Preschool
You know you can’t just give your preschool students a pencil and a piece of paper and tell them to go for it. educate them so that they learn proper handwriting.
1. Help Kids Strengthen Their Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are activities in which you use the small muscles in your hands and wrists to make precise movements. They’re different from gross motor skills like running and jumping, according to WebMD.
Activities you need fine motor skills to complete include tying one’s shoelaces, buttoning and unbuttoning one’s clothes, dialing a phone number, plugging a cord into a wall socket, putting keys into locks and turning door knobs.
Fine motor skills are also required when learning to write. Without well-developed hand muscles, children won’t be able to grip their pencils and maneuver them to create letters.
With that in mind, here are a few ways you can help kids strengthen their fine motor skills:
- Play With Play-Doh: The act of squeezing, stretching, pinching and sculpting Play-Doh will help your kids develop the muscles in their hands.
- Paint Pictures: Finger painting is a fun activity that gives kids the chance to get creative and develop manual dexterity. Painting with a brush will teach kids to control a tool, much like they’ll have to do when they write with a pencil.
- Take Kids to the Garden: Gardening requires both fine and gross motor skills. Activities such as digging with small trowels and planting seeds help develop the former, while also giving kids the opportunity to experience nature.
2. Understand Handwriting Development
Handwriting is a skill that’s developed over time. As such, it’s important to understand the various stages of handwriting so that you can help your kids through them.
Stage 1: Pre-Literacy
The first stage is known as the “preliterate” stage and usually happens before a child turns 2 years old. This is when children first start scribbling, typically with crayons, on blank pieces of paper and cardboard.. At this stage, simply make writing materials available and encourage young children to write and/scribble as often as possible.
Stage 2: Emergence
The second stage is known as the “emergent” stage and usually happens between the ages of 2 and 4. This is when toddlers begin writing random letters on pieces of paper. They might not understand what the letters mean, but they know that each letter means something. At this stage, teach toddlers how to write basic words to show them that letters have meaning. We also suggest reading out loud to your toddlers on a regular basis.
Stage 3: Transitioning
The third stage is known as the “transitional” stage and usually happens between the ages of 4 and 7. This is when kids begin to understand that every word is made up of sounds, and each letter represents a specific sound or two. As such, they’ll start trying to match the sounds they hear to the letters they know. At this stage, encourage your kids to write as often as possible — even if their spelling is hard to decipher. This is normal.
Stage 4: Fluency
The fourth stage is known as the “fluent” stage and usually happens when a child turns 5 or 6. This is when kids start to understand proper spelling and begin memorizing how certain words are spelled. Encourage your kids to write frequently at this stage.
3. Teach the Four Elements of Good Handwriting
Our next tip is to educate the kids in your preschool about the four elements of good handwriting: pencil grasp, formation, legibility and pacing. Let’s take a closer look at each:
Pencil grasp refers to the way a child holds his or her pencil.
Teach kids to use their index fingers and thumbs to hold their pencils against their middle fingers, as this has been proven to be the most effective pencil grasp technique.
If any of your kids have difficulty grasping their pencils in this way, consider giving them a pencil grip. This tool will help them grip their pencils in the manner outlined above, improving comfort and preventing hand fatigue while writing.
Formation refers to the way a child forms letters.
Since straight lines are easier to create than curved ones, we suggest teaching your kids to write capital letters before you teach them to write lower-case ones.
Also, be sure to teach kids the different sounds each letter makes while you show them how to draw each letter. This will help them connect sounds to shapes and learn to spell.
Legibility refers to the readability of a child’s handwriting.
One of the easiest ways to improve handwriting legibility is to ensure there is enough space between words. This is why many teachers instruct kids to leave one finger space between every word they write. (Note: this technique doesn’t work well for left-handed students.)
We also suggest paying attention to letter size and slant when you teach handwriting, as these things can greatly affect legibility as well.
Pacing refers to the speed at which a child writes.
As long as your kids grasp their pencils correctly and learn proper letter formation, improved pacing should develop naturally. But if a child becomes discouraged by their lack of writing speed, evaluate how hard they press their pencils to the paper when writing.
Pressing too hard can result in poor pacing, as well as increased hand fatigue. Ask your kids to write with multiple materials, such as pencils, markers and chalk. Doing so will help them assess their press and learn to adjust when necessary.
4. Get Creative When You Teach Handwriting
Finally, move beyond the pencil and paper when you teach handwriting — especially when working with young kids who don’t have well-developed fine motor skills yet.
What do we mean by this? Set up a finger painting station and ask your kids to form letters with their fingers. During cold months, ask kids to use their fingers to write letters in the condensation on your center’s windows. Give them access to your chalk or whiteboard.
Sometimes it’s easier for kids to write when they aren’t restricted to using a pencil and a piece of paper. So get creative and allow your kids to use alternative tools and surfaces.