Water Garden at TLC Learning Center

Water garden. (Photo courtesy: TLC Learning Center).

Make a Splash Setting Up for School

Outdoor learning at Ziji Elementary

Learning happens everywhere. (Photo courtesy: Ziji Elementary).

Summer solstice has passed, and you know that means: it’s nearly time look out for back-to-school supply lists and promotions. There’s also plenty of time to bask in the carefree swell of the season — while helping your child prepare for the upcoming scholastic adventures ahead.

For young children and their families, approaching the start of preschool and Kindergarten years can be as nerve wracking as exciting. As August nears, parents may find themselves wondering — and worrying — about how their child will cope with new routines ahead. In the face of these emotions, rest assured, not only can you count on your children’s educational team to support their unique styles, there is also a lot you can do between now and the first day of school to help set them up for a strong, comfortable transition and year. The best part is, you’ve probably been doing so all along. Here are top tips from local experts to guide, inspire, and reassure you.

Expose children to different environments with unique expectations
“Parents are a child’s best first teacher, and summer is a great time for our youngest students to start to prepare for preschool and Kindergarten,” says Katie Gustafson, Executive Principal at Flagstaff Academy in Longmont. “Families often have more opportunities to be part of different communities, and can encourage children to notice the different environments they are in. When we are at the library, what volume should our voices have? When we visit the slide at a pool or park, how do we know when it’s our turn?”

Remember what ‘readiness’ means
“Elementary school is so much about how to ‘do school’,” says Amy French-Troy, K-12 Educator, librarian, and current Development and Communications Coordinator at Longmont’s TLC Learning Center. “Readiness is supporting children in getting to the point where they’re ready to take that on. Facilitating, enjoying, and supporting opportunities to follow steps and procedures, work positively with peers, navigate tricky social situations — supporting your child in these areas helps them focus on learning once they get to school.”

Butterfly Garden at TLC Learning Center

Butterfly garden. (Photo courtesy: TLC Learning Center).

Allow for struggle
“Resist the urge to hurry processes up,” says Megan Flaherty, one of two Teaching Directors at Ziji Elementary, Boulder. It’s only natural for parents to feel overly panicked when it comes to their kids, Flaherty says. Instead, she advises them to trust that things will unfold naturally in their own way, and make time and space for that. “Remember, it’s ok for children to struggle,” Flaherty says. “Instead of stepping in when a button is tricky, we can break tasks down into steps and foster independence while explaining how things are done. Then again, sometimes you just have to get out the door, and that’s OK, too.”

Notice the nature of “teachable moments” Learning happens everywhere. Simply noticing them can be the best eye-opener, for you and your children. Your daily routines are far more “academic” than you may realize. For instance:

Cooking together involves number sense, following directions, breaking tasks down into steps, and framing story structures of first/next/then.

Sorting and organizing, from the laundry to children’s rooms, is a natural part of math, reading, and writing. “Provide vocabulary when opportunities arise,” says Shela Blankenship, Early Childhood Coordinator for St. Vrain Valley School District. “Ask for particular amounts of items, at the table or when playing.”

Painting, drawing, using scissors, and generally exploring artistic and writing tools develop fine motor skills. “Knitting, too” says Flaherty, who suggests colored pencils over thicker markers. “All that dexterity that comes with knitting is fantastic.”

Grocery shopping together involves print awareness, paying attention to labels, preparing and checking off lists, visual literacy, and beginning executive functioning skills.

Healthy habits make for healthy growth and development. “Using a variety of activities to keep your child active will help them build a love for healthy habits, beneficial for their overall growth and development, physically and emotionally,” says Elizabeth Arneson, Director of Kohl Street Kids Preschool and BASE program, Broomfield. “Whatever they like to do to stay active is great. Plus, building these healthy habits young will make it easier for them to keep them as they grow.”

And, it goes without saying, reading together is one of the most meaningful activities you can share.

“Reading for as little as 20 minutes a day is a great bonding experience, and boosts many areas of learning and development,” says Arneson.

Let them guide you “Drawing on the interests of your child and sharing excitement brings energy to draw children into learning,” says Blankinship. “Hands-on learning allows for exploration and problem solving.”

Don’t overthink it. Have fun!
“Children learn because that’s the way nature designed them, and they learn most efficiently through play,” says Amy May, Executive Leader, Owner, and Parent at Treehouse Learning, Lafayette. “[At Treehouse Learning]we follow the research-supported wisdom of Mr. Rogers, that play is the most important work of young children. Play includes infinite possibilities for movement, music, outdoor time, make-believe, big-body play, intentionally guided play versus child-led, group or individual play, or free versus structured play. Play is effective in leading to what we consider “learning readiness” when it involves as many of the five senses and the physical bodies of children, through movement, as much as possible.”

By Wendy McMillan for Raised in the Rockies