Children don't have to enter pre-K as readers to be successful.
"We are ready for them exactly how they come to us," said Michele Sherman, the director of Student Learning for pre-K through fifth grades for the Columbia County Board of Education.
That first year of school is designed as a child-friendly introduction to instruction aimed at preparing children socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively to face the more structured kindergarten curriculum.
However, parents can help make pre-K or preschool a fun and productive year for their children.
Reading to children is important to develop vocabulary, which is the model for writing. Children entering school with larger vocabularies typically do better, Sherman said.
Parents should urge children to explore their environment and take the time to talk with them about it and answer their questions, said Shelby Geist, a pre-K teacher at Belair Elementary.
"Another thing that I encourage my parents to do is to talk with children and use their environment to increase their vocabulary," Geist said, suggesting that parents let children help find the yellow cereal box or aisle 10 in the grocery store. "Put those DVD players away in the car and talk about what they see -- the big trucks or the cereal in the grocery aisle. ... Really involve them in everyday parts of your life."
Parents should also help create a sense of independence by allowing children to make simple choices such as what they'd like to wear to school or have for lunch, she said.
Sherman said play dates help prepare children socially by teaching them how to play with peers, which some children struggle with in pre-K.
"(Board games) are really good ways that kids can learn to take turns and learn to share within their house," Sherman said.
Any kind of creative activities, including coloring, cutting and drawing, promote the development of fine motor skills.
Routine and responsibility, such as picking up toys after playtime, cleaning up after activities and taking care of materials, is an important pre-K lesson. Any way to incorporate routine into daily activities will help the children adjust to pre-K, Sherman said.
Geist said one of the more important ways to help children prepare for and adjust to pre-k or preschool is to talk about it positively. This avoids transferring any of the parents' apprehension to the child.
"If they speak more positively about what they are going to do and about the routine and 'I'm going to be back to pick you up at 3 p.m.,' and 'You're going to get to play with your friends and sing songs,' " Geist said, "it takes away the apprehension for our little ones."
Because pre-K requires an adjustment period for children, Sherman said to understand that the goal of pre-K is to provide a child friendly school environment for them to develop.
Sherman said children will learn letters and numbers naturally. But the goal is to provide a child-friendly experience with school that provides the hook for learning, "so that kids get excited about what they are going to learn in kindergarten."
Geist said pre-K is a time when mistakes are OK and one in which children can get messy and have fun exploring their environment and learning.
"I would say pre-K works on the whole child," Geist said. "
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