It’s never too early to prepare even the youngest children for success in school and life, early childhood educators agree. And learning need not be tedious: various games and activities that incorporate fun into the learning experience can begin when children are still in infancy.
“You can do more active games with little ones and incorporate academics,” explains Carol Reiss, principal of preschool through second grade at Serra Catholic School in Rancho Santa Margarita. “You could play with plastic hockey sticks and a puck and try to make goals illustrating addition and subtraction problems, or jump rope while making up songs and rhymes, which allows children to learn academically while building coordination.”
Reiss instructs her own children to lay out their clothes for each school day on the floor in different poses to ensure they have everything they need. “It teaches them to be organized,” she says. “Always have a morning routine getting ready for school and a nighttime routine getting ready for bed.”
Early childhood experts note that routines of all kinds are important. Regular meal and snack times ensure that children grow up eating on a healthy schedule, notes Janet Deusenberry, preschool director at Holy Family Cathedral School in Orange. “Eat healthy foods yourself as an example for your child,” she recommends.
One important study habit can begin as early as infancy. “Read to your child every day,” Deusenberry advises. “Find books with simple stories and let your child start to think about what he or she sees and hears. Talk about what happens first, next and last in the story.” Later, you and your child can make up characters and act out their roles. “You and your child can ‘be’ anyone!” she says.
It’s important that all children attend preschool, Reiss advises. “It’s important that they see school as a positive,” she says. “Ask them each day to tell you something good that happened that day. Meet their teacher and know their expectations for your child and attend all the events the school offers.”
Some other useful advice to help children succeed academically includes this advice from educators:
- As the radio and TV advertisements advise, read, talk and sing to your children as much as possible from the very beginning. Read stories every night, including stories from a children’s Bible that highlight good morals and values.
- Cultivating good study habits early can be as simple as ensuring your child holds a pencil correctly and has a dedicated place at home to do school work, Reiss says. “Allow your child to be creative and experiment with school tools – glue, scissors, markers – while being supervised and following the rules.”
- Offering kids the chance to play alone and with others encourages independence and creativity.
- Teaching children good manners and social skills, such as saying please and thank you, encourages good citizenship.
- Arranging play dates with classmates at a neutral site helps them get acquainted in territory that encourages sharing.
- Instill good housekeeping habits by letting them help with chores. When they are old enough, they can learn to use a broom, dusting cloth and the washer and dryer.
- Encouraging kids to write letters to their grandparents and thank-you notes for gifts helps them develop good communications skills.
Faith is as important as academics, Reiss says. “As a parent, modeling what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and an active Catholic is always important. Attending Mass as a family, praying regularly and showing devotion underscores the importance of a good spiritual life.”