Nursery School Column: Ah, September! The New School Year Begins

By Carly Adames

Carly Adames

Ah, September! The new school year begins. Children who are three and four years old enter preschool – the days when they will learn their numbers, letters, colors, shapes, how to write their name –all the skills necessary for them to acquire to be ready for kindergarten!

Many families have the tendency to measure their child’s school readiness based on the child’s ability to master these academic skills. However, are these really the skills that determine whether or not a child is “ready” for kindergarten?

Research demonstrates that a strong foundation of socioemotional skills developed at an early age will guide your child’s ability to academically succeed in school throughout their education. In a study conducted by John Hopkins University in collaboration with the Baltimore Education Research Consortium, research suggested that socioemotional skills are significantly associated with children’s academic success and productivity in the classroom. In tracking the children over time, it turns out that by fourth grade, children who significantly lacked socioemotional skills entering kindergarten were up to 80% more likely to have been retained in a grade, up to 80% more likely to require additional support services, and up to seven times more likely to be suspended or expelled at least once. In summary – although a child may very well be bright, if he/she greatly lacks basic socioemotional skills, their academic learning, in turn, will suffer the consequences. 

These are surprising findings indeed. Why is socioemotional development so critical? Self-regulation, resilience, coping with mistakes or failures, being able to walk in a line, the ability to calm oneself down, being able to take turns, managing emotions, the aptitude to get along with peers and adults in a class, the ability to attend and complete to a task (attention span), or cooperating in a group are examples of skills that are necessary in order for effective learning to take place in the present and future. As they develop resilience, they will be able to persevere during the strenuous preparation for the SAT’s. As they develop coping skills when they are not always able to get their way, they will be able to cope with many mistakes and failures they encounter on life’s journey and be able to pick themselves back up with determination.

When enrolling a child into our preschool program, I often hear families share seeming indications of their child’s skills and abilities – “My child knows all their ABC’s, knows how to count to ten, can write his/her name, and knows all the shapes and colors!” I can’t recall a time when I heard a parent/guardian shared, “My child knows how to clean up after him/herself after a meal. My child knows how to share with other children with an adult’s facilitation. My child can focus and attend to an activity for about ten minutes before moving onto another activity and generally follows directions. My child can express when they are frustrated or angry instead of being physically aggressive.”

Most families desire for their children to develop such skills and believe in preschool, he/she will acquire them. However, the foundation and basis for these skills lies at home before school even begins and initially rests with the family. While these important concepts are taught during preschool, if they are not practiced and reinforced at home, the child will continue to struggle with developing a solid foundation.

Then, how can parents effectively prepare their child for kindergarten? Of course, it by no means implies that numbers, letters, shapes, and colors are insignificant for learning. They are important academic skills. However, these academic skills tend to be the focus and main indicators of “school readiness” and determining academic success. 

Teaching academic skills can be easy. Teaching socioemotional skills can be rather difficult. It is important invest the time into developing these skills with your child. It is okay to allow your child to struggle while learning to dress him/herself instead of doing it for them. Through this simple task, he/she can learn perseverance and determination. It does – however – require the patience of the parent to allow the child the time to complete the task, instead of dressing them because it is quicker and easier. Don’t always let your child “go first” or win at games but take opportunities to also “go first” and win. Then, learning to cope with failures and mistakes or taking turns with peers will prove to be a much easier adjustment when they begin school. Give your child opportunities to develop patience instead of providing instant gratification. Instead of handing your child your cellphone or tablet to fiddle with as a distraction when he/she continues to interrupt your conversation with another adult, teach your child how to say “excuse me” and to wait patiently, for a brief time, to speak until you address him/her. On the contrary, if a child’s demand is instantly and consistently fulfilled, their lack of patience and inability to wait for small periods of time will be reinforced.  Teaching these skills to your child is definitely taking the difficult and lengthy path rather than the easy path – but it will prove to be the best path in the long run for your child’s academic success and personal wellbeing.

Carly Adames is the Director of Educational Programs at the YMCA of Greenwich Early Learning Center, which provides quality early care and education for infants, toddlers and preschoolers as well as educational after school programs for school-age children. Carly has over fifteen years’ experience in the education field as an early childhood educator and director.