Your child’s first years of school are filled with many wondrous moments. It’s a time of tremendous social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development, and it can come and go before you know it. The skills learned at this stage — knowing what sounds the letter A makes or adding 2 + 2 — may seem simple but they will set your child up for a lifetime of learning. Pre-K may look like all fun and games (music, storytime, dancing, art) but there’s an intense amount of brainwork going on.
Young children learn through play and creative activity, so your preschooler’s building blocks and train tracks aren’t just entertaining; they’re teaching problem solving and physics. Preschool is also a time for developing good learning habits and positive self-esteem. “If they feel good about themselves and know how to feel proud even if they make a mistake, everything else will fall into place,” says Josie Meade, a teacher at the Creative Kids preschool in Manhattan Beach, California. Cheer your child’s successes at this stage but also allow her to fail, Meade says. “Allow children to fall down and make mistakes and feel that it’s okay. They move on and learn from it for the next time.” Here are the important learning milestones children will typically achieve in preschool, with tips for helping your child stay on track at home.
Letters and Sounds
At School: Kids will learn to recognize and name all 26 uppercase letters and some lowercase letters (lowercase letters are harder to learn at this age). They will recognize their own first name and be able to print it, along with other letters and meaningful words like Mom, Dad, and love. Preschool children will also develop a connection between letters and sounds and know some of the sounds that letters make.
At Home: Reinforce letter-learning by having your child play with letter refrigerator magnets. Sing the “ABC song” together and look at the beginning sounds of words in your everyday lives. “Show them on a Cheerios box that ‘Cheerios’ has a Ch in front,” Meade suggests. “When you go to Target tell them, ‘Target starts with T.’ They’ll recognize this the next time they go.” When you’re cooking together, teach your child what the letters on recipes mean. “The children are learning but it’s also fun, because they’re cooking with their parents,” Meade says.
A love of language, reading, and books starts early, and it starts at home, so encourage this by talking with your child and reading to him regularly. “One of the most amazing things parents can do is read to their children every day,” Meade says. Even 10 minutes each night makes a difference; make it a warm, cozy experience by looking at pictures together, pointing out words, and talking about what’s happening in the book. Ask questions (“What is this?” “What is she doing?”) and discuss your child’s observations and thoughts. Songs, nursery rhymes, and tongue twisters also teach your child about how sounds work and get plenty of giggles.