My son is reaching a point where he isn't just old enough for preschool, he's anxious to go. We've read books about school and talked about school and have used starting school as potty training motivation, all contributing to a really strong desire to be able to go already.
All of his school-like experiences so far have been loaded with fun and learning. He attends a weekly reading circle at the local library, takes music classes (a Christmas gift from generous grandparents), and goes to a week-long day camp during the summer. The idea that he could see friends everyday-- not just on Wednesdays or during a short week in July- seems too much excitement to handle.
He's not just anxious for fun and friends, however. He's ever-eager to learn, though I'm not always so quick to notice. For a short stretch, he would point to the clock and stoutly declare a made-up time. "It's three o'clock!" he would announce around 7:15. There were several days of these incorrect announcements before it occurred to me that perhaps he'd like to learn how to tell time. I asked, "Would you like to know how to read the clock?" and he nodded emphatically, "Yes!" So far, we've only learned the hour hand (minutes are very complicated, I only realized mid explanation), but now I can ask, "What time does the short hand say?" and get a general approximation of the time of day.
Since then, I've tried to become more aware of how he expresses interest in learning. I'm still not excellent at picking up on subtle cues, so I try to work specific little learning moments into our day.
- Adding: By three years old, he already knows how to count. I use that skill to practice a new one, asking questions such as, "I'm eating two strawberries and you're eating two strawberries. How many strawberries are we both eating together?" Even when he counts all four strawberries to reach his conclusion, he's learning how numbers work together.
- Recognizing numbers: We also use numbers in other ways throughout the day. They rarely are simple in grown up contexts, so we practice recognizing what numbers look like and mean on the clock, on a measuring cup, on a price sign in the grocery store.
- Sounding out words: He also knows his alphabet by now, so we can use that knowledge to figure out how words sound. Rather than make it complicated, right now I emphasize beginning sounds. I'll ask him to bring me the book that says, "Hemingway" on the cover and though he clearly cannot yet read such a word, he's able to choose the book that starts with an "H" sound.
- Recognizing colors and shapes: Like numbers, colors and shapes can be more complex in practice than they are in picture books. Colors have all sorts of varying shades in the natural world, and shapes are just a bit more difficult to identify when not clearly outlined in bold. For practice, we'll play a sort of "I Spy" where I ask him to find things that are a specific color or shape. I'm hoping to use that game, too, to introduce the idea of rhyming words.
- Practicing writing: Whenever I sit down with a pen in hand, he grabs a crayon and mimics my motions. Much like reading the clock, it took just a few times before I realized he really wanted to write! There are few opportunities for him to write- I have him sign his name at the bottom of greeting cards, but that's really about it. So, I try to set aside dedicated time in the day to help him trace letters I've written, or carefully write his name with my hand helping to steady the pen.
I'm sure there's much more I could be doing to help my son develop skills to carry into preschool. For now, I'm content to make sure that he's excited by the idea of learning new things, and to help involve him in understanding the world around him.
Liz Moorhead is an English teacher-turned-writer and illustrator. She paints stationery, writes for a top wedding site, and blogs at Happy Sighs between walks to the park with her two boys.