If you’re asking the question, “How should I prepare my toddler or preschooler for school?” here’s a tidbit of information you’ll want to know:
The age between 2 to 7 years is the first of two significant intervals for brain development in children (the other is adolescence). At the start of both phases, brain connections (synapses) double in frequency. Synapses are where learning occurs and twice the number means faster learning with a lasting effect on a growing child.
So reframe that question: "How can I maximize my child’s potential during these critical years?" Swap a concentration on skills for school with a holistic approach to education. Focusing on a love of learning is key. Encourage a growth mindset and cultivate emotional awareness by narrating daily life. Emphasize breadth of learning instead of depth; content knowledge is a more valuable primer for reading than reading mechanics. Talk and play together often, allow your child to be the leader, and during quiet times let your child choose the activity.
Nurture a love of learning
Be enthusiastic about the pleasure derived from trying something new and different, regardless of the outcome. Stay away from performance-related pressure. When offering words of encouragement, compliment the effort rather than using labels or comparisons such as “You’re so smart”.
Build a growth mindset
A growth mindset is a mentality that abilities are developed, not innate. Support a child to be comfortable with learning where patience, determination, making mistakes, and resilience are all part of the process.
Foster emotional intelligence
Help your child develop empathy, kindness, and cooperation. The first step is to be able to identify emotions. Reading stories together provides opportunities to pause and ask questions that prompt a child to think about how others may be feeling. Inviting kids to lend a hand with chores around the house gives a sense of contributing to the family unit, raises self-esteem, and teaches them to be considerate of other people.
Introduce breadth of experience
Open up windows to the world instead of drilling deep into tunnels of information. Exposing a child to a variety of activities taps into the capacity for 2 to 7 year-old brains to soak up a broad range of knowledge. If your child demonstrates acuity in a particular area, continue to strengthen curiosity for new activities and ideas as well. Individuals who hone abilities across disciplines are more apt to be creative and abstract thinkers, and flourish in today’s society.
Talk it up
A home environment rich in language – talking, singing, and reading - throughout a child’s day will produce big effects on early words and combining them into phrases and sentences, on reading, math skills, and social-emotional development. In addition, ages 2 to 7 is prime time to learn a second language. After age 8, gains in learning proficiency and spoken language will decrease. This same is also true for musical abilities.
This is simple to do and more effective than expensive toys and devices. Here’s a few pointers:
• Listen to what your child says, is doing, looking at, or pointing to and use these moments to take turns talking (or communicating in nonverbal ways).
• Ask questions relating to a child’s interests or experiences.
• Add words or questions to what a child says or does and model new language.
• Give a child enough time to respond, with either words or a nonverbal response, like a gesture or a look.
• Observe facial and body expressions to make sure they are engaged.
Encourage child-directed play
Inspire a child’s curiosity to learn new things and work through problems when you play together. Allow a child to take the lead in setting up the rules will extend imagination, communication and independent thinking. Storytime as well as screen time can be made interactive by asking questions and adding commentary to the content.
Ages 2 to 7 is the stage when a child’s ability to learn is their superpower. Be mindful to have fun and enjoy watching your child develop in leaps and bounds during these important years, without adding parental pressure to reach certain expectations. Creating a love of learning is the best gift you could give!
Cummins, Eleanor. (2017, December 1). Your 2-year-old is full of potential. Here’s how to develop it, opens a new window. Hechinger Report [educational news website]
Sriram, Rishi. (2020, June 24). Why ages 2-7 matter so much for brain development, opens a new window. Edutopia [nonprofit education website]
U. S. Department of Education. (2020). Talk, Read, and Sing Together Every Day!, opens a new window Early Learning documents [government website]
Photo credit: ELF City Terrace Branch Library, East Los Angeles, July 2007