This week I teamed up with entrepreneur and mother - Monique Samitis. We delve into a Q&A about preparing our children for preschool.
Now before we proceed I must say to all those reading, that I am by no means a qualified ‘Educator’. However, what I do have is a little experience and passion to see children develop.
1. What age did you start to teach Zachariah numbers, colours and the alphabet?
Now, this is an interesting question. I have a deep held notion that children are receptive to information before they are born. So because I hold this belief, believe it or not, I started teaching my son letters by the time he was 3 or 4 months old.
It was by simple things such as flash cards and sing-along nursery rhymes; these were some of the activities I was doing practically. However, to be honest, letters, colours and numbers have always been a part of our everyday communication. I would speak about all of these subjects on a daily basis, just by way of conversation about his toys, games, TV programmes and our surroundings etc.
2. How did you incorporate play into learning numbers, colours and the alphabet?
For me, helping my son to learn is a lifestyle, so we could be out on a walk to the park and play a game of ‘name the colour of that car’. I would ask my son to tell me the colour of the cars he would see and this would progress onto, ‘name the car model.’
During these times he would be having fun either running around, riding his Scuttlebug or balance bike. So the learning is incorporated into everyday life and play.
Similarly, we could be counting birds, or police cars etc. Anything that comes our way is an opportunity for conversation and development.
I remember buying these foam letters and numbers, which would stick onto a wet bath. So learning them became a fun bath time activity and Zachariah would always want these letters and/or numbers in the bath, whilst he splashed around. I would say, ‘Can you grab me the letter ‘Z’, for example, and before his first birthday, he was able to identify all the letters of the alphabet.
3. How did you build now on Zachariah’s prior knowledge from what he has learnt in the past?
I like this question because it reminds me so much of my son’s excellent memory and how this has been encouraged. So—I would ask Zachariah something like, ‘Do you remember when we went to see the aeroplanes land?’ This might have been 3-6 months or so after the experience. He would say, ‘Yes’. ‘OK, son, what else did we go to see on that day?’
Likewise, I would ask, ‘Do you remember what birthday cake you had last year?’ With no displayed pictures, he would provide the answer. I have always been so surprised by how much he actually remembers.
We would also play a matching memory game with flashcards, where you would have to match the same animals and objects together. By the time Zachariah was 6-7 months old he was matching cards together, which I feel has also encouraged his ability to remember information.
Activities like these helps me understand where my son is at with his short and long-term memory. I also do the same when we read books. I would omit maybe the final two words in the sentence to see if he remembered what we had read, so before his second birthday, he would be reciting entire sentences.
So now, he will remind me of events, like what happened when we visited particular locations and will recall the details.
Recently, we went to collect something from the workplace of Zachariah’s grandma. When we arrived in the car he looked out of the window and said, ‘Oh, I remember, we came here yesterday (yesterday could mean 10 months ago) and Grandma gave me some trainers.’
The last time we had visited his grandma’s workplace was 5 months ago when she had given Zachariah a new pair of trainers. So this exercise of discussing past events seems to encourage conversations about his prior experiences and the ability to recall information from long-term memory is enhanced.
So now, I have noticed that memorisation is a natural part of Zachariah’s everyday life, which he does unaided.
4. How often in a day did you do an activity that would stimulate a learning outcome?
At least once a day, for about 10-15mins, outside of independent play and preschool, I like to see Zachariah taking part in a focused activity, which stimulates learning. Whether this be, practising his handwriting and learning to spell, reading a book together, painting, learning about different countries or learning a song on the piano.
There may be some days when this does not happen, for whatever reason, but the significant thing for us as parents, is to create a culture of continuous learning and to instil in our son the discipline of sitting down to do an activity, which is what he'll be required to do at some point during his day in preschool.
5. What are the 3 main things in your opinion would you suggest that a child should know by pre prep age (the year before school)?
I believe social skills go a long way, so I would have this quite high on my agenda. So teaching simple things like learning to share, being kind and considerate to others are values, which are taught on a daily basis, which will help to build positive relationships with both their peers and teachers in pre prep.
So, I believe that everyday whilst within the four walls of our home, our son can be learning good manners, ‘please and thank you’ etc. It’s not just because you receive something from mummy and daddy that we should permit good manners to be relaxed, but if we want our son to portray good social skills in our absence they need to be practised daily in our presence.
Secondly, I have always wanted my son to be able to discuss his day with me when he comes home from nursery or preschool. So being able to talk about how he feels and what happened in our absence is important for me to have insight into his world. Furthermore, being able to grasp what is factual from my child’s version of events is equally important.
I know that children can make up many stories about their experience but having a methodology, which enables you to decipher truth from ‘fairy tales’ can help. Therefore, for me, I can say to my son, ‘Do you want your nose to grow long like Pinocchio?’ Then immediately, the correct version is told. I love it and it works every time!
Thirdly, I feel independence is important. So having a sense of excitement about the day ahead by identifying things, which would make them feel happy, is important before pre prep. These are things, which can be developed from nursery, preschool, visiting friends and family, road trips and days out etc.
I think by talking about the things they like the most about their environment can help with them developing an interest in areas when mummy and daddy are absent. ‘Did you see any dinosaurs when you went to preschool?’ This provides them with something to be excited about, as I believe children learn best when they are happy.
These are some of things I wanted to see in my son’s character before he reached preschool and I think having my child develop further in these areas before pre prep will further enhance his learning.
However, I am aware children develop at different paces and as mentioned, I am not an 'Educator', so I would really leave this for them to define what a child should know.
Although I can say that by the time my son reached preschool, he was able to have intellectual conversations regarding all areas of his interest. He speaks about prehistoric and extinct animals (e.g. saber-tooth cats etc.) names them when seen in pictures and during conversation, and can describe in detail animal's unique features i.e. ‘Mummy, do you know why tigers have stripes?’ ‘No son, why do tigers have stripes?’ ‘It’s so they can camouflage from their prey.’ (I turn to Google for the answer and lo and behold, he is right! I am amazed…).
‘Mummy, do you know that a Brachiosaurus is a herbivore and a T-rex is a carnivore?’ ‘Hmmm….Yes son’ (with my eyebrows raised). The list goes on... But my son is very conversational, absorbs details and asks a lot of questions.
I believe it is important always to answer children's questions because every answer is a building block of knowledge and opens them up to be constantly inquisitive. If I do not know the answer, I never leave my response as, 'I don't know' but instead, I always seek out the knowledge to provide accurate information or say we can check this out later.
I am currently preparing our son for pre prep in the area of his reading and writing, as I think having a good grasp for this is important. However, my son is the type of child who may not show much progression in a particular area because he is processing, then all of a sudden blurts it all out at once and sometimes responds better to others in a school environment! Therefore, I am also showing patience with his learning style.
6. As a working mum how do you organise your week to incorporate planned learning activities of play?
It's a challenge as a mother working full-time hours to do this. So for me it's all about lifestyle. There is no real structure to this for me, we learn in everything we do and play as and when we have an opportunity throughout the day, which is often spontaneous. When I manage to get my head above the waters, usually over the weekend, I coordinate learning.
I am very much grateful to my husband as we really do come together as a team to teach our son. My husband is a lot more creative than I am and will conjure up different ways to play and teach our son. This could be anytime in the day after preschool, before bedtime or over the weekend.
Organising structure for me is my biggest challenge especially with the nature of my job, being a public servant and the demands this entails. Nevertheless, my husband and I make it work and my son always gets his bedtime stories, which he absolutely loves!
Monique is an inquisitive mother and Australian-based creative business owner of Interiors of Art (@interiors_of_art or www.interiorsofart.com.au), who is currently looking for ideas and ways to teach her two-year-old son in preparation for preschool as she juggles a work-life balance.
If you have any advice, guidance or resources you would like to share on this topic, please feel free to comment below.
We'd love to hear from you!
Some recommended resources:
Khan Academy Kids
Orchard Toys, Alphabet Flashcards
Orchard Toys, Match and Spell
Ruth Miskin, More Phonics Flashcards
Priddy Learning, Activity Flash Cards
Early Learning Centre, My Complete Learning Flash Cards
Early Learning Centre, First 100 Words
Early Learning Centre, First 100 Numbers