Kindergarten Readiness

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Carrie Knoch's Blog Page
Preparing to be a student is not a task to be taking lightly. Through play and shared learning experience your child can be ready to start kindergarten on the right foot!
Are You Too Helpful?
Posted 3/8/2020 at 9:36:54 AM by Carrie Knoch [staff member]

In Kindergarten we have noticed an abnormal increase in the number of students that can’t do things like open milk cartons, zip up coats, unload their backpacks, get out and open their pencil boxes and put on their own jackets.  Some of these things we could attribute to an alarming lack of fine motor development (finger/hand muscles). But that’s only a small part of the problem in reality. Our students aren’t poorly behaved and lazy. They aren’t being purposefully obstinate. So, we have to consider another influence...learned helplessness.  As adults, we are doing far too much for children. 

Our lives are hectic. We are constantly rushing to one activity or appointment to another. The time it takes to wait for children to do things can be maddening. As parents and teachers, we are nurturing and accommodating. When a child shows frustration we help them. This may seem like a natural reaction. But there are consequences to that reaction.  

First, when we rush to help we send a message to the child that they are not capable of completing the task.  This doesn’t make them feel bad or inadequate because they are receiving that message from a trusted and loved adult. However, they are developmentally capable of doing these things.  So, we are sending the absolute wrong message. We do not want to undermine a child’s development because we are inpatient or worse, have anxiety about failure and are trying to protect them.  

Through practice and trial and error, children also learn some key character traits.  They learn to be problem solvers. They learn patience and diligence. They learn not to give up in the face of adversity.  As we watch them with encouragement they also learn something else. They learn that the loved and trusted adults in their lives believe in them and know they are capable of tackling new challenges.  

Children between 3 and 5 need about 12 of these a the next installment in this series you can find out if you know what this daily dozen is. 

Missing: The Nursery Rhyme
Posted 3/1/2020 at 9:56:41 AM by Carrie Knoch [staff member]

Several years ago, preschool teachers, nationwide, were pushed by parents (who pay for preschool) to do so much drill and practice with sight words and letter sounds that they stopped “playing” with words as much.  Nursery Rhymes began to disappear and children didn’t sing and chant as much as they once did. Rhyming and other discrete pre-reading skills began to disappear from preschool curriculum only to be replaced by worksheets and flashcards.    

Here’s a secret, the first sense used to become a reader isn’t sight, it’s hearing. You have to hear sounds in words before you can read and spell them. The fancy teacher word for this skill is Phonemic Awareness. Phonemic Awareness is the SINGLE BIGGEST predictor of later reading success. Not knowing what sound a C makes or not memorizing 200 sight words before you come to kindergarten, but being able to hear and manipulate sounds is the best predictor. Logically, you may be wondering why rhyming and other phonemic awareness skills are disappearing if they are so important. That’s indeed, a good question, especially considering phonemic skill development acquired from nursery rhymes has even been proven to significantly improve reading, spelling, and other literacy skills (Harper, 2011).     

As a society we know reading is important. We also, as Americans, always feel that more and faster is always better.  So we’ve pushed preschool teachers to make sure our children can read before they enter Kindergarten. Interestingly, research doesn’t support our American ideal of “bigger, stronger, faster”.  Research actually suggests that there is no long-lasting advantage for students who are early readers. Simply put, once “later readers” start reading they catch up so quickly you can’t tell the difference.  At some point, in a child’s development if they are not reading we should be worried. However, being a reader as a preschooler vs. being a reader in the fall of first grade, has no advantage. (Note: if you Google, University of Otago and Suggate, you can read the news release about the research.)

As parents and grandparents, what can you do?  Most importantly, please consider that preschool teachers are professionals. Presume that your child’s preschool teacher will make the best possible decision in terms of your child’s development and don’t ask them to force students to skip developmental stages so they hit other stages sooner.  

Some Nursery Rhymes are outdated and socially inappropriate.  However, you can read the ones that are acceptable to your children and then repeat them as you drive, as they take a bath, or as you take a walk together.  Repetition is good for cognitive development because it teaches how language works and helps build memory. Since the Nursery Rhymes are made up of patterns they are easily the first things children will memorize.  Mouth and tongue muscles are developed as children repeat the rhymes. Listening comprehension is the precursor to reading comprehension. Listening to your child say and read the rhymes will help develop listening comprehension.  

Enjoy your child’s preschool years, you only get this time of discovery and joy once.  Don’t push them to leave this stage before it’s time, they will be readers in good time.   

Next time we’ll switch gears a little and look at a non-academic idea that we want to avoid, learned helplessness.  

Free and Plentiful Magic
Posted 2/24/2020 at 9:57:32 PM by Carrie Knoch [staff member]

Imagine that you were told that by playing with a rock daily with a preschooler you would provide infinite benefits.  Imagine that, technically, the child just needs you to describe and talk with them about a rock daily. Rocks are basically limitless and free, so money isn’t an object.  You’d need a few tips for playing with a rock with a child but they are simple. What if I told you that there was even research to suggest that parents talking about the rock to children BEFORE they were born could jumpstart their development? So, all you really need is to give 10 minutes of your time every day to the rock and a child.  Ten minutes without your phone, tv, or music. Ten minutes of holding your child on your lap or sitting beside them and basically talking to them and with them.  

I bet you would start gathering rocks, wouldn’t you?  

If that’s the case, make sure you have your library card.  Because rocks may not have infinite benefits, but children’s books do and our public library is an amazing (free) resource.  

Yes, there are academic benefits to reading, like building a strong vocabulary, developing listening skills, promoting a longer attention span, developing a love of reading, development of critical thinking skills, and increased understanding of language. In fact, there is some research that suggests that reading to children interactively may even raise their IQ score.  However, there are added benefits that you may not have considered. First and foremost, reading as a family allows you to form a bond with your children and develops a reminder of your love for them. It promotes the lines of communication between you and your children, which will prove more and more important as your child grows. Setting a specific time for reading, like before bed, also establishes a routine.  This, at the very least, makes bedtime easier.  

On exceptionally busy days it’s really ok to just read the words in the book and enjoy the story and the time together.  It’s honestly better to just read rather than to skip a day. On other days when you can spend a few more minutes, try the following;

  • Take a picture walk through the book and really look at the pictures.  You can talk about the characters, settings, and make predictions.
  • Pause and make connections as you read. There are three types of connections, book to self (The girl in the story seems nervous, were you nervous on your first day of school?”), book to book (“Does this remind you of any of the other books we’ve read?”), and book to world (“The boy in the story reminds me of Milo, they both love the color green.” or “Do you remember the boats we saw at the lake near where Uncle Mike lives?”)Look and talk about the letters and punctuation or play “find the letters”.  

Start early, read often.  It’s really that simple.  

There’s actually a lot more to reading than sounding out words, in the next installment in this series we’ll talk about the single biggest predictor of later reading success.  Spoiler Alert: It's not reading independently before first grade.

You’re Bored...Imagine That!
Posted 2/15/2020 at 12:48:18 PM by Carrie Knoch [staff member]

Ideally, childhood should be a magical, carefree time.  Imaginative play is an important part of the magical time.  What might seem like simple fun is actually very important work. When children use their imagination in play they are actually developing important parts of their psychological and emotional well-being. Imaginative play helps children to make sense of the world and their place in it. Through imaginative play, children learn to solve problems, create new alternatives, and perhaps even begin to change the world. Imaginative play is the bedrock of creative and critical thinking.   Imaginative play can not be underestimated as it allows children to discover their creativity and really use it. Just as important as all of that imaginative play can allow a child to begin to recognize emotions and their own emotional responses. Through our imaginations we learn to develop empathy, cooperation, and thoughtfulness.    

Imaginative play is in danger today because we, as adults, have gone to great lengths to ensure that our children are never bored.  We treat boredom like a death sentence. We schedule play dates and classes, buy our children expensive toys that claim to have the power to make them smart, and overuse streamed videos and devices so that they are never idle.  But, due to these choices, we’ve also made sure that they never have to entertain themselves. The worrisome part of these choices is that research actually suggests that boredom is critical to mental and emotional development. Boredom, as agreed to by researchers, helps develop a child’s ability to be creative.  This ability is actually innate, meaning it doesn’t have to be taught. Recent research has found that being bored should push people, not just children, to find something meaningful and satisfactory. When a child is constructively bored, they are more prone to read a book, build a house out of blankets and chairs, or paint with watercolors.   Our tendency to overschedule our children will ultimately keep them from discovering what really interests them.  

Your children are dependent upon you when it comes to scheduling their time.  As you schedule your child’s activities it is important to schedule a time for boredom, or rather schedule down time. This time will allow your children to begin to develop an imagination and participate in imaginative play and thus develop a keen sense of empathy and creative thinking. 

Next up in this series we are going to unveil the most important thing you can do for your preschooler.  You won’t want to miss this one! 

Unstructured Outdoor Play
Posted 2/8/2020 at 2:55:32 PM by Carrie Knoch [staff member]

As adults, we often underestimate the power of play. We watch children play and only consider that they are having joyful, stress-free fun.  However, when a child is playing outdoors, they are using their body in healthy ways that we may not have considered. They are sending oxygen to their muscles while producing endorphins that elicit positive emotions and mood.  In our technology centered world, children do not often have adequate opportunities to develop proprioceptive (moving our bodies effectively), tactile (touch), and vestibular (balance) areas of the brain. These areas are all part of the sensory system.  We don’t always think about the sensory system but it allows us to regulate our bodies and cope in a variety of situations. The sensory system is the organizational system in our brain and it helps interpret information. Clearly, it is very important and we need to make sure our child’s sensory system is developing. The good news is that spending time outdoors swinging, climbing, and sliding does encourage the development of these areas of the brain.  

Swinging, although it looks carefree, is one of the best forms of sensory development.  While swinging, a child is developing their ability to adapt. Being able to adapt to various noise levels, for example, will prove important in school. Swinging can be soothing and calming.  It also increases spatial awareness. The rocking motion of a swing stimulates the cerebral cortex. This is the area of the brain that helps you to focus. Large muscles are developed as a child pumps their legs and jumps.  As a child grips the chains on a swing, hand, arm, and finger muscles are developed. Swinging also helps engage core muscles, which helps with balance.

Climbing and sliding seem like natural activities for a preschooler.  Again, what seems like just fun has several amazing benefits. Climbing, while using arms to pull up, helps to develop upper body strength as well as hand and arm strength. Sliding helps to develop the area of the brain that manages the vestibular system, helping with balance.  Climbing and sliding can be risky play. Although it doesn’t seem like risky play is a good idea, it actually is. Risky play helps children figure out how the world works. It can develop a child’s self-confidence, resilience, risk management, and executive functioning.  

Running, of course, builds endurance and is a great cardiovascular activity.  It also offers a sense of freedom for children. Running helps develop the proprioceptive areas of the brain.  If you want to increase the power of running on the sensory system, take off your child’s shoes. The feet have an incredible amount of nerves in them and therefore take in an incredible amount of sensory stimuli.  

The unstructured part of play is so important that children develop critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and imagination. The recommended amount of play per day is two 30-minute sessions.  However, if you let your child play more than 60 minutes a day, we won’t tell anyone. 

We can never have too much play.  Be on the lookout for the next article in this series, and get ready to use your imagination! 

Puzzle Power
Posted 2/3/2020 at 10:44:50 AM by Jodie Andrews [System User]

Imagine watching a child you know trying to put together a puzzle.  In your mind's eye, you can see them turn, flip, and wriggle pieces to try to make them fit.  You can also watch them pick up, move, and twist the pieces. As you imagine them with the puzzle, start to think about the benefits of this activity.  Starting with the fingers and moving up the "body", let's consider what is happening. As your child picks up and positions the pieces, they are controlling and developing some of the smallest muscles they have, the fingers.  This helps to develop hand-eye coordination. Puzzles also have benefits for developing muscles in the core. Sitting or standing up helps to engage the muscles in the abdomen, chest, and back. Having your child lie on their tummy, to complete the puzzles, has similar advantages as well.  Now, move up to the eyes, "playing" with the puzzles allows the child to look at the pictures very carefully. They scan the puzzle, moving their eyes from top to bottom and from left to right. As they are looking at the puzzle, they are likely noticing visual differences and similarities.  Finally, move beyond the eyes to the brain. Their brain is hard at work, even though you can't technically see it. As their brain works, they begin to develop memory skills. They are also planning, testing hypotheses, and solving problems with strategies. Emotions and emotional control are also housed in the brain.  As those little fingers, eyes, and brain are working on the puzzle, the child is also learning to be resilient in the face of a challenge, developing patience, overcoming problems, and dealing with frustrations.  

Puzzles can be costly, but luckily, our public library has some you can borrow.  As you are selecting a puzzle to buy or borrow, please start easy. The size and complexity of the pieces should be considered.  Starting with large, simple pieces is best. As your child grows and develops, you can decrease the size of the pieces and increase the complexity.  As you start working on a puzzle, with your child, talk about the picture the puzzle will make, paying attention to the details. As you take the puzzle pieces out, place them face up.  Starting with corner and edge pieces, model how to fit the pieces according to size and shape. Flip and turn the pieces, matching colors and looking for parts of the picture that go together.  Puzzles, like books, are not a one and done activity. As your child puts the puzzle together again and again, give them less and less help until they are independently able to complete the puzzle.  It will be difficult not to jump in and tell them what to do. Let them make small mistakes and talk about how they can fix them. This will be amazing practice for both of you for the teenage years.  

We've been cooped up long enough!  In the next article, we will discuss the advantages of unstructured outdoor play!
Literally, Building Blocks Are Key To Development
Posted 1/27/2020 at 10:52:34 AM by Jodie Andrews [System User]
When my sister and I were young, my dad made a set of wooden blocks. The kids in our neighborhood, other friends, and our cousins would often play with our blocks when they came to visit.  We would build simple structures like towers and even extensive cities or houses. These blocks were so popular amongst our peers that he made several sets as gifts. Beyond the tangible gift of the physical blocks, my parents gave my sister and me, our friends and our cousins, more than just pieces of wood.  Those blocks helped us to discover math concepts like area, size, shapes, patterns, estimation and patterning. They also helped us to discover science through experiences with leverage balance, weight, height and gravity...not to mention some engineering skills. Math and Science are important but there were actually bigger life lessons beyond math and science.  

Our emotional and social development was encouraged and we learned how to work together as we built the structures.  Even if we weren't all working together and were all working on our own, we had to learn the art of negotiation, because trading is the main bargaining tool in block play.  We learned cause and effect...both by building a tower too high and by how a person would react if their structure was knocked over. There were times that an adult played with us, but mostly we built on our own.  Without an adult to tell us what to do and without a map of what to build, we were forced to use our imaginations, learned divergent thinking and logical reasoning. Through the blocks, we became problem solvers.  

Legos are amazing, magnet blocks are fun, but nothing can replace a set of simple wooden blocks. Yes, building blocks are simpler than most of the toys on the store shelves or from Amazon.  However, the unstructured simplicity of wooden building blocks can open a world of opportunities and experiences for preschoolers.  

Next up in this series, we'll continue with toys that have stood the test of time and look at the importance of puzzles. 

Coloring On The Wall Actually Has Some Benefits
Posted 1/20/2020 at 10:48:21 AM by Jodie Andrews [System User]
Although allowing your child to color on the wall isn't really a good idea, there are benefits of working on a vertical surface.  Eventually, we would like all students to develop adequate fine motor skills to hold a pencil, pen, or crayon. But to develop fine motor skills for writing, children have to actually refine large movements.  Working on a vertical surface helps to do this by improving dexterity and control of the larger muscles in the arms, shoulders, and core. Using an upright surface will help improve the shoulder and elbow stability.  When holding and stabilizing a piece of paper with one hand and writing with the other, children develop strength in both arms and their proprioceptive sense (way joints and muscles send messages to the brain to help coordinate movement). Writing or drawing on a vertical surface puts the wrist in an extended position which encourages hand stabilization. This will encourage the development of an appropriate pencil grasp. Kneeling or standing at an upright surface helps children to strengthen their core muscles.  Being able to engage core and back muscles is essential for maintaining the upright posture needed for writing (or typing). 

Other than writing on the wall or using an easel, there are other vertical surfaces that are readily available in your home.  The refrigerator is an excellent vertical surface and most have the added benefit of being magnetic. Windows, patio doors, or mirrors can be written on with dry erase markers.  The walls of a shower or bathtub can be used with shaving cream. As the weather gets warmer, you can also paint on the siding or garage doors with a bucket of water and paintbrushes.  Even helping to wash the car has the same benefit as writing or coloring on a vertical surface!

Look for the next article on the simplest, yet incredibly important, toy:  wooden building blocks.

Posted 1/11/2020 at 10:46:35 AM by Jodie Andrews [System User]
The following article was published in the Wapakoneta Daily News on Saturday January 4. 2020 
Staff Writer
A generational and cultural shift has created some challenges for Wapakoneta preschoolers and preschool staff. However,
there are some ways parents can help prepare their child for preschool and navigate these new challenges.  Students currently entering preschool are a part of Generation Alpha, the children of Millenials. Generation Alpha are the most technological-infused demographic to date and because the last of them won't stop being born until 2026, behavior issues brought into preschool aren't likely to go away anytime soon, but there are ways to positively work at those issues. Carrie Knoch, Director of Student Achievement for Wapakoneta City Schools, one of the most general challenges they're seeing in preschool is surrounding independence.  "Part of independence is letting them do things that they can do for themselves," said Knoch. Opening doors and getting supplies on their own, as well as eating properly with utensils are issues preschool staff are seeing because parents are doing a lot of those things for their children. 
Another part of independence is self-regulation, which refers to the extent to which people control their own behavior. In children, self-regulation looks like: being able to focus their attention on a task, regulating emotions, controlling impulses, and learning how to get along with others. Self-regulation is necessary for the social and, later, academic part of their lives.  However, the generational and cultural changes with technology can stymy this part of brain maturation as now parents and children alike rely on phones, tablets, etc. for entertainment at all times.  "Self-regulation is very rough with this group because they've never been bored," said Knoch. "What adults may see as boredom is actually when a child has the opportunity to imagine, ponder and plan instead of acting out"  Knoch added one of the first ways children learn to self-regulate is through sleep, but now more and more of them are going to bed with a screen in their hands. This makes undivided attention, necessary for school lessons, an issue for children: "They don't sit and listen, they don't follow directions like they should because they don't know to regulate their attention."
Knoch said children also appear to be missing out on play. "Traditionally, preschoolers weren't enrolled in classes or organized sports" that took away from playtime, said Knoch.  "But we now have structured preschool to the nth degree." According to Knoch, too much structure "takes away from the critical thinking and imagination you would have been building with play."  Play also teaches children negotiation, conversation, critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and empathy. If child takes a toy away from one of their peers, both children learn crucial lessons - how it feels to have something taken from them and they shouldn't do that to others.  "We want them to be amazing, but we're taking away skills by not letting them play or be bored," Knoch said. 
Among this generational and cultural shift, Knoch said more preschoolers are coming to school with more trauma. That trauma can stem from abuse, neglect, influence of drugs, or other adverse childhood experiences.  "The truth of the matter is they've been through traumas we haven't seen," said Knoch. "It would be unusual to not have a  child in your classroom that hasn't had an [adverse childhood experience]." In Wapakoneta's school district, Knoch said there is an upswing of children in foster care which impact how those students deal with adversity and self-regulation; it's much harder to develop self-regulation behaviors in unstable environments, or having just come out of one. All of these factors - lack of independence, self-regulation, and play, combined with trauma - can lead up to negative behavior in the classroom - aggression towards authority figures, refusal to cooperate, more risk-taking, and project abandonment.
While Knoch said these are the most challenging classes she's seen in over 20 years, the issues themselves aren't relatively new, it's simply the volume of students with these issues.  "It doesn't mean public schools are broken," said Knoch. They'll still teach what they need to teach in preschool, "we just have to find another way to do it. If society is changing, why wouldn't schools change too?"
To help parents prepare their children for preschool and navigate these challenges, Knoch will preparing articles with topics on play and self-regulation. These articles will be published each week in the newspaper with an updated schedule to follow.
Reply Posts
Posted 1/14/2020 at 11:29:00 AM by [anonymous visitor]
Well said, Carrie! Childhood has become a competitive sport. Working together is the best way to help our students realize their full potential.
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