Ahh, back to school time. A time when preschoolers often ask why they can't go too. Funny how that changes as the year's move on and they don't want to let go of summer!
Parents, especially first-time parents of preschoolers are asking themselves and others, "Am I doing enough to help my child be ready for school?". They are gobbling up all the literature out there from various sources, friends and family; and most, if not all, contradict each other! At least it feels that way.
Over the last few years I have shared many times, from various research initiatives, the response millennial mom's give to the question of what they want most out of life for their child. Overwhelmingly, the response is, "I just want them to be happy.". Happy! What does that even mean? Most recently I was talking with a large group of moms of preschoolers and asked them to expand on what being happy means to them for their child's future. Amongst many common themes, they said they want them to be able to experience everything life has to offer and be able to respond to it in their own unique way. They want them to be the best possible versions of themselves. Moms talked a lot about having their child make their own mark, at their own level, and almost always say they want their child to be able to think differently and be able to express their thoughts. These moms said they know the workplace demands of the future are going to be much different than today and thinking differently and articulating ideas will be valuable assets.
So, is it the ABCs and 123s that are important for school? Sure, you certainly need to know these and other academic skills to move through school. There is a lot of literature written on that subject and I am not an expert in that field by any means. However, I do know from experience observing children throughout my career as a toy designer; that play is one of the most valuable things a child can do to learn to become a thinker and a communicator. Skills that will take them far in school and in life. Play, as we know, is not a trivial activity. Parents often overlook the importance of play. Play is about making connections, trying to figure something out, experimenting with outcomes and importantly putting things in an order to tell a story. Not a grand story, but rather a story that communicates an event. Letting a child be an active storyteller means giving them the tools that allow their imaginations to try on logical and often funny and illogical ideas. Toys often are the tools that help inspire storytelling and allow for mash-up experimentation. All along they are beginning to hone their creativity and communication skills.
The group of moms I spoke with seemed to be of two camps. One pushed learning above all else for their child, providing them with endless learning toys. The other allowed them to play their own way and provided them with all sorts of stimulating toys. The first set of moms consistently said that their child was not very creative! Certainly not a statistical piece of research, but it didn't sound like they were being happy. The other half watched as there child amazed them with how they played, told stories, made up all sorts of crazy things and felt they were very creative. Happy...perhaps.
Now, back to the question of being prepared for school. First on my list of recommendations would to be to provide their children with a lot of time to play. Play their own way. Give them the tools to connect their ideas and create wonderful stories. Doing that should give them a great start to school and begin them on their journey of being happy.