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Kindergarten Prep: How to Get Your 4-Year-Old Preschooler Ready for the Next Steps

The best part of reviewing a development assessment is determining how we can guide our play and learning activities with our preschoolers. Each and every one of these concepts can be addressed through play. Whether independent play or play guided by your interactions.

We’ve already looked at the 36 month ASQ as a guide for what a three-year-old should be able to.  We are going to continue using this research-based development assessment to guide our understanding of what your 4-year-old preschooler should be able to do. 

 So before we get into the meat of this topic, let’s be clear on a few things:

  1. Even if your child has a developmental delay, he/she can overcome this hurdle and still enjoy massive success in school.
  2.  Comparison breeds dissatisfaction and can even negatively affect self-esteem.  I caution parents all the time about comparing their child to other children.  Please do your best to avoid comparison.
  3. Children are not robots.  They are going to excel in some areas and then in others.  Child development is not a straight line with movement at 60 beats per second where every child arrives at the same place at the same time.  This is how you see one healthy child walk at 10 months and another at 14 months.
  4. Highlight your child’s strengths just as much as your highlight areas you want to work on.  

These four items are important because we don’t want to use developmental milestones as an assessment of our child.  We can use the information to help guide us in how we focus our time with our children or what games we choose to play with our children.   

Section 1: Communication

The ASQ asks your preschooler to complete 6 tasks related to communication.

  1. Name 3 items from a common category such as food or animals.  
  2. Answer “what do you do when you are hungry or tired?”
  3. Name two things about a common object.
  4. Use proper endings on words; -s, -ed, -ing.
  5. Without your pointing or repeating, follow three unrelated directions.
  6. Use all of the words in a sentence.

These 6 tasks are focused on listening comprehension and speaking.  Listening comprehension is important because it applies to your child’s ability to understand spoken language such as commands or directions, as well as understanding words read from a book.  Speaking is the primary means in which your child will communicate, therefore, it is important that your child is a competent speaker and is able to convey his/her ideas clearly.  

These skills are strengthened by two main supports–reading to your child and having back and forth conversations with your child.  We’ve already learned that the more words that a child hears, the more prepared that child is for school.  We also know that by reading to your child for just twenty minutes per day, you can increase their exposure to words by millions before they start school.  In fact, “reading daily to your child means that they are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily” (Grabmeier, 2019). The more you engage your child in two-way conversations, the more proficient he/she becomes in speaking, listening, and responding.  Additionally, having two-way conversations with your child helps you understand how much your child comprehends when he/she listens to your talk.

Here are a few ways that you can specifically support listening comprehension with your preschooler.

  1.  Read your child’s favorite story and ask your child to recall 3 or more details from the story.  If your child can recall three or more details with ease, encourage your child to recall three details in sequence.
  2. When reading stories with your child, stop throughout the text and ask your child to make predictions about what will happen next.
  3. Allow your child to interrupt the story to ask questions and share ideas that connect the story to his/her own experience.  

Section 2: Gross Motor

The ASQ asks your child to complete 6 tasks related to gross motor skills:

  1. Catch a large ball with both hands
  2. Climb the rungs of a ladder without help.
  3. While standing at least 6 feet from you, throw a ball overhand.
  4. Hop up and down at least one time without losing balance or falling.
  5. Jump forward a distance of 20 inches, starting with both feet together. 
  6. Stand on one foot for at least 5 seconds.

Most of us parents don’t feel as though we were intentionally taught how to use our large muscles.  It seems as though our gross motor development just happened by itself.  The world was different when we were children and video games, smart phones, and endless TV channels were not such a powerful temptation for us to sit and sit and sit.  Our children are growing up in a different world and we have to be intentional about providing them the time and space to move their large muscles. 

Gross motor development is important because as those large muscles become stronger, a child’s entire body becomes stronger.  Those large muscles are important for the execution of everyday tasks such as walking, running, and participating in sports.  My favorite way to encourage gross motor development is to spend time outside!  

You can support gross motor development with your four-year-old by encouraging him/her to:

  1. Walk up and down steps with alternating feet.
  2. Jump off both feet.
  3. Gallop and skip.
  4. Hit or kick a large ball thrown towards him/her.

Section 3: Fine Motor

The ASQ asks your child to complete 6 tasks related to fine motor skills:

  1. Complete a 5 to 7 piece puzzle
  2. Cut a paper in half by cutting on a line.  Be sure that your child is moving the blades of the scissors up and down.
  3. Copy three of the four shapes: L + I O
  4. Button one or more buttons
  5. Draw a picture of a person with at least 3 body parts.
  6. Color mostly within the lines of a coloring book.

We’ve already learned that fine motor skills are all related to the ability to control the small muscles in our hands and that adults use fine motor skills constantly to complete tasks during the day.  When we type, write, and cook we are using fine motor skills.  Our preschoolers use fine motor skills in many self-help tasks such as dressing and tying shoes.  The importance of these skills cannot be overstated and the tasks presented on the 48-month ASQ require a greater deal of control than the ones presented on the 36 month questionnaire.  

How do you help your child reach this greater level of control?  You don’t have to do anything different.  The same activities that would support a three-year-old’s fine motor development will also support the fine motor development of a four-year-old.  The key is to provide your child with  many opportunities to practice: 

  • Molding and shaping playdough with his/her hands.
  • Manipulating playdough with cookie cutters, rolling pins, and tools.
  • Stringing beads.
  • Drawing and writing.
  • Coloring.
  • Pouring back and forth between containers.
  • Cutting string and paper.
  • Using tweezers to pick up small objects like beans or cheerios.

Section 4: Problem Solving

The ASQ asks your child to complete 6 tasks related to problem solving:

  1. Repeat three numbers.
  2. Pick the smallest from a set of three.
  3. Follow the directional words under, between, and middle.
  4. Label 5 different colors, when asked, “what color is this?”
  5. Dress up and participate in pretend play scenarios.
  6. Count 5 objects correctly. 

All of the problem solving skills presented on the 48 month ASQ can be classified as early mathematics.  These skills are important because as a preschooler, your child is learning the skills that they will use forever.  Think about it!  As an adult, you still measure, sort, notice patterns, compare, count, and name shapes.  These skills do not become obsolete.  They are important in adult-hood and we lay the foundation for these skills when our children are just preschoolers. 

How can we support these early math skills with our preschoolers?

  • Measurement can be supported by using measurement terms when speaking to your child–small, medium, large, big, little.  
  • Measurement can also be supported by comparing items using -er and -est endings on words.  “This one is the largest can.”  “I made a tall tower, but yours is taller”.
  • You can support number sense and counting by counting all the time.  Remember, counting objects is different than rote counting.  Provide your child with many opportunities to count objects.
  • Obstacle courses are a really fun way to practice following direction words like under, between, over, and around.  Scavenger hunts work well for this, too.
  • Color names are memorized.  If you expose your child to the color/name association he/she will begin to pick them up.  The more you point out and name colors, the more proficient your child will become.
  • Let’s not forget:  Pretend play allows our preschoolers to practice solving many different problems and developing many different solutions–some based in reality and some in imagination.  Regardless, “pretend play presents your child with opportunities for problem solving and finding a variety of solutions for the same problem. It allows children to gain information and discover relationships between objects.”  (2018, playfulpittsburgh.com)

Section 5: Personal-Social

The ASQ asks your child to complete 6 tasks related to personal-social development:

  1.  Serve him-/herself.
  2. Tell you at least four of the following:  first name, age, city where he/she lives, last name, boy or girl, phone #.
  3. Wash hands (with soap) and dry them independently.
  4. Name two or more playmates that are not siblings.
  5. Brush teeth independently–put toothpaste on brush and brush teeth.
  6. Dress and undress him-/herself without help (not including snaps, buttons, or zippers).

The skills presented in this section focus on three areas:  self-help skills, self concept, and building peer relationships.  

It is important that as your child grows, he/she develops a strong self-concept.  Preschoolers “define themselves in concrete terms. Included in this internal picture of the image that preschoolers have of themselves are such things as their physical attributes, names, ages, genders, social affiliations, possessions, and abilities” (Miller, Scholastic.com).  The way that your child feels about these characteristics can relate to whether he/she sees him-/herself positively or negatively and is often related to self-esteem.  Your child’s self-concept can be affected by the interactions that he/she has with you because you are important to your child and your ideas about him/her are very influential.  “Although forming one’s self-concept is a lifelong process, how the child feels about himself in the early years (positive or negative) can set a pattern for the rest of his life” (Miller, Scholastic.com).  

It is just as important for young children to be able to complete self-help skills.  When we think about sending our children out to kindergarten classrooms, we want them to be academically prepared, but we also want them to be capable of taking care of themselves–using the bathroom, washing their hands, dressing themselves.  Your child’s ability to complete these skills independently will have an impact on whether or not they feel successful in school. 

“Research supports the notion that children benefit in many ways from positive peer interactions. In early childhood programs, friendships foster a sense of connection and security and build self-esteem and self-confidence, helping young children adapt more readily to the preschool setting” (Manaster and Jobe, Young Children, Nov. 2012).  If we are teaching our preschoolers at home, this applies to their first classroom experiences in kindergarten, as well.  We can support peer relationships by providing time and space for our children to interact with other children in such a way that they can have conversations and play collaboratively.   

So, how do we support the other concepts with our 4-year-old preschoolers?

You can support self-help skills by allowing your child to do as much as he/she can independently.  Making this commitment often means getting ready to go will take a bit longer, but the pay-off for your preschooler is huge.  So it is worth the wait.  

You can support the development of your child’s self-concept by talking to your child about his/her characteristics.  Talk with your child about how he/she is special and the ways that he/she is similar to and different from you. You can also read books that will reinforce a positive self-concept.  This is a great list to get you started. 

The best part of reviewing a development assessment is determining how we can guide our play and learning activities with our preschoolers.  Each and every one of these concepts can be addressed through play.  Whether independent play or play guided by your interactions.  If you’d like some ideas for how to support learning through play with your preschooler download The Ultimate Kindergarten Readiness Starter Kit. You’ll get 25 activities you can do in 20 minutes or less. You’ll teach your child important skills and your child will have fun learning.

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