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by Jan Z. Olsen


   If you think that preschool time is just about unstructured play and napping, think again. There is now more emphasis on academics than ever before, and this means preparation is critical during the preschool years.

   Most kindergarten programs, either formally or informally, expect entering students to be able to recognize letters, hold a pencil properly, and, in many cases, write their names. A child who masters pencil grip, develops drawing and coloring skills, and identifies letters is better prepared for the transition to kindergarten and the skills that foster reading, writing, and handwriting mastery along with student confidence.

   Because young children are naturally curious, active, and eager to try new things, the preschool years are the ideal time to lay the foundation for learning. However, preschoolers are not yet ready for formal teaching. The key is balancing the needs of the whole child: emotional, physical, and developmental.

Early Learning Guidelines

   Here are some broad guidelines of what you may want to help your preschooler achieve:

· Concept development

·  Physical development

·  Social and emotional development

·   Number concepts

·   Capital letter identification

   Play-based, multisensory learning (tactile, auditory, visual, acoustic, etc.) is a great way to tap into your child's unique abilities. Writing on blackboards, constructing letters with wood pieces, and moving and singing to music are ideal for introducing rhyming, building, drawing, counting, and more.

What You Can Do

   It's up to you whether to teach from home or enroll your child in a preschool program. Regardless, there's a lot you can do at home to help your child get set for school:

·  Read: Show your child the importance of communicating through words.

·  Draw: Give your child small bits of chalk or crayon and allow her to create and explore. Children who draw tend to write better.

·   Sing: Use song and music to introduce your child to the alphabet, counting, imitation, memorization, rhyming, and much more.

·   Move: Teach spatial words including under, over, top, middle, bottom. Use visual representations and encourage imitation.

·   Live and learn: Explain social concepts such as waiting in line, teach body parts, count objects in your environment, offer small bites of food to teach grasp and coordination.

   Achievement at school depends on developing good social habits, motor coordination and strength, language skills, and handwriting proficiency. A hands-on, playful approach to learning — at home or in school — is the natural and easy way to develop pencil grip, focus, posture, and other skills necessary for success.

Jan Z. Olsen, OTR, is one of the creators of The Get Set for School™ readiness program that uses play and music to help very young children build a solid foundation for lifelong learning. Olsen is also the founder and creator of Handwriting Without Tears®. For more information, visit www.getsetforschool.com.

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