If you are like many other parents, you may feel the need to maximize the use of every one of those million neural connections to give your child his or her best chance for a bright future with:
- Music lessons
- Fine arts experience
- Foreign language immersion
- Early STEM programs
But it may be easy to get overwhelmed by all of the enrichment at one time. Don’t panic! While there is absolutely a place for academics in kindergarten, rest assured that their brains develop best through play, natural exploration, and warm interactions with family and caregivers.
Kindergarten is wonderful, but it doesn’t have to be “Mini Harvard” for your child to be extremely successful. Here is what to expect when your child starts kindergarten.
1st Key to Future Success in Kindergarten: Responsive Relationships
“The most important influences on a child’s development are their relationships with the adults in their life. Loving relationships with warm, responsive, dependable adults are essential to a child’s healthy development. These relationships begin at home, with parents and family, but also include child care providers and teachers.” –First Things First.
As described in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, immediately after the base of biological needs like food and water are met, human beings need safety to thrive. Children need to be surrounded by safe, loving, responsive adult caregivers for their brains to grow and develop properly. Learn more about the importance of personalized attention and small class sizes.
This means ample, intentional adult/child interaction like:
- Reading and playing together (read more about the importance of play)
- Exploring the natural world
- Getting messy and creating art
- Snuggling and positive touch
These simple, everyday interactive tasks are what help a child’s developing mind thrive! The best kindergarten programs know this and incorporate it into every facet of their learning philosophy.
Bottom line: children who receive daily loving and supportive interaction from adults will have healthy brain development.
2nd Key to Future Success: Emotional Intelligence
Infinitely more important than a child’s IQ is their EQ or Emotional Quotient. According to Denise Daniels, early childhood expert: "a child’s ability to recognize emotions is a better predictor of success in first grade than cognitive skills or family background.” EQ is related to many important outcomes for children and adults. Children with higher emotional intelligence are better able to pay attention, are more engaged in school, have more positive relationships, and are more empathetic. (Raver, Garner, & Smith-Donald 2007; Eggum, et al. 2011).
Emotional intelligence in children includes:
- Empathy and sympathy (here are some ways to teach your toddlers kindness and respect)
- Ability to recognize and identify emotions in one’s self and others
- Basic conflict resolution skills
- Anger management skills
- Ability to set and respect boundaries
The late Candace Pert, Ph.D., a former neuroscientist of the National Institute of Mental Health and author of The Molecules of Emotions, stated, “By teaching children how to manage their emotions, we are literally teaching them how to control their own brain chemistries.” Excellent early education programs put a strong emphasis on developing and nurturing emotional skills in their students.
In the earliest years, this can be as simple as understanding:
- Recognition of facial expressions
- Caring for friends and family
Bottom line: children with strong emotional intelligence develop into successful adults.
3rd Key to Future Success: Literacy and Language
Kindergarten is a key time in a child’s ultimate literacy development. Much of a child’s future literacy success is predicted by experiences before the age of five. Parents and caregivers who read to their babies from birth and raise their children in environments saturated with high-quality literature give them an edge for future success.
- Oral language
- Listening comprehension, oral language vocabulary
- Alphabetic Code
- Alphabet knowledge, phonological/phonemic awareness (the ability to discriminate sounds in words), invented spelling
- Print Knowledge/Concepts
- Environmental print, concepts about print
The most important part of developing verbal skills in young children is to talk to them. The Linguistic Society of America states that “Children who are never spoken to will not acquire language. And the language must be used for interaction with the child; for example, a child who regularly hears language on the TV or radio but nowhere else will not learn to talk.”
A young child’s mind is a truly astonishing thing as children do not actually learn language but physiologically grow language. Through interaction and conversation with other children and adults, small children learn the languages around them. They can even easily become fluent in more than one language, as long as both languages are being actively spoken to them and around them on a regular basis. Babies and toddlers can grow up multilingual with no effort at all if their parents are intentional about exposing them to fluent speakers of other languages in their everyday lives.
Bottom line: In all kindergarten programs, literacy and language development should be a primary focus to ensure future success.
College preparedness for kindergarteners is simpler than you might think.
The best way to nurture your child’s brain development and natural intelligence is to:
- Interact lovingly
- Nurture their emotional intelligence
- Promote literacy and language through everyday experiences
As a parent, you are doing just fine. And when your child is ready, consider choosing an exceptional kindergarten program that will partner with you to help your child reach their full potential.