Parents PREPARE MY CHILD FOR SCHOOL
Helping Your Preschool Child
With activities for children from infancy through age 5
Downloadable File PDF (759 KB)
en Español

Ready to Learn

How well children will learn and develop and how well they will do in school depends on a number of things, including the children's health and physical well-being, their social and emotional preparation and their language skills and general knowledge of the world.

Good Health and Physical Well-Being

Seeing to it that your preschool child has nutritious food, enough exercise and regular medical care gives him1 a good start in life and lessens the chances that he will have serious health problems or trouble learning later on.

Food

Preschoolers require a healthy diet. After your child is born, she requires nutritious food to keep her healthy. School-aged children can concentrate better in class if they eat balanced meals that include servings of breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry and fish and meat alternatives (such as eggs and dried beans and peas); and milk, cheese and yogurt. You should see to it that your child does not eat too many fatty foods and sweets. Children aged 2-5 generally can eat the same foods as adults but in smaller portions. Your child's doctor or medical clinic adviser can provide you with advice on what to feed a baby or a toddler who under the age of 2. If you need food for your child, federal, state and local programs can help. For example, the federal nutrition program, called the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), distributes food to low-income women and their children across the country. Food stamp programs also are available. If you want more information or want to find out if you are eligible for food stamps, call or visit your local or state health department. Your local librarian can help you find names, addresses and phone numbers.

Exercise

Preschoolers need opportunities to exercise. To learn to control and coordinate the large muscles in his arms and legs, your child needs to throw and catch balls, run, jump, climb and dance to music. To learn to control and coordinate the small muscles in his hands and fingers, he needs to color with crayons, put together puzzles, use blunt-tipped-safety-scissors, zip his jacket and grasp small objects such as coins. If you suspect that your child has a disability, see a doctor as soon as possible. Early intervention can help your child to develop to his full potential.

Medical Care

Picture of a Stethoscope. Stethoscope is a medical instrument which a doctor uses to measure a heartbeat.

Preschoolers require regular medical checkups, immunizations and dental care. It's important for you to find a doctor or a clinic where your child can receive routine health care as well as special treatment if she becomes sick or injured. Early immunizations can help prevent a number of diseases including measles, mumps, German measles (rubella), diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b), polio and tuberculosis. These diseases can have serious effects on your child's physical and mental development. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of immunization.2 Beginning by the age of 3 at the latest, your child also should have regular dental checkups.

Social and Emotional Preparation

Children start school with different degrees of social and emotional maturity. These qualities take time and practice to learn. Give your child opportunities at home to begin to develop the following positive qualities.

If you share things with others, your child also will learn to be thoughtful of others' feelings.


  • Confidence: Children must feel good about themselves and believe they can succeed. Confident children are more willing to attempt new tasks-and try again if they don't succeed the first time.
  • Independence: Children must learn to do things for themselves.
  • Motivation: Children must want to learn.
  • Curiosity: Children are naturally curious and must remain so to get the most out of learning opportunities.
  • Persistence: Children must learn to finish what they start.
  • Cooperation: Children must be able to get along with others and learn to share and take turns.
  • Self-control: Children must learn that there are good and bad ways to express anger. They must understand that some behaviors, such as hitting and biting, are not acceptable.
  • Empathy: Children must have an interest in others and understand how others feel.

Here are some things that you can do to help your child develop these qualities.

  • Show your child that you care about him and that you are dependable. Children who feel loved are more likely to be confident. Your child must believe that, no matter what, someone will look out for him. Give your baby or toddler plenty of attention, encouragement, hugs and lap time.
  • Set a good example. Children imitate what they see others do and what they hear others say. When you exercise and eat nourishing food, your child is more likely to do so as well. When you treat others with respect, your child probably will, too. If you share things with others, your child also will learn to be thoughtful of others' feelings.
  • Provide opportunities for repetition. It takes practice for a child to crawl, pronounce new words or drink from a cup. Your child doesn't get bored when she repeats things. Instead, by repeating things until she learns them, your child builds the confidence she needs to try new things.
  • Use appropriate discipline. All children need to have limits set for them. Children whose parents give them firm but loving discipline generally develop better social skills and do better in school than do children whose parents set too few or too many limits. Here are some ideas.
  • Direct your child's activities, but don't be too bossy.
  • Give reasons when you ask your child to do something. Say, for example, "Please move your truck from the stairs so no one falls over it"-not, "Move it because I said so."
  • Listen to your child to find out how he feels and whether he needs special support.
  • Show love and respect when you are angry with your child. Criticize your child's behavior but not the child. Say, for example, "I love you, but it's not okay for you to draw pictures on the walls. I get angry when you do that."
  • Help your child make choices and work out problems. You might ask your 4-year-old, for example, "What can we do to keep your brother from knocking over your blocks?"
  • Be positive and encouraging. Praise your child for a job well done. Smiles and encouragement go much further to shape good behavior than harsh punishment.
Talk about the exciting things that he will do in kindergarten, such as making art projects, singing and playing games.


  • Let your child do many things by herself. Young children need to be watched closely. However, they learn to be independent and to develop confidence by doing tasks such as dressing themselves and putting their toys away. It's important to let your child make choices, rather than deciding everything for her.
  • Disabled child tying shoes.
  • Encourage your child to play with other children and to be with adults who are not family members. Preschoolers need social opportunities to learn to see the point of view of others. Young children are more likely to get along with teachers and classmates if they have had experiences with different adults and children.
  • Show a positive attitude toward learning and toward school. Children come into this world with a powerful need to discover and to explore. If your child is to keep her curiosity, you need to encourage it. Showing enthusiasm for what your child does ("You've drawn a great picture!") helps to make her proud of her achievements.

Children also become excited about starting school when their parents show excitement about this big step. As your child gets ready to enter kindergarten, talk to him about school. Talk about the exciting things that he will do in kindergarten, such as making art projects, singing and playing games. Be enthusiastic as you describe all the important things that he will learn from his teacher-how to read, how to how to count and how to measure and weigh things.

Language and General Knowledge

Children can develop language skills only if they have many opportunities to talk, listen and use language to solve problems and learn about the world.

Long before your child enters school, you can do many things to help her develop language. You can:

  • Give your child opportunities to play. Play is how children learn. It is the natural way for them to explore, to become creative, to learn to make up and tell stories and to develop social skills. Play also helps children learn to solve problems-for example, if her wagon tips over, a child must figure out how to get it upright again. When they stack up blocks, children learn about colors, numbers, geometry, shapes and balance. Playing with others helps children learn how to negotiate.
  • Support and guide your child as she learns a new activity. Parents can help children learn how to do new things by "scaffolding," or guiding their efforts. For example, you as you and your toddler put together a puzzle, you might point to a piece and say, "I think that this is the piece we need for this space. Why don't you try it?" Then have the child piece up the piece and place it correctly. As the child becomes more aware of how the pieces fit into the puzzle, you can gradually withdraw your support.
  • Talk to your child, beginning at birth. Your baby needs to hear your voice. Voices from a television or radio can't take the place of your voice, because they don't respond to your baby's coos and babbles. Your child needs to know that when he makes a certain sound, for example, "mamamamamama," that his mother will responsd—she will smile and talk back to him. The more you talk to your baby, the more he will learn and the more he will have to talk about as he gets older.
You don't have to be an excellent reader for your child to enjoy reading aloud together.


Everyday activities provide opportunities to talk, sometimes in detail, about what's happening around him. As you give your child a bath, for example, you might say, "First let's stick the plug in the drain. Now let's turn on the water. Do you want your rubber duck? That's a good idea. Look, the duck is yellow, just like the rubber duck we saw on 'Sesame Street.'" (See “Baby Talk”.)

  • Listen to your child. Children have their own special thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. As your child's language skills develop, encourage her to talk about her thoughts and feelings. Listening is the best way to learn what's on her mind and to discover what she knows and doesn't know and how she thinks and learns. It also shows your child that her feelings and thoughts are valuable.
  • Parent teaching child.
  • Ask your child questions, particularly questions that require him to give more than a "yes" or "no" response. If, as you walk with your toddler in a park, he stops to pick up leaves, you might point out how the leaves are the same and how they are different. With an older child, you might ask, "What else grows on trees?"
  • Answer your child's questions. Asking questions is a good way for your child to learn to compare and to classify things-different kinds of dogs, different foods and so forth. Answer your child's questions thoughtfully and, whenever possible, encourage her to answer her own questions. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. Together with your child, try to find the answer.
  • Read aloud to your child every day. Children of all ages love to be read to-even babies as young as six weeks. Although your child doesn't understand the story or poem that you read, reading together gives her a chance to learn about language and enjoy the sound of your voice. You don't have to be an excellent reader for your child to enjoy reading aloud together. Just by allowing her to connect reading with the warm experiences of being with you, you can create in her a lifelong love of reading. (See “Read to Me!”.)
  • Be aware of your child's television viewing. Good television programs can introduce children to new worlds and promote learning, but poor programs or too much TV watching can be harmful. It's up to you to decide how much TV and what kinds of shows your child should watch. (See Taking Charge of TV.)
  • Be realistic about your child's abilities and interests. Set high standards and encourage our child to try new things. Children who aren't challenged become bored. But children who are pushed along too quickly or who are asked to do things that don't interest them can become frustrated and unhappy.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to do and see new things. The more varied the experiences that she has, the more she will learn about the world. No matter where you live, your community can provide new experiences. Go for walks in your neighborhood or go places on the bus. Visit museums, libraries, zoos and other places of interest.

Children who aren't challenged become bored. But children who are pushed along too quickly or who are asked to do that don't interest them can be frustrated and unhappy.

If you live in the city, spend a day in the country. If you live in the country, spend a day in the city. Let your child hear and make music, dance and paint. Let her participate in activities that help to develop her imaginations and let her express her ideas and feelings. The activities in the next section of this booklet can provide your children with these opportunities.

Please Note1: In this book, we refer to a child as “him” in some places and “her” in others. We do this to make the book easier to read. Please understand, however, that every point that we make is the same for girls and boys.
Please Note2: Some parents and doctors do not agree that immunizations are important. Others have objections to them based on religious and cultural teachings.


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Last Modified: 08/25/2005