Learning experiences prior to starting school are crucial to a child's subsequent academic success

The new academic year is about to begin. Parents of young children who are starting school this year are gearing up for the D-day. They are doing the rounds of various malls and swanky stores to buy colourful school bags, fancy water bottles, pencil boxes and not to forget the all-important tiffin boxes of various shapes and sizes.

Yet how many parents are really concerned about mentally preparing their young wards for school? School readiness is an important aspect of a child's academic life which is often sadly ignored by parents. Parents must become aware that the learning that takes place prior to the child starting formal schooling is crucial to academic success in later years.

Educationists and pre-primary school teachers believe that parents should expose their children to early learning experiences, skills, concepts and knowledge. There are a number of desirable readiness skills that will help young children to have a better start when the school begins. For example, the success of skill in reading depends on the development of language in a child. Before learning to read and write the child should be able to express himself clearly and to understand others.

Hence, the parent should first provide children with such experiences which promote language development, before the formal introduction to reading and writing begins.

Activities such as storytelling, indulging in conversation, encouraging the child to solve riddles, puzzles, learning rhymes for fun, indulging in ‘ make believe' play and taking them on excursions are excellent means to aid language development.

During the preparatory stage, it is also necessary to encourage the child in activities like colouring pictures, or completing a picture by joining dots, copying patterns, tracing over copied forms and shapes. These activities will sharpen the child's visual skills and prepare him better for reading and writing.

Education of every child begins at birth. The child's capacity to learn is greatly influenced by his family and the environment he lives in. Some parents in their zeal to make the child school ready, force him to sit for long periods of time to write. A child at this stage should never be forced. He should be given the freedom to learn at his own pace.

Children are attracted to bright colours. So always try to present things in bright and vibrant colours and big sizes to him. Also, see that colours are easily distinguishable, for example, take green and red and not green and blue. Plan activities that will help in the cognitive development of concepts such as size, shape position, volume, position, direction, big and small, more and less, long and short and so on. A word of caution here: Teaching must be age-appropriate.

In order to ensure a continuous learning process, the practice of teaching should be distributed systematically so that the learner, after having acquired the skill, continues to develop it. It is also very important to teach self-help skills of toilet training, dressing/undressing, eating, and drinking and the basic rules of personal hygiene to the young child.

Teach the child to express his needs, respond to his name, and develop in him the capacity to follow simple instructions. He should also be made to recognise his name in print from a group of names.

Provide opportunities for the child to spend time with people other than the family members occasionally so that when he has to spend any extended time away from the family at school, the experience will not be too overwhelming for him.

Lastly, remember that children are born with an inquisitive nature. It is important for a parent to keep that spark alive and to make learning fun and not seem like drudgery.