As families prepare for the start of a new school year, parents may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of sending their school-age children off to pre-school and kindergarten. Brent McBride, a professor of human development at Illinois and the director of the university's Child Development Laboratory, has studied how children make the transition from the informal learning environment of home to more formalized learning environments of group settings and schools. He shared his views on early childhood education in an interview with News Bureau education editor Phil Ciciora.
What do the parents of school-age children need to know about handling the transition from home to school?
Overall, I think the more parents realize that there are multiple ways they can engage with a child's educational process, the better off both parent and child will be.
As a parent, your role is pretty clearly defined during the early childhood years, even in a daycare setting. But once a child goes off to pre-school and kindergarten, the roles and expectations for parents begin to get a little bit fuzzy, and, of course, it varies by school and by teacher.
Parents need to really think about what their roles should be once their child transitions to school. Whether it's talking to a teacher about school performance or just talking to a child about what they're studying and who their friends are at school, simply being a part of that school environment - even if it's only for 15 minutes at a time - tells the child that school is an important place.
So parents need to start having those conversations and discussing with each other how they're going to support their child, and how they're going to be a presence in the educational process sooner rather later.
A lot of parents are strapped for time and money these days. What's the best way to develop a child's literacy that doesn't involve buying expensive toys, study aids and videos?
Reading, or early literacy engagement, is defined as reading a book, but it's also about immersing the child in a language-rich environment. It's the early literacy forms of involvement that really make a difference in later schooling.
It's odd, but a lot of times parents with limited resources don't do the most basic thing, which is talking to their child. If nothing else, that oral communication is a very stimulating way to get a child processing what language really means and its underlying function.
What that means is you're constantly labeling the different things that you're seeing, and you're constantly immersing them in language as you do something. Even if you're doing something as simple as stirring up the oatmeal in the morning, you should narrate to them what you're doing, all to give them the exposure to the language so the child can make the connection between the object, the activity and the language. Reading is very important, but so are all these other things that help them develop literacy are important as well.
As a parent, how important is it to establish an early connection with a child?
What you do early in a child's life makes a difference, and the earlier you become invested in that process, the better you're going to be able to handle all the challenges ahead.
The issues are never the same at each stage of development - what you do during the infancy stage is a lot different than what you're going to be doing in a couple of years. But if you're dealing with each step along the way and you're learning as you go, you're going to be so much better off when they reach adolescence.
During adolescence, you know they're going to push you away, but you still know who your child is and you still have a relationship with them. You still know who they are, despite their need for greater autonomy and freedom, so the connection won't be severed when they come back around as a young adult.