Play is Your Child’s Path to School Readiness

By Katy Smith, Parent Educator & 2011 MN Teacher of the Year

I walked into my favorite box store very early in July. Distracted by the dollar spot, I almost ran into the new display placed smack dab in the middle of the entryway. The display was full of boxed flashcards and shiny workbooks for small children. There was no sign on the display but the message was clear to me “BEWARE THE SUMMER SLIDE!!!”

I spend a lot of time talking with parents, many of them worried about school readiness. Parents know that their child will be measured, in some way, early in the school year to assess readiness. This measurement, this readiness thing, has created lots of anxiety for parents. I want to ease your mind about the summer slide and school readiness.

What Readiness Really Means

Here’s the truth. The summer slide you need to be focused on is the one at your local park or maybe the big spiral one in The Scramble at Minnesota Children’s Museum. These kind of slides are a great resource to boost readiness.

C’mon, let’s head to the park, the museum or some other fun spot instead of the box store to see what readiness really means…

Working and Playing Together

Look! Here are a bunch of other kids who will help your child work on collaboration, communication, cooperation, and contagion (the laughter kind!) – all skills that make it easier for your child to make and keep friends. Schools are a community and communities thrive when kids know how to work and play together. This, this getting along with one another is messy work, at times.

Parents, no need to hover. Giving kids opportunities to do their own problem solving is the foundation for critical thinking. Playing with other kids helps kids be school ready.

Coordination and Spatial Awareness

Oh look! There’s the swing, right next to the monkey bars. The swing helps build your child’s core strength and coordinate all of his big muscles. This makes it easy for him to sit criss-cross applesauce in circle time and to be “seat ready” on a stabilizer ball, at a table, or at a desk. Swinging helps children on the swing and children in the swing zone understand where they are in space and time. Looking out for one another builds community. Swinging and hanging on the monkey bars develops a strong grip. Grip is necessary to write with a pencil, draw with a crayon and cut with a scissors. Swinging and hanging out, literally, are ways to build school ready kids.

Yay! Wide open spaces! Ready kids have spent lots of time running, jumping, rolling, cartwheeling (I am making myself dizzy here), and flopping to give their sensory systems a work out. These big body movements will help her body know what it needs. Wiring her sense of balance is the reason she runs willy nilly and it is essential work for spatial awareness. School ready kids can control their bodies.

Regulating Emotions

Thank goodness, there is a shade tree! Knowing when your body or your emotions are too hot and that you need a break is a sure sign of school readiness. Taking care to regulate emotions, disappointment, anger, and frustrations is a life skill just beginning to wire in early childhood. Kids get better at it as they age and with lots of practice (so much practice). Spending quality time with yourself, among trees in nature, gives your child lifelong benefits in and away from school. Ready kids are beginning to navigate a wide variety of feelings.

Now, let’s go back to that slide: The one kids actually slide on, the one that makes kids laugh, the one that is good for the body and the heart. Let’s take a trip to the museum and try out their giant spiral slide and explore the other exhibits designed to let kids be kids.  Let’s slide and play just for the fun of it. Childhood is supposed to be fun.

Start School Full of Curiosity, Joy & Confidence

If you’re worried about the summer slide, the one that makes you anxious, read. Read to your child, read with your child, listen to your child read. Play cards. Sing silly songs. Create memories together. Do chores. Play games. Sit quietly. Love them up.

Remember to keep calm and play on. That playground, that nature preserve, that backyard, that children’s museum are wondrous spaces to spark curiosity and experience joy and confidence. Your child, any child, walking into any classroom with a backpack full of curiosity, joy, and confidence is a school ready child.

Now, put the flashcards down and get out there and play!

Katy Smith is a parent educator and early childhood teacher. She has spent thirty years in classrooms, big and small, as a parent educator, supporting parents in the journey of raising their children. She is also the 2011 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

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