Before your child's formal education begins, you will have a tremendous influence on his or her ability to learn.
How much — and what — should a child know before he or she starts school? Your child's future success depends on how well you prepare him or her before formal education begins. Every year thousands of children enter school. A special few are ready — they are well behaved, outgoing and have some instruction and practice in certain basic areas. Sad to say, many others are ill-prepared — they are shy, uncontrollable, extremely self-centered or completely lacking in any academic or social skills. I know. I have personally known such children through years of teaching. How well will your child do when he or she enters school? How can you help? In Part One of this material (December, 1982), we stressed several points in which children should be nurtured before entering school: speech, curiosity, self-discipline, ambition, confidence, play activities, physical coordination, concentration. Now let's continue to explore the important areas of childhood development.
Developing listening skills
Listening is basic to your child's success. He should be taught to really give his undivided attention to you when you are speaking. When you are teaching your child to listen is the time to bring out books and read to him. Take him to the library, even before he reaches age 2. He will see you selecting books and will begin to develop a love for books and learning. You should choose books that have the right information in them. There are fine books on almost any topic. Look them over carefully, though. Avoid too many talking-animal stories and fairy tales, keeping to books about children's real-life experiences and interesting literature. Of course the Bible will be among your chief books. For preschool children you will find it effective to put the material in your own words, simplifying some of the vocabulary but keeping the main outline of the story. Details may be added each succeeding time you review the story, and in proportion to your child's maturity.
The wonderful world of books
Books will teach your child so many things. His vocabulary will increase and he will learn the flow and rhythm of words. Synonyms and antonyms will enter his ears. Nouns and adjectives will parade before his mind. Expose your child to poetry. Poetry is important for its rhythmic patterns, which children enjoy, and for speech development. Children will pick up on the rhyming patterns and steadily repeat words that may initially be difficult to pronounce. Have your child learn several poems from memory — he will, if you have an active program. Show your child how you read from left to right along the lines. (In daily activities, you can reinforce this training: Let him help set the table, placing silverware left to right; have him put shoes by pairs in the closet and mittens by pairs in drawers. All this offers practice in left-to-right relationships, as well as organization.) As you read, you should use vocal variety — make the story or poem exciting, interesting. Vary your voice for the different characters at times, using inflection and vocal color. (Use balance, though, and don't be overly dramatic.) This will enthrall your child and will help to show him that reading is something so enjoyable, he will want to learn to do it as soon as he can. Suggestions that deal with your child's interests should be made and then developed. His interests should be followed in your selection of books. If you have been or are going to a zoo, you could choose books about animals. If he's interested in Daddy's car, select books on cars. Daddy should be having a big part in the child's early years, helping to develop the youngster's interests. The possibilities here are endless. Remember: There's no need to continue reading something in which your child has no apparent interest at the time. He has so many of his own interests going — build on these. His knowledge in these subjects will rapidly increase, and interest in other areas will develop from this.
See through your child's eyes
Open the world to your child — teach, instruct, nourish, add to the ideas and interests he has. Visit many different places. Show him our varied environment. So much of his learning will come from natural, daily occurrences. A parent should try to look at the world through a child's eyes. Doing so really helps us to understand and appreciate God. We should look at things in detail and with wonder. View the folded rosebud, the billowing clouds. Have you ever noticed that the tiny twigs of trees make a lovely, lacy pattern against the sky? Spring should not pass without your explaining the "month of little green ears." Autumn is the time to point out the golden radiance of harvesting and Feast preparation. You should show how winter follows and what its purpose is. Select stories and poems on the seasons now and enjoy and appreciate God's creation with your child. You needn't be overly anxious to get your child reading. Parents, it seems, often put great emphasis on reading while leaving other more valuable preschool work undone. In teaching, I frequently find children who can "read" before they come to school, but have poor comprehension and can do little else. They have learned to identify words, but without the depth of meaning that takes added maturity and life experience to comprehend. If a child is unbalanced he becomes unhappy. To some parents, other areas are not so visible or tangible as reading, and are overlooked. These include the important areas of attitude. A parent should not neglect to develop in a child these areas of good attitude and disposition: • Dependability and reliability. • Working diligently at a task and seeing it through (even when he doesn't want to). • Displaying good citizenship — polite addressing of adults and friendliness toward peers. • Sharing, giving and telling the truth — not shading the truth to his own advantage, but being completely (though tactfully!) honest. • Growing in coordination and balance and wanting to try new things. Parents should, of course, make sure that they inculcate principles of God's way of life daily. This is the foundation upon which all else will rest. Reading can be accomplished early, but is it necessary?
Is reading necessary?
If a parent is too demanding about his child's reaching a certain level of reading achievement, a real dislike of reading can develop. This can take years to eradicate — if it is even possible to overcome it. It is much better to do it this way: Read to your child. Talk to him. Ask him questions in a normal, warm way. Don't pressure him. Don't try to make your teaching "formal." If, however, a child does show interest in reading before his first year at school (and he usually will, if you're stimulating him mentally), you should expose him to familiar words that are all around us. Point out "STOP," "TELEPHONE" and others. He'll learn words from television, too. You can have your child point out signs as you walk and ride. Take him shopping with you and let him read labels. Just do it naturally. He will have such pleasure in recognition that he will begin to excitedly tell you the words before you ask him to. What a help it will be to select books containing these words to read to him now! As he sees words he recognizes, he will learn to read in a way that is most exciting to him. Have your child tell you a story in a few sentences. Using large, dark letters, print what he has said and read it aloud to him while you're writing it. Let him watch. You can make up his own book this way, using large sheets of paper. Praise him for words he recognizes. If you choose to buy him books of his own, make book buying a real event. It is effective to buy one book at a time. This should instill a greater appreciation for books than if you buy a whole stack at once.
Your child should be given opportunity to do much cutting and pasting. He can cut out pictures dealing with a certain topic and paste them in a scrapbook. Or he can paste pictures on cardboard and then cut the pictures into different shapes. Here is a way to have an endless supply of jigsaw puzzles! He should be exposed to several kinds of shapes. Have him make a clock by using numbers found in magazines and papers. Your child can learn colors by sorting your thread according to light and dark colors as you sew. Play games with colors. Over the months you will see steady growth in coordination. He will pretend he's writing. When you see this, don't force him to write neat, even letters. Little hands with small, tightly grasped pencils could result in cramped muscles and possible eye strain. Just have him use large crayons and pencils and enjoy what he is doing. School time is soon enough to develop neat lines of writing. If your child strongly favors use of his left hand, make no issue of it.
What about music and math?
Your child should be presented with opportunities to become acquainted with music. From earliest days he should hear a rich variety of music. Play records, both classical and children's, along with a rich selection of other types. Have occasional background music at mealtimes. Point out the different instruments of the orchestra. Let your child participate in making music and keeping time to it. Let him dance, skip, jump, march and learn left and right by so doing. Through rhythmic activities a child gains coordination, confidence, social skills and knowledge. A child's musical attempts should not be ridiculed or in any way put down. Encourage and help instead. How many children have been turned off from the joy of singing or dancing by adults who, often unknowingly, ridiculed their wholehearted, but perhaps rather poor, performances? Preschool years offer a made-to-order situation for teaching elementary mathematics. Since you will be taking your child shopping, have him find round and oval fruits and vegetables, rectangular packages, square boxes. He should have experience with money, especially pennies, nickels and dimes. Have him put his first tithe aside, and his second tithe in a bank that he may open frequently so he can count his progress with you. Have him gather acorns, stones, pebbles, sand, shells, and then weigh them against each other on a scale at home. Let him see that one heavy object can balance with several small objects of a different sort. He will need to keep these objects separate, so here is another opportunity to teach order and organization. Your child should learn to be organized. He can start in his room, placing his shoes in order and keeping his books on the shelf and laundry in the hamper or laundry bag. This will help him to be organized in school — and how his teacher will thank you! Have him measure how many times a certain toy will fit on his chair, how many steps it is to certain objects. Have him set the table and count out the spoons, forks and knives needed. Let him count out the plates.
Soon — the first day of school
As he gets closer to school age, prepare for that important first day. See that he is playing with other children. Be sure he has contact with other adults who have been given authority over him. His teacher should not be his first "other authority." That would make his adjusting to school extremely difficult. And don't instill (even subtly, as some parents unwittingly do) the idea that men should be obeyed, but that women don't need to be. This is prevented when Mother's authority over him is real, not just a "holding pattern" until Dad gets home to handle the problem. A child should respond to the authority of both parents. Then let him know there are people other than his parents who have authority over him. You should talk positively about your child's school, not making it sound as if you are sending him to a place that is corrective, or one of which you do not approve. Build up the school as a happy place where he will meet new friends and have a wonderful time. Take him to visit the school before the first day. Let him get acquainted with his teacher and his room. Some schools have a special time for this. This will help reassure him. Before your child goes to school, he should know his parents' names, his home address and phone number and his date of birth. He should also be able to take care of his toilet needs by himself. Think and talk positively. Remember that teachers desire success for your child and want him to gain a solid foundation in school. Instructing is a tremendous responsibility. Show your child that you and the teacher are unified in your concern for him. Any questions or misunderstandings you have should be handled directly with the teacher, not through your child. Uphold the teacher in your child's eyes. Since the first day may be the longest time your child has ever spent away from you, be prompt to pick him up at dismissal time. This will reassure your child. If you emphasize God's principles as the basis of knowledge, your child will be given a giant blessing that will literally never end. He will please all who come in contact with him, reflecting your training and, by extension, God's Church.
The Power of Parental Example by Graemme J Marshall
"He's the spitting image of his father." "He's a chip off the old block." "Like mother, like daughter." Expressions like these reflect that we tend to follow the example set by our parents. How good or how bad an example do you set as a parent? Children are richly blessed in life if they have good examples to follow. This leaves you as a parent with a major question to answer: By following your parental example, where will your children end up? To help answer that question, let's look at some ways that your children learn from your example. Here are several traits you may occasionally exemplify, and what those examples will produce in your children.
A child living with hostility will learn to fight. Have you ever been out somewhere and observed children who punch, scratch, pinch, push, bully, swear at and tattle on other children? If this is their behavior in public, then what must the example they see at home be like? Are your children guilty of such conduct? If so, from whom do they learn it? Parents who stand on the sidelines of sporting events yelling and urging their children to win at all costs — and who get upset and angry when their children lose — are teaching a spirit of competitiveness. They are also teaching that winning is all that matters. Do you know parents who will only play sports if they can win all of the time and who are extremely irritated at losing? They will not play with people they cannot beat. Ever wonder what attitude their children will adopt toward fair play and being able to lose gracefully? Why not teach children by example, that winning, though important, is not the supreme goal? Playing the game in sportsmanlike fashion and showing concern for the other players is most important. Children exposed to bad sporting examples quickly absorb the message that to solve a problem you argue and fight. What a pity they are not rather learning that peace comes from practicing the principles that make for peace (Jas. 3:18).
A child who lives with constant criticism will learn to grumble and complain. Is the family dinner table a place for gossip, criticism and cynical remarks? If it is, then children are learning to be complainers. Do you have gripe sessions in front of them? If you must air grievances, do it privately, away from young, impressionable minds. This may take restraint on your part when you have the urge to be critical. Better still, overcome such negative habits. Certainly, you should teach your children to accept criticism — it's a tool for growth — but criticism should always be constructive and be given in a spirit of love.
Disregard for law
It is surprising to see the extent to which some "Christians" flout vehicle speed laws and parking directions. Some apparently feel that traffic regulations are "only man's laws anyway." What is of greater concern about such disregard, beyond that you could wind up hurt physically, is that you are nourishing a belief in your heart that you are above law. This teaches children double standards. Derogatory remarks about authority figures — whether police, teachers, government officials or ministers — also set a bad example. Paul warns, "Obey those who rule over you" (Heb. 13:17) — even when you consider the rules inadequate or foolish. Your purpose is to learn to submit to authority. If you don't set the example, how can you expect your children to submit to you? Disregard for law and order encourages rebellion.
Isaac grew up in a family atmosphere that reflected unequal love toward his half brother Ishmael (Gen. 21:8-11). Eventually Ishmael was forced out of the camp and separated from his father, Abraham, because of Sarah's and Hagar's feelings against each other. In time, Isaac had his own family — twin sons — Esau and Jacob. But personality differences took root in the family because Isaac favored Esau while Rebekah gave more of her love to Jacob (Gen. 25:28). This led eventually to Jacob's taking Esau's birthright by deceptive means worked out by his mother. Not the best example of family togetherness. But where did Isaac learn to conduct his family this way?
If you practice favoritism, your children will learn to be partial. Continuing with the above story, we read that Jacob had many children from his two wives and their handmaids. But the child Jacob loved most was the youngest, Joseph. The problem with this was in being so open about it before the others, culminating in the special gift of the coat of many colors (Gen. 37:3-4). This produced family jealousy and rivalry. Of course, Joseph's dreams and his approach in telling his brothers didn't help matters either (verses 5-11). The end result of Jacob's practicing partiality was that Joseph was sold into Egypt as a slave. Joseph, himself, was partial years later in Egypt when he gave a banquet for all his brothers. Guess who got the biggest share of food? Benjamin, the youngest, was openly favored (Gen. 43:34). This resurrected a family resentment that resurfaced at the death of Jacob. Joseph's brothers became fearful, thinking that with the patriarch out of the way, Joseph would take revenge on them (Gen. 50:15).
Children see through hypocrisy, especially in the Christian example you set. Do you say one thing — or even tell your children to do one thing — while you yourself do something else? Does your child know and see that you pray, study the Bible, fast, get anointed when you are sick and serve others? Or does he see a show at Church services each week and general disinterest the other six days? Whatever you practice, your children see and tend to copy, whether for the good or bad. But what if you yourself have been the victim of bad parental influences and find yourself struggling to change? God gives encouragement through the prophet Ezekiel. As long as you are willing to take heed to your ways, to consider right and wrong and seek to change faults, you can avoid being an injurious example to your own children (Ezek. 18:14-17, 27-28). You can, if you are willing to make the effort, teach them God's way. Joseph and Mary must have set a fine example for Jesus. God the Father must have been especially mindful that a right kind of family environment would be needed to nurture and admonish Jesus during His boyhood years. With the help of this fine family example, Jesus grew up to be "in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52). Could there be a better goal in child training than this, that as a result of the godly family environment you create for your children, they grow up to be "in favor with God and men"? How richly blessed your children will be if this happens. And what a commendation for you as a parent! If your family environment reflects criticism, hostility, ridicule and competitiveness, your child will learn to fight, to feel shy and guilty, to be spiteful and hateful and perhaps be destined to end up as an ineffective parent himself. But if your family environment reflects tolerance, encouragement, praise, fairness, honesty, security and approval, your child will learn acceptance, patience, confidence, justice, faith and to find true and enduring friendships. The parental example you set has great impact upon your children. Make your example a good one!