The start of school is just around the corner, but a leading pediatricians’ group warns that many kids entering kindergarten lack the skills they need to succeed in class.
To help parents get their young ones ready to start school, the American Academy of Pediatrics has just released a report on what helps boost success as well as what factors may hinder kids’ school experience.
“We’ve kind of focused on the acquisition of pre-academic skills, but that’s not what’s most important,” said report author Dr. P. Gail Williams. She’s an executive committee member of the AAP’s Council on Early Childhood.
What is important, she said, is that parents “instill in children a love of learning, enjoyment of books, early literacy, appropriate play, learning to self-regulate, and interact with peers and adults.” Kids who love to learn and are resilient have a better chance at doing well in school both academically and socially.
Williams said that parents should start teaching children these skills from birth. “In early brain development, neural connections are made on the basis of early experiences and relationships with parents, siblings and community members,” she said.
And, don’t worry, she’s not recommending drilling your kids with flashcards. “Do things you enjoy with your children. Play with your kids. Read with your kids,” she suggested.
One example, she said, is preparing dinner. “Talk to your children about what you’re doing, and let them help when possible. You can talk about which foods are healthy or point out the colors of different foods. Make it a learning experience,” Williams said.
What gets in the way of a child’s school success?
Having fewer resources was a factor. Only 48% of poor children are ready to start school at age 5 versus three-quarters of the kids who come from a moderate- or high-income family. Kids who’ve had traumatic events — such as abuse, neglect, witnessing violence in the home, or the loss of a parent from death, divorce or incarceration — are almost three times as likely to need to repeat a grade compared to their peers without these events.
One major stumbling block in getting kids ready for school is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These children were 21 times more likely to have problems with school readiness compared to kids without the disorder, another new study found.
Led by Dr. Hannah Perrin from Stanford University, the study included nearly 100 youngsters, aged 4 or 5. About half had been diagnosed with ADHD or had significant ADHD symptoms, and the other half did not have such symptoms.
The researchers noted that kids with ADHD symptoms had striking differences when compared with the other kids. Their approach to learning was far more likely to be impaired, they had social and emotional difficulties, impaired language development, and troubles with physical well-being and motor development.
The study authors said providing interventions and services for these young children could help lessen their struggles in school.
Eric Herman, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, said people are reluctant to diagnose ADHD in young children, but said it’s a “huge” help for kids to be diagnosed sooner rather than later. “Some kids I see have had trouble for two or three years, and because of that already have a negative feeling about school,” he said.
Once that cycle gets started, it can be hard to break. Herman said while no one wants their child to be diagnosed with an illness, it’s important to bring up any concerns you have about your child’s behavior with his or her pediatrician.
Although the school readiness report didn’t detail the potential effects that screen time — whether phone, tablet, computer or TV — might have on a child’s readiness for school, both Williams and Herman expressed concern.
“It’s important to make sure your kids are socially ready for school,” Herman said. “Can they sit still and be generally well-behaved? Phones and other screens can be greatly distracting. Think in terms of a restaurant. You might give your kid your phone just to get some peace and quiet, but that means they don’t have a chance to develop self-control. There’s also a loss of socialization,” he added.
Williams recommended limiting screen time. “Some parents use screen time effectively as a reward, but that should be limited. Young children need to learn basic skills on how to interact with other people. The only way you learn self-regulation and what’s appropriate behavior is through practice and learning from other people,” she explained.
Both the report on school readiness and the study on school readiness for preschoolers with ADHD were published online July 22 in Pediatrics.
Learn more about getting your child ready for kindergarten from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.