Learning at Home is an Effective Way to Set the Stage for Learning at School

Dr. Paula suggests some practical, informal ways to prepare children for learning even before they begin their formal learning experiences in the traditional school classroom.

Our first child is not yet in school, but we want to get a jump start on ways to prepare her for school and to help her learn some basics that will ease the transition from home to preschool.  What are some suggestions you have that will help us gently prepare our daughter for the school years ahead?

-Debra and Mark V.

As you probably know, I really believe that parents are a child’s first teachers and your question affirms that belief. You can begin introducing your daughter to many basics that will serve her well as she enters preschool and will build a learning foundation that will take her successfully through the grades.

Spend your time on the basics as a way to prepare for learning.  That includes behavior, language and numbers. Providing some fundamentals in those areas will make for a smooth transition to the school setting.


Behavior includes exemplifying, showing and labeling appropriate behaviors and how they look in various settings. Consider all the places where your family goes. Think about your behavioral expectations for your daughter in each of those places. Then, in advance of going to any of those locations, prepare your daughter by describing the location, explaining who will be present and identifying the behaviors appropriate for each of those places. 

For example, visiting family members at their homes might be prefaced with a brief conversation about appropriate greetings, making requests for using the bathroom, eating or drinking, saying please and thank you, interacting with cousins or respecting the relatives’ home and possessions.

Attending church may require a different conversation about remaining respectful and quiet, sitting, standing or kneeling with other members of the congregation, not engaging in conversations and singing aloud or praying quietly.

A visit to the local park or playground allows for a lot more flexibility in behavioral expectations. Here you might focus on safety, using the equipment appropriately, taking turns with other children who might be present and staying within your range of visibility.

As you teach the behaviors expected in these varied circumstances, you might make the connection between those behaviors and the similarity of the behaviors expected of children in the school. Explain that because the activities in school may vary by the hour, the behavioral expectations may also vary. Sometimes it’s okay to be louder and engage in physical activity at school and at other times the teacher may be talking to the class and require that students remain quiet and attentive.

Basically, the idea is to teach your child that different behaviors are expected and appropriate in different settings, and that it is her responsibility to know and respect the differences and comply with what is expected of her.


Becoming a Nation of Readers, a landmark review of reading research published by the Commission on Reading stated that, reading aloud to children is “the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for success in reading.” The commission further noted that the best time to begin reading to children is when they are infants. By age 2 or 3, children begin to develop an awareness of printed letters and words. They see others around them reading, writing and using words for many purposes. Toddler and preschools are especially ready to learn from adults reading to and with them.

Some of the ways you can promote language and reading with your youngster include:

Make reading books an enjoyable experience. Sit in a quiet comfortable place with your daughter. Help her feel nurtured and secure. Take your time. Plan reading aloud time so that you’re not hurried or rushed. Demonstrate your own interest and enjoyment in reading to your child. Use the time together as a rewarding activity that creates a unique bond between you and your daughter.

Read frequently to your child. If possible, start the day with a book.  Stop for a mid-day reading break before or after lunch or at mid-afternoon before or after a snack or nap. Close the day with a bedtime story. 

Help your child to learn as you read. Stop reading occasionally to offer and explanation, make an observation or ask your child a question. You might explain a new word. You might ask your child to describe the picture in the book. Or you might ask what the child thinks may happen as the story progresses. Involve your child in the reading experience. Keep her engaged.

Ask your child questions as you read. Pose some questions that help your child relate the story to her own life. For example, if the story is about a pet, you might ask how the pet in the story behaves compared to how your family pet behaves. Ask questions that help your child compare the book being read with other books that were previously read. Help her see relationships and to compare and contrast the characters, locations and events in the books.

Encourage your child to talk about the book. Make the read aloud an interactive conversation. Welcome her observations and questions. After you’ve read the story, ask your child’s opinion of it. Have her talk about her favorite parts of the story or to retell the story in her own words.


You can help your child learn about numbers and counting in many ways by keeping it informal and fun.

Make pointing to and counting familiar objects around the house a part of your daily routine. Setting the table for dinner is a convenient time to count out loud the number of plates, forks, spoons, knives and napkins. Point out the relationship between the number of people and the number of place settings. Count the number of books on a shelf or the number of pieces of mail that arrive each day. Relating counting and numbers to everyday items and tasks helps to make the abstract more concrete.

As you point out items and count aloud, encourage your child to do the same. Engaging more than one of the senses is an excellent way to reinforce learning.

Ask the “how many?” question often. Look at the number of socks and ask how many are in a pair. Show the chest of drawers and ask how many drawers are in it. 

Children especially enjoy pointing to their fingers, legs, toes, ears and eyes and counting aloud. Encourage this activity.

Use everyday items to sort and count. Spill a cupful of various macaroni sizes and shapes on the table and help your child sort and count the different kinds.

Give your child a measuring tape or ruler and have her measure things around the house.

Sing rhyming and counting songs as you sort the laundry, put grocery items on the shelf or put the dishes back in the cupboard.

Remember that learning in preparation for entering the formal school setting can be done anywhere and in hundreds of everyday ways.  Take advantage of those that you can and you’ll add even more value to the quality time you spend with your child.


The wisest thing a parent can do is to let preschool children figure out themselves how to draw the human figure, or solve a whole range of problems, from overcoming Saturday-morning boredom to dealing with a neighborhood bully. But even while standing on the sidelines, parents can frequently offer support in helping children discover what they want to accomplish.” ~ John F. Clabby

To learn the typical language accomplishments by developmental age, visit: http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/reader/part9.html

Jim Trelease offers dozens of readable, practical brochures to guide parents in helping their children to read:  http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/brochures.html

Here are some great ideas for preparing preschoolers to learn: http://www2.ed.gov/parents/earlychild/ready/preschool/index.html

Sherrill Cannon September 20, 2011 at 12:00 AM
As a grandmother of nine, I like this post very much and offer the following suggestion. In a society full of bullying and self-centered children, it is helpful to teach your children the benefits of consideration for others and being polite as early as possible. The Magic Word is a book emphasizing good manners, which can be read to toddlers. It is a rhyming story of a little girl who was rude, selfish and demanding – and had very few friends. Her mother suggested that she needed to improve her manners; so when she went to school the next day, she thought of her mother’s advice, “What is the magic word?” and she started saying “Please” and also “Thank You”. She tried to become more thoughtful of others, and discovered that she was a much happier person. The repetitive use of the phrase “What is the magic word?” has children answering “Please”!
Paula A. Calabrese September 20, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Sherrill, what a lovely suggestion! There's just nothing better than a tried and true activity that parents and grandparents can share with children. The "magic word" is a great cue to help a child remember her manners. Thanks so very much for sharing this idea. I hope others will try it and share some ideas of their own.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »