So you want to make sure your child is getting the most out of preschool or that they are simply ready for school in general. Homework seems like an obvious way to build in some extra learning time and give them that edge that will help them excel academically. The problem is research doesn’t support this idea that traditional homework like worksheets and projects are helpful for younger kids.
Don't worry though, there are four non-traditional “homework” activities that are linked to increased academic success, and they are likely things you are already doing.
Focus on your relationship with your child.
The relationship you build with your child is so much more than the warm fuzzy feelings it gives both you and your child. It is foundational to the development of their academic skills. Results indicated that securely attached students achieved more academically than the insecurely attached ones, and securely attached students were also found to be more socially competent.
A 1988 study that followed children from age two to age five found that children who had a securely attached relationship with their parent were more interested in written material than the insecurely attached children, regardless of their intelligence and the amount of reading instruction (1). This interest in written materials fuels internal motivation and makes it easier for kids to enjoy learning.
Another study done from 2016 found that mother-child closeness when children were two years old was predictive of children’s vocabulary, academic skills, and ability to control their emotions and behaviors skills just before kindergarten (2). These are just two findings that add to accumulating literature suggesting that children’s early relationships with their parents lay the foundation for their later academic skills. So love on your child and know that the relationship you are building now is preparing them for academic success.
Let them explore. This encourages mastery of skills.
Children, especially young children, learn by doing and exploring. When parents create an environment that allows their child to explore, the child is more likely to be motivated to learn how to master skills (this is called “mastery motivation”) and be more ready for school. Children that learn how to master skills gain a more detailed understanding of whatever they are learning, and “mastery motivation” has been tied to better academic achievement (3). One of the big reasons exploring is so helpful for children is because it helps them discover patterns that they can then use to help them solve other similar puzzles.
A study on how children learn revealed that three-year-olds benefit from being encouraged to reflect on the similarities of two new things. By age four, most kids have learned how to learn well enough that they often don’t need to be prompted to look for similarities (4). This shows the natural progression of how kids learn to learn by exploring the world around them and discovering how things relate to each other.
Talk and read with your child.
When you read together and talk about academic-related topics with your children, you validate that these things are important, plus you help them learn in a safe and enjoyable environment. Simply reading together regularly and talking about numbers brings academia into a relatable setting which helps them better understand the value of these skills.
This may sound stuffy or boring, but it can be as simple as including numbers in your conversations with them. For example, count the measurements out loud as you are cooking with them. You can also use whatever they are currently interested in to engage with them. For example, if they like animals, make up a match game as you watch dogs or birds at the park. How many new ones come? How many leave?
Growing up, my dad used my interest in coins to hook me on math. He had a big box of coins and he would create math problems for me using the coins. For every problem I got right, I got to keep all the coins involved. These ideas may not work for your child, but find fun relatable ways to talk about numbers. By regularly involving children in math related activities you provide valuable learning opportunities that will help your child succeed in school (5).
Reading with your child is also a brain-building activity. As you probably already know, exposure to books and reading together is very helpful for your child’s development. In fact, studies have shown that children whose parents reported more reading at home and more books in the home showed significantly greater activation of areas in the brain that supports mental imagery and narrative comprehension (6).
This means that by simply reading with your child, they can better visualize what is being explained to them and have a better understanding of all the details in a story and how they fit together. You don’t need to be reading or talking about numbers all the time, but if you find enjoyable ways to incorporate both of these activities regularly, your child’s brain development will benefit.
Let them play!
Lastly, children learn so much through play. Play builds on the previous point of letting them explore because most kids use play as a way to explore the word around them. But play is more than simply exploring. It also brings in social aspects that children need to learn in order to thrive.
Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, the principal investigator of the study “Reading Aloud, Play and Social-Emotional Development”, said “We think when parents read and play with their children more, the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters. They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult, and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness. All families need to know when they read, when they play with their children, they’re helping them learn to control their own behavior.”
This is huge, because if a child can learn to express their feelings and control their behaviors, they will be more prepared for the classroom setting and better able to learn in that environment.
In HelloJoey’s “Homework: From Hassle to Happy” kit, we look at homework from all angles, incorporating the perspectives of students, teachers, parents, and experts. You’ll find more tools to help you reflect on your child's homework time. Our activities will help you answer questions like:
How did you handle homework back in the day?
What are ways your child take a break that will help them focus more after?
Does their learning environment at home encourage them to do their homework?
What executive function skill/s are my kids good at? Can they be used creatively for their homework?
Want to learn more about “Homework: From Hassle to Happy?” Start your path to a solid parenting foundation in just 10 minutes a day. Check out the HelloJoey app.
Bus, A. G., & Van Ijzendoorn, M. H. (1988). Attachment and early reading: A longitudinal study. The Journal of genetic psychology, 149(2), 199-210.
Harmeyer, E., Ispa, J. M., Palermo, F., & Carlo, G. (2016). Predicting self-regulation and vocabulary and academic skills at kindergarten entry: The roles of maternal parenting stress and mother-child closeness. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 37, 153–164. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.ECRESQ.2016.05.001
MacPhee, D., Prendergast, S., Albrecht, E., Walker, A. K., & Miller-Heyl, J. (2018). The child-rearing environment and children’s mastery motivation as contributors to school readiness. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 56, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.APPDEV.2018.01.002
Brown, A. L., & Kane, M. J. (1988). Preschool children can learn to transfer: Learning to learn and learning from example. Cognitive Psychology, 20(4), 493-523.
Ramani, G. B., Rowe, M. L., Eason, S. H., & Leech, K. A. (2015). Math talk during informal learning activities in Head Start families. Cognitive Development, 35, 15–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2014.11.002
Hutton, J. S., Horowitz-Kraus, T., Mendelsohn, A. L., DeWitt, T., Holland, S. K., & C-MIND Authorship Consortium. (2015). Home reading environment and brain activation in preschool children listening to stories. Pediatrics, peds-2015.