Preschool and kindergarten used to be all about dress up and finger paint, but recent changes in curriculum in the elementary schools have changed that. It seems that the pressure being felt in elementary schools for greater academic gains have been pushed down to preschool, leaving parents and teachers alike stressed about what young children need to accomplish in preschool. What do children really need to know to be prepared for elementary school and is it possible that your child could fail preschool?

“Using the word 'fail' sets a negative tone and anxiety right from the get-go,” says Deanna Zerr, Early Childhood Teacher Trainer and owner of Unlimited Options. “Give these little people, as well as parents a break! Our little tykes are just coming into the world of "school" and we want it to be a glorious new world of exploring, playing, learning to do all kinds of great things. The goal is to set up the love of learning, not to expect them to know everything in those years.”

Below are some of the most common fears parents have about their children’s preschool skills and development. You will find information about what your child really needs to know and what may not be necessary at this age. If you are still concerned and would like to have a little extra practice at home, some fun, age appropriate activities for preschoolers are listed as well.

"My Child is Not Reading"

Your child does not need to be able to read before he enters kindergarten. Although some well meaning preschool teachers may feel that children should be sounding out words before they leave preschool, most early childhood educators understand that reading is a developmental skill that cannot be learned until a child is ready. A wide variety of skills such as letter recognition and vocabulary development will help build the foundation for reading and they can be practiced in a fun and relaxed way that will set the stage for reading success.

What you can do at home:

  • Read to your child every day to build vocabulary and instill a love of learning.
  • Play games to practice letter recognition and beginning sounds such as alphabet bingo or go fish with alphabet flash cards.
  • Help your child read words in the environment. Street signs, cereal boxes and signs for favorite stores or restaurants are great first reading words.

"My Child Has Poor Fine Motor Skills"

What if your child can’t write neatly or cut curved lines with scissors? No need to worry, good kindergarten programs will give your child many opportunities to practice these skills. A good introduction about how to properly hold scissors and crayons and some fun practice should be enough to get your little writer ready for his future in writing essays and reports. Make practicing fun and your child won’t even know he is doing something good for him!

What you can do at home:

  • Provide a wide variety of writing materials such as colored or textured paper, crayons, markers and colored pencils to pique your child’s interest in drawing and writing.
  • Provide your child with child-safe scissors and something interesting to cut; old magazines or newspapers, used wrapping paper or even pieces of yarn or string. Be sure to discuss what scissors are not used for (cutting hair or clothing) and closely supervise your crafty child at work.
  • Encourage your child to play with play dough, building blocks, stringing beads, stencils and other activities that will help strengthen the muscles of the hand that will be used for writing.

"My Child Does Not Know His Numbers"

Children who are ready for kindergarten math have had some experiences with counting and numbers as well as some discussion about sizes and shapes. Your child need not be able to add or even recognize all the numbers when he leaves preschool; just a little background knowledge will put him on the right track. It may not pay off to use workbooks to practice writing numbers or learn about addition. Unless your child enjoys it, this will only cause anxiety and negative feelings about learning.

What you can do at home:

  • Count everything; the plates as you set the table, pairs of socks as you put them in the drawer or raisins you are eating for snack. Practice makes perfect!
  • Play games that use dice or numbers to practice number recognition. Point to numbers in print or on signs.
  • Read counting books and let your child count items in the book, touching each one as he counts. This will give him practice with one-to-one correspondence.

"My Child Needs to Work on His Social Skills"

If your child has never been in a group setting without you before preschool, his social skills may need time to develop. Learning social skills is a big goal for preschool and an experienced preschool teacher will give your child many lessons in how to get along with other children and solve problems. Every child needs to learn social skills, but as in any other subjects, it comes more naturally to some children than others. For most people social graces take a lifetime to learn, so don’t stress if your child has some work to do when he leaves preschool.

What you can do at home:

  • Set up play dates with friends from preschool or the neighborhood.
  • Read books about social skills and getting along with others (ask your librarian for some suggestions).
  • Role play situations that your child might need to work on, offering suggestions for good ways to resolve conflicts and solve problems.

"My Child’s Teacher Says He Has a Short Attention Span"

Your child’s attention span will lengthen as he matures. Ask the teacher how long the children are asked to sit and what types of activities he is having difficulty staying focused on. Perhaps the activities and length of time is not appropriate for young children. If your child has a summer or fall birthday, time may be the solution to this problem.

What you can do at home:

  • Read books that are appropriate for the age of your child (ask your child’s teacher or librarian for some suggestions.) Keep your child’s attention by asking questions and allowing your child to make predictions about what will happen next.
  • Engage your child in projects of interest to him. Help him stay focused by involving him throughout the process.
  • Reward your child for completing projects that he starts. A chart where he can add a sticker each time he completes a task would be a great reward for a preschooler.

Fail is not a word that should be associated with preschool. If you and your child’s teacher agree he might benefit from another year of preschool, this is not failure. By giving your child time to grow and develop and by engaging him in a few fun activities at home, you will ensure that he has the best foundation for learning in kindergarten and beyond.