Getting your child ready for school...Expert commentary

School Readiness is a term parents of four and five year old children will begin to hear more and more as a child steps on the gangplank of the educational boat.

The focus is on reading and early math skills, but should it be?

School Readiness is really about learning, and the first step to learning is the ability to listen and follow directions. Children can't learn if they don't know how to listen, and because children are auditory learners, the ability to absorb comes from that skill - listening.

Listening skills begin in the home, and those skills begin with turning off the television. The constant TV drone in the background of most homes gives children the idea that somehow silence and an absence of sound is a bad thing. Teaching a child that silence and quiet are not unheard of is sometimes tough.

"Quiet," a teacher calls order, and twenty percent of the young group can't because children have not learned to stop and listen to anyone. When directions are yelled over the noise, and nothing is expected in return, starting school is a nightmare because it's a skill the child has not established.

And to add to a general absence of listening, there is a more serious developmental problem. More often than not there is a child in preschool who has what we call a problem with processing information. These children are easy to spot because they just don't make any sense when they talk. They are like TV sets gone berserk. They babble on incessantly about nothing and when asked a question, their response is partially repetitious and partially nonsense.

The route of this problem is too much noise and not enough real response. Children taken to one noisy place after another as infants and then put in front of TV while mom gets her work done or chats on the phone is probably responsible for later processing problems. The child learns early that noise input is normal, and nothing is expected in return.

As a child gets to be about three, the formation has already occurred. The infant and toddler years are gone, and the child has not had enough of that one voice to one voice with eye contact. Parents have not taken the time to wait for a personal response with the child's name on it.

Listening has become a negative for many children. The idea that they should stop what they are doing and thinking and listen to another is tantamount to time theft. Story time is penance to many children. They simply don't know how to absorb what someone else is saying. Story time is what begins the educational process. Reading to children is probably the keystone to the making of excellent student and reversing processing problems.

So how does an earnest and loving parent break some of the bad habits it's so easy to form?

When working with very young children, it's best to turn off all extraneous noise like radios, TVs and toys that talk a good part of the day. At least make sure they are off before you speak, read, or play with your children.

Choose your words carefully before you get a child's attention.

Have a set pattern for directions that tells a child that he must listen. We use "This is a stop, look and listen time, children."  At the Garden School, we use a bell or a whistle to get the group's attention. We insist every child stop what they are doing, stand and turn to the adult who is speaking.

Make it short. No wild hairs, no long lectures, no complaints. "It's time to pick up your toys and get ready for _____." Now fill in the blank.

Following directions paves the way for the ability to begin to listen and therefore learn. If children can listen and respond to, "It's time to pick up your toys and get ready for ______," they can also respond to, "And what did the Cat in the Hat do next?" or anything else a teacher is saying or trying to explain.