Building Foundational Skills at Home

June 3, 2016

For families participating in the 2016-17 test cycle, now is the time to start building a strong learning foundation! Though individual exams may have distinct content and test-taking expectations, verbal skills and arithmetic skills are the building blocks to test-day readiness and success across all test types. For children aged 3.5-4 years, it is important to develop a familiarity – and ideally a mastery – of foundation skills that are common to every test or interview setting. Here are some strategies for guiding verbal and arithmetic learning at home:


Be specific!

Ask your child to be as specific and verbally expressive as possible when describing the world around him or her. The goal is to move beyond pointing as the primary mode of communication and to limit the use of general words like “this,” “that,” or “it.” It is important to ask questions that promote thorough, multi-sentence answers. Ask about the color, texture, function, position, size, shape, etc. of objects. Visit new and familiar places with your child and ask what he or she sees, enjoys about being there, and likes to do there. Building these conversational skills will prompt your child to build a strong personal voice, engage in more detailed storytelling, and observe the world around him or her more thoughtfully.



Drawings and Pictures

Using visual aids is a great way to reinforce verbal skills in a multi-modal way. Purchasing educational posters (ex: alphabet and number lines) and hanging them at eye-level for your child can help build letter and number recognition. Labeling common items in your home will develop a familiarity with basic spelling and linking the relationship between letters and beginning sounds (ex: the “s” sound in “sock” comes from the beginning letter, “s.” This also helps contextualize objects in space and underlines the associative relationship between objects. A creative way to build verbal-expression skills is to have your child draw a picture and describe his or her reasoning behind the image, visual aspects of the image, and emotions associated with the image. One last way to practice verbal expression is to go through a picture book together and describe the scenes. Again, ask guiding questions to support multi-sentence answers and prompt the child to think beyond the visual, connecting to the narrative (“What’s going on in this picture?” “What do you think is going to happen next?” “What changed between pictures?”).



Blocks and Dice

To build arithmetic skills, we recommend using manipulative that help visualize counting, addition, subtraction, and quantities.



Daily Strategies

  • Building Vocabulary

    • Use flashcards during playtime to boost excitement for word recognition

    • Constantly describe and name items that you and your child come across so it becomes a daily routine

    • Practice using more difficult synonyms in place of easier words with which your child is already familiar


Building Arithmetic Skills

  • Work with your child on basic concepts like greater-than and less-than, number sequences, and patterns

  • Use numbered objects like telephone keypads and clocks to explain different relationships between digits

  • Reinforce the one-to-one concept by practicing counting drills with your child regularly, asking him or her to verbally count various items (ex: the number of blue cars parked on a street, the number of steps climbed)


Building Focus

  • Start exercises in places that provide little distraction for your child, such as in a car or bus, in a waiting room, etc.

  • Practice learning exercises often to recognize how long your child can remain engaged in one concept or task, and gradually increase the time spent on one exercise each day


Though some of these strategies may not work for every child, we recommend applying them to fit your child’s learning style in order to get him or her comfortable with the letters, numbers, and concepts that he or she will come across in standardized tests. Keep in mind that all children develop these core skills at a unique pace, and frequent practice is the biggest key to broadening and strengthening their ability to analyze and learn. Using strategies like these will help prepare your child to tackle new concepts and conquer challenging exams with confidence.

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