Advice Column
For Families

All families want their children to be successful in school and life. These are some questions families asked Head Start about ways to help their children be ready for school, and the answers they received. If you have further questions, talk with your child’s teacher, home visitor, or family advocate, and they will share additional ways you can help your child.

Dear Head Start,

I am pregnant with my first child. What can I do to help her learn after she is born? I know she won't really begin to learn until she is older, but I want to be ready. What toys should I buy?


Dear Danica,

Good news! You do not need to buy any special toys or equipment to help your baby learn! The first and most important thing to do is to build a strong bond with your newborn. When you respond to her looks and cries, she will begin to know that she can rely on you, and this loving, trusting relationship will help your baby to grow and learn.

Read to your baby every day. You can read from anything that you normally read, even the cereal box. Also, find children's books that she enjoys. Have fun reading and talking about the pictures while cuddling together! To enjoy reading is another important school readiness skill.

Find more ideas to help your baby learn school readiness skills in: Healthy Start, Grow Smart: Prepare My Child for School

-Head Start Staff

Dear Head Start,

My 4-year-old son speaks Spanish at home. He started learning English last year when he began Head Start. I'm worried that he is not learning as much as other children who speak English well. Will he be behind the other children when he goes to kindergarten?


Dear Eduardo,

What a gift your child has, to learn two languages! It is important that your son continues to learn Spanish while he learns English.

Learning any language takes time. Your son is not "behind" the other children; he just hasn't learned the English words for all of the concepts yet. He will learn them with support from his teachers and your family.

It may take some time for him to understand and speak English as well as he speaks Spanish, but when he does, he will have many benefits from speaking two languages! Being fully bilingual will improve his ability to remember, make decisions, and focus on his schoolwork, and to understand math and solve math word problems more easily.

You can talk with your child's teachers about ways you can all help him to continue to progress with English while you also support his learning of Spanish at home. With help from the adults in his life, he will grow up bilingual and have extra skills that will help him throughout his whole life!

Find more information on dual language learning on the Importance of Home Language webpage.

-Head Start Staff

Dear Head Start,

My toddler son goes to Early Head Start. School was hard for me my whole life, and I didn't graduate from high school. I want my son to do well in school and go to college someday.

My wife and I have been reading the handouts the teachers give us on school readiness and have been doing the things that they suggest, like reading to my son every day and taking him to places like the park. What I don't understand is, how will the teachers and we know if my son is ready for school?


Dear Darrell,

Your question is a good one. How can you and your son's teachers know if he will be ready for school in two to three years from now?

As you know, your son is growing and learning new things every day! When you tell his teachers about the new things he is doing, you are helping them know what your son is learning, and what he can already do well. They will write down the information you share and what they see your son do at school, for example, the words he is learning to say. This is part of the ongoing assessment that is done for all children in Early Head Start and Head Start.. The assessment will tell you and your son's teachers what he is able to do, what he is learning to do, and what he is ready to learn to do next. Together you will be able to see what your son's strengths are and where he needs to learn more, and then set goals for his learning and development. Later, you and his teacher will meet to see if he met your goals for him. This assessment process will help you and the teachers know that your son is developing the skills he will need later for school. 

In addition to your son's thinking and language skills, the Early Head Start staff and his pediatrician will also check his hearing and vision and physical health, which are also important to school readiness. For example, when you play with your son at the park, or you draw pictures with him, you are helping him develop physical skills that he will need when he goes to school.

It is important to remember that all children learn at different paces and have had different experiences, so be careful about comparing your son to other children of the same age. When you play with him, have conversations with him, and read to him, you are helping him develop skills he needs for school and beyond.

-Head Start Staff

Dear Head Start,

Please help! The speaker at our Head Start center meeting told us all the things children should know before they go to kindergarten. My son is 4 years old but does not know many of the things she said he should know. What can I do to help my child be ready for school?


Dear Martina,

Each child is different and learns at his own pace with help from the adults in his life. It is likely that your son is already beginning to learn many school readiness skills.

This might be a good time to schedule a talk with your son's teacher. The teacher can tell you about what your son already knows and what he is still learning, both at Head Start and at home. Share what your son does at home and in your neighborhood. His teacher may not know all the things he is able to do when he is not at school. She can give you ideas and materials to use in your home to continue his learning.

You can support your son's learning in many ways—many that you are already doing! For example, you are helping him learn when you talk with him about what he does at school. You are also helping him learn when you talk with him about the things you do, see, and explore together around the house and your neighborhood. For example, when you say, "Look at the big truck! What do you think is in the truck? Where could it be going?" You are helping him practice his language and learn what the word "big" means, and to be curious.

When you count the number of dogs you see on a walk, measure the cups of water for a recipe, or sort clothing for the laundry, you are helping your son develop math skills. When you read with him every day, you are helping him develop literacy skills. When you let him draw pictures and shapes on paper, you are helping him develop small muscles skills he will need for writing. These activities and others that you do everyday at home and in your neighborhood will help your son develop school readiness skills. Ask your child's teacher for more ideas, and tell her about the things you and your son enjoy doing together.

-Head Start Staff

Dear Head Start,

My 4-year-old twin daughters attend Head Start. I've been hearing the teachers and the family service worker talk about "school readiness." I am not sure what that means. Can you explain it to me?


Dear Ger,

"School readiness" means that children will have the skills, knowledge, and attitudes they need to succeed when they go to elementary school. Head Start considers skills in five main areas of development as part of school readiness:physical development and health; social and emotional development; approaches to learning; language and literacy; and thinking and general knowledge.  For example, children should be eager and excited to learn and be able to pay attention and follow instructions. Children who are ready for school also have basic knowledge about themselves and their world. Good health is also part of school readiness. When children are healthy and active, it helps them to be able to focus on learning. 

Families play the key role in their children's school readiness by nurturing their children's development through everyday experiences at home and in their neighborhoods. Talk with your daughters' teachers about what your daughters know and what they are interested in at home and at school. Ask their teachers and family service worker for ways that you can support your daughters' learning and school readiness. One of the easiest and most important ways is to have conversations with them about everything that is happening around them. You can find other ideas on what you can do by reading Helping Your Preschool Child [PDF, 741KB].

-Head Start Staff

Last Reviewed: June 2014

Last Updated: August 28, 2014