Why the Early Years in School Are So Vital to Your Kids

Two experts at British International School of Chicago, South Loop share how a solid foundation creates more resilient learners, with tips parents can use at home.

Anyone can teach a child their ABCs and 123s when they start school, but the real difference maker to kids’ lifelong journey of learning comes when they can develop their strengths, their likes and their resilience early. In the right environment, the early years at school are so critical to a child’s future success.

“At this stage, we want children to be excited and to love learning,” says Ryan Williams, Head of Early Years at British International School of Chicago, South Loop (BISC-SL). “At this school we put so much focus on the foundation of the early years, our 3- to 5-year-olds. We focus on developing not just the academics but the whole child. We believe before a child can write, they need to be able to sit, before they can start learning their phonics, they need to develop their communication and language and speaking skills.”

Unfortunately, those who miss out on opportunities to have an early solid foundation might find themselves facing a harder path when it comes to school success.

“When you don’t have that foundation, children don’t become as resilient. They are not as interested in school and learning and if they come across something that is a little bit more challenging, they tend to turn off or think, ‘I’m not good at this,’” says John Biggs, Head of Primary at BISC-SL, which is renowned for its early education. “Giving a child the key foundations, that platform to build things on, is something that we really take quite seriously here at the British School.”

Here, Biggs and Williams, two longtime educators, share five tips to help parents build that important foundation in the early years — together with their child’s school and teachers — for success in secondary school and beyond. One might even be surprising.

What you can do at home to support the early years

1. Make sure learning has a point. Make sure your kids are seeing that what they are learning at school also happens at home. When they might be working on early writing at school, write the grocery shopping list together.

“We see the best in children when they are able to access the learning, when they’re excited, when they’re connected to the learning. Always make sure the learning is relevant and appropriate to them. If something catches their imagination, why not base the learning off that,” Williams says.

Biggs suggests parents look for organic opportunities for learning rather than forced situations with flash cards or a set number of minutes for reading each night that might end in tears rather than joy.

“It’s important that children see the point to school and learning. We want them to see themselves as writers. We want them to pick up a book at home and see themselves as readers even if they might not be reading and writing,” Williams says.

2. Play and talk with your kids as much as possible. Find something to do together after school that brings you both joy,” Williams says. 

“Let the children be as creative and imaginative as they can be,” Biggs says. “Through that you are developing their skills of collaboration and cooperation, but also you are developing their thought processes and their communication with you.”

3. Don’t run too fast. That simply means don’t just focus on the academics that you think your child needs going into their first few years of school. Instead, focus on the whole child, with emphasis on problemsolving, speech, and independence. Better still, don’t put so much pressure on yourself either.

4. Begin to teach resilience. This is a hard one for parents, but so important. When your kids come across something that’s challenging for them, talk it through with them and don’t rush to make things right for them. Biggs calls it the positive struggle.

“I constantly tell students, it’s not that you aren’t good at it, it’s something that is tricky, it means you are having to work your brain a little harder. Once you master that, anything you come up against later on in school, you are going to have those skills to be a good student, a good learner, to know it’s not going to defeat you,” Biggs says.

5. Trust school and your child’s teachers to help you. Find a school that suits you, they advise.

“I always say to parents: Trust the school and the teachers. It’s important,” Biggs says. At BISC-SL, there are parent workshops and an open-door policy where teachers are there, not only to help the children build that important educational foundation, but also to support busy parents.

Learn more about the British International School of Chicago, South Loop and what makes it so successful with young students. Explore the school’s website.

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