Fairfax, Va. — Preparation for the first day of school, says Debbie Giamber, a former kindergarten teacher who teaches a kindergarten preparatory class for parents here, begins well before September. ''You can make your home into a learning center, using everyday things to stimulate your child,'' she says.
Her own home is an example of well-practiced preaching. A pint-size table for her daughter's art projects fills a corner of her dining room. Magnetic letters cling to her refrigerator, and on her patio a lightweight ball hangs from a tree limb.
''Parents are the best teachers,'' says Mrs. Giamber, a specialist with a degree in early childhood education. ''They know their child better than anyone else.'' This knowledge helps parents to ''love their child's individuality'' and enjoy watching them learn, she adds.
But she believes parents should be careful not to see their children as a direct reflection of themselves. ''We expect so much of our children - we want them to walk early, talk early. Sometimes a child isn't ready for school, and if he's not ready, he's not ready - it doesn't mean the parent has failed.''
Discovering whether the child is ready is a task for the parent and teacher to work out together, the teacher says. She steers well clear of any ''arbitrary list of accomplishments'' that says categorically when the child should enter a school environment. But she thinks that as children develop certain skills, it does make it easier for them to take full advantage of school.
In her experience, taking children to see their classroom and, if possible, their teacher before school begins can dissolve a lot of first-day apprehension.
She says parents can support the growth of skills used at school by providing a ''constant reminder that you love your child and think he can succeed.'' Taking time to explain objects and activities - and to teach songs and games like hopscotch - shows that loving support, she maintains. ''Some parents want everything in a box that they can hand to the child, but many of the old games - hopscotch, marbles, jacks - just need to be taught.''
She suggests that parents might enjoy trying some of the following games and activities as well: Prereading
* Read to your child daily and ''take the time to explain things.''
* When the child is about 18 months old (''and can handle a crayon or pencil without eating it''), draw a few dots in a line on paper, with a star to the left of the line. Then have the child connect the dots. ''This is maybe the best activity for training the child to look from left to right and getting him ready for printing,'' Mrs. Giamber says.
* Take the child on outings, ''even to the grocery store. This is a wonderful way to increase vocabulary. Just be sure to show your child all the high points as soon as you get there, before her attention wanders,'' she says.
* Make tactile letters out of sandpaper, carpet scraps, or glue covered with rice. Try this first using the child's initials. Visual perception
* Put three objects on the table, then take one away. Ask your child what's missing. Take turns.
* Look for shapes in the house (rectangles, circles) or while driving in the car.
* Line up similar objects of different sizes - balls, spoons - and ask which is the biggest? The smallest?
* Ask the child to match lids to pots and pans and pair up brightly colored socks.
* Go through the house and count the number of lamps, clocks, beds. Count the shoes in the closet. Auditory
* Read nursery rhymes, ''though today's kids are so advanced, they don't care about Jack and Jill,'' Mrs. Giamber says. ''But I still think they're great.''
* Tell a story and have the child tell it back to you.
* Make a rhythm by tapping on the table, and have your child make the same rhythm back.
* Work on the sounds of letters together. Using magnetic letters on your refrigerator, ask your child to find the letter that says ''buh,'' or the ''Zzzzz'' letter. Small-muscle skills
* In the car, give your child a pipe cleaner and a pencil and have him wrap the cleaner around the pencil to make a curlicue. Can he unwrap it?
* Have him crumple up sheets of newspaper and throw them, one by one, into the garbage can. ''They'll do this for hours,'' she says.
* Blow bubbles and ask your child to catch them. Large-muscle skills
* Tie a small ball to a string and hang it down low somewhere out of harm's way. Then give the child a fat, plastic bat and ''let her practice hitting,'' says the teacher.
* Buy a tricycle - ''it really works those muscles better than today's 'big wheels,' '' Mrs. Giamber says.
* Put a piece of masking tape on the floor in your basement or kitchen and ask your child to ''walk the line.'' You can also use chalk on hardtop for this.
* Play games like ''leapfrog,'' ''follow-the-leader,'' and ''hopscotch.''
* Tie a long rope to a tree and help him practice jumping.