Getting Ready for Kindergarten
Preparing to enter kindergarten is an exciting experience. It’s also a little scary. Parents of preschoolers often wonder if their children are ready for this threshold to formal education. Readiness depends on a lot of factors, including cognitive development and emotional maturity. However, there are many things parents can do to prepare their children for success in kindergarten. As a former kindergarten teacher, here’s my TOP TEN list:
1. Have conversations with your child. Conversations involve give and take. One person speaks; the other listens. Then the roles reverse. When you’re not speaking, you’re listening. When you are speaking, you say something relevant to the topic being discussed. Inherent in conversation are patience, vocabulary-building, listening, processing, organizing thoughts, and sustaining attention. Be sure to model appropriate behaviors like making eye contact, using complete sentences, and avoiding interruptions. Sustained conversations with preschoolers are essential to kindergarten readiness.
2. Enforce Personal Responsibility. Toddlers can follow directions, complete simple tasks, and even have chores. Personal responsibility includes putting your toys away, putting dirty clothes in a hamper, and wiping up spills. Chores can include watering plants, feeding pets, dusting low tables and shelves, or collecting paper to be recycled. Dividing toilet paper and delivering it to each bathroom is a great chore for a preschooler. The rolls are soft, lightweight, and unbreakable (and usually lightly glued so they won’t unravel). The results might not be perfect and you might find it easier to do these jobs yourself, but neither perfect nor easy is the goal. The goal is for your child to develop a sense of responsibility, and as the old adage goes, “responsibility cannot be taught; it can only be given.”
3. Following two-step directions. At home, when you’re dealing with one child or a small number of children, you might be able to give directions one at a time. In the classroom, it’s important for children to be able to follow multi-step directions. It’s a sign of cognitive maturity and responsibility. Practice giving your child two-step directions, like Take off your socks and put them in the hamper. If after the struggle to remove sweaty socks your preschooler becomes distracted and moves to another task, calmly redirect. You didn’t finish with the socks. Do you remember what I said? Follow through and see that the two-step process is completed. If your child masters two-step directions easily, move ahead with three steps.
4. Practice motor skills. Gross motor skills refer to coordination required of large muscles. These include skipping, running, jumping, crawling...any activity that uses the arms, legs, and/or torso. Fine motor skills use those small muscles in the wrists, hands, fingers and toes. Both types of motor coordination are important for school success. Make sure your child is running, jumping, crawling, and climbing in both structured and unstructured play. Fine motor acuity is developed through activities like buttoning clothes, turning pages, building with Lego-style blocks, drawing, coloring, cutting, dipping, pouring, using tongs, and manipulating play-dough.
5. Nursery rhymes, songs, and word play. Playing with words and sounds builds phonemic awareness, or your child’s ability to distinguish and manipulate units of sound. Nursery rhymes and silly songs are great for developing this kind of awareness. Read and sing them together, and repeat them often. Playing games in which sounds are substituted is an excellent way to build phonemic awareness. Riding along in the car, it’s easy to play word games like “I’m going on a picnic, and I’m bringing a ...” Choose a sound for each word to begin with and takes turns naming items (a banana; some bread; a bunny; a bear). The answers might be silly, but that makes it fun and engaging for your child. Substitute everything but the beginning sound to create rhymes (I’m going to Mars and counting the stars; I’m going to Mars and driving some cars; I’m going to Mars and eating candy bars.)
6. Count and Sort. Two of the most important math skills to develop are counting and sorting. They are integral to almost everything else that’s learned in math. Count in 3-D using real objects in the house or yard; count in 2-D using pictures in books or magazines; count abstractions by recalling places you’ve visited while running errands or listing things you saw or did at the park. Along with counting up, teach your child to count down. Being able to count back from five to zero...and then from ten to zero... and then from 12 to zero...is a mature type of number sense that is necessary for subtraction. Sorting is also foundational. Sort by color, shape, size, function...sort toys, food items, clothes. Sorting laundry is a very practical place to start!
7. Sing together. Songs contain specific words set to a rhythm. It’s a lot like reading. As students begin to read, we want them to read fluently and with expression. Learning to sing words in time to music sets the stage for reading fluency. Also, songs usually contain the kind of rhyme that develops phonemic awareness, and songs can help develop your child’s vocabulary. While recorded music is great to play for your child, the value of singing with your child is immeasurable.
8. Reading in the real world. The labels, logos, and traffic signs you see every day are all part of environmental print. Recognizing the meaning carried in these everyday cues is a precursor to reading. Whether it’s golden arches, a stop sign, or the icon on a restroom door, meaning is carried by these symbols. Teach your child to recognize and associate meaning with these everyday icons. As your child begins to recognize letters, establish a “letter of the day” and see how often you both spot that letter on your travels or during your household tasks. Reading is simply creating meaning from text. This act begins with environmental print.
9. Puzzles and problem solving. Most parents have experienced the anguish of watching a child twist and turn a puzzle piece in all the wrong directions when the right fit seems so obvious. The temptation to help is tremendous. However, that process of trying many ways that don’t work and finally finding the way that does work is so important. Learning is taking place, patience is being built, and independence is being practiced. Allow your child to face challenges, and even if the answer seems obvious to you, let your child complete the process and enjoy the success of finding the right answer. If your child becomes frustrated, you can prompt with leading questions, but the grit and tenacity it takes to stick with it are far more important the answer itself.
10. Read, read, read to your child. And finally, the number one thing you can do to prepare your child for success in school is to read to your child. Read every day. Establish a time and place. Make it predictable. Make it special. This is a time to share. Even if your child requests the same book over and over again...that’s okay. Read to your child. Reading aloud teaches concepts of print (we read front to back, left to right, top to bottom), the idea that text carries meaning (what I say can be written and what is written can be read), and the concept of story (plots generally follow a predictable pattern, there are characters and settings, etc.). These skills are important, but the most important outcome is the emotional climate you establish around reading. Your child will associate books and reading with a safe, comfortable, pleasurable experience.