Is your child ready for Kindergarten? If not, do you know how to prepare your child for Kindergarten? Getting ready for Kindergarten can feel like a very difficult task, but it doesn’t have to be! As a Kindergarten teacher with 25 years of experience in the field, I have made a list of the things that I think are the most important skills a child should have before starting school. So here are some things that your child should know before he or she takes that big step, and some easy ways you can help him or her get there.
1. To be ready for Kindergarten, your child should be comfortable separating from you for a few hours each day, and be able to get along with other children.
A huge part of getting ready for Kindergarten is learning to be alright when separated from one’s parents. Learning to be apart from mom and dad is harder on some children than it is on others, but they all have to learn how to do it eventually! The key is to start BEFORE the first day of school- preferably at least a year before the big day. The method to teaching your child to accept being separated from you is simple; just find someone (or even better, a preschool or Sunday school class, etc.) that you are comfortable with and drop your child off for a short time. Tell your child that you will be back soon, give him a kiss and a hug, and walk away. Do not hover or “wait to see if he will be alright.” Resist any urge to stand outside and peek in the window, or wait outside the gates to watch all morning! Just trust that your child will be fine and GO. A “long good-bye” makes any good-bye MUCH worse! For more on learning to deal with separation anxiety, you may wish to read my blog post here.
If you are nervous, your child will pick up on it immediately and probably feel the same way. Children almost always take their cue from their parents! Parents that are uneasy dropping off their children usually have children that cry when they are dropped off. On the other hand, parents that are not worried usually have children that are just fine when they are dropped off, as long as it is not the first time the parent has left the child EVER. Just remember that if your child is anxious and crying, the crying will likely stop within just a few minutes after you leave. I have even seen children stop crying within 30 seconds of their mom leaving! I’m pretty sure that most separations are harder on the mothers than they are on the children! If you are worried, wait a half an hour and then call the school office and ask them to find out of your child is still crying. You’ll probably only need to do that once!
Another equally important, but separate issue in preparing for Kindergarten, is learning to get along with other children, and that really only comes with practice! Children are born with the sense that they are the center of the universe, and that is natural. However, as time goes by, children need to start to realize that there are other people in the world whose needs also matter! They cannot always be first, and they will not always be called on when in a group, and having a fit won’t change that! So spending time with other children is a must, as is learning to share toys, and deal with frustrations without hitting, kicking, or biting, etc. Parents, it’s a GOOD idea to let your child be disappointed now and then, to let them discover that they will not always get what they want, and that sometimes other children may get to go first, and their world will not collapse. These are probably the best lessons that are learned from having a sibling, but parents cannot always arrange for this to happen. So especially if you are raising an “only child,” do make it a point to find opportunities for your child to be with other children regularly. Unfortunately, I would say that in my experience, most of the children that have trouble getting along, separating from parents, and making friends with others in Kindergarten are those that do not have any brothers or sisters at home.
2. To be ready for Kindergarten, your child needs to learn to recognize and write his or her name, using a capital for the beginning letter and lower case letters after that.
The first thing your child needs to learn is to recognize (or find) his or her name when he sees it compared to other words or names. Preschools help with this quite a bit because the teachers usually label the child’s cubbies and carpet spots with the children’s names, and ask them to find them. But if your child does not attend preschool, you can do this at home by putting his or her name on as many things as you can, such as jackets, sweaters, toys, books, etc. Then label other things in the house with other names of siblings, mom, or dad. Even the pets’ or dolls’ names can be used! If you write the names on index cards or small pieces of paper, then you can lay the names out on a table (or even put them on the refrigerator) and make a game out of matching them to photos or matching one name to another.
As far as writing your child’s name is concerned, I myself started teaching my daughters to write their names when they first started coloring, so they were just toddlers at the time (probably not yet two years old!) Anytime they “finished” coloring or drawing something, we always put their name on it. I just put a crayon, marker, or pencil in their hand and placed my hand over theirs. Then I guided their hands to write their names, saying each letter aloud as I did. By the time they were three years old, they were all writing their names with varying degrees of success. Make sure that you write the name correctly, using a capital at the beginning and lower case letters after that. Also, letters that drop down lower than the others, such as a lower case Y, P, or G should also be in the right place- with their “tails” below the rest of the letters. All of this will really help your child start the year off right and be happy and confident when starting his or her Kindergarten year.
Many children are taught to write their names all in capital letters by well meaning preschool teachers and parents, but I can tell you from 25 years of experience as a Kindergarten teacher, that this is a VERY bad idea. Your child’s Kindergarten teacher will have to “un-teach” your child that (bad) habit, and try to teach him or her to write it correctly, which is difficult. I know that some children persist in writing their names incorrectly on into fifth and sixth grade! Your child’s ability to write his or her name this way will probably even be noted on his report card! It is SO much easier to teach it correctly right from the start!
3. To be ready for Kindergarten, your child needs to know the names and sounds of each letter on flash cards out of order. Just being able to sing the ABC song is not enough!
Research tells us that the children that do the best in First Grade and beyond are the ones that started Kindergarten already knowing the letters and sounds. Here is a quote from expert Marilyn Jager Adams from Trehearne’s book, The Comprehensive Literacy Resource for Preschool Teachers: “The ability of pre-readers to recognize and name letters is the single best predictor of first-year reading achievement, with the ability to discriminate phonemes auditorially ranking a close second.” (By the way, when she says, “the ability to discriminate phonemes,” she means, can your child tell the difference between sounds, such as between a “p” sound and a “b” sound?) This is related to rhyming and is also very important in preparing your child for Kindergarten. See more below in section 5.
It used to be enough that children could perhaps recognize some of the letters in their names when they started Kindergarten, but with now with the expectations of the Common Core State Standards, this just isn’t enough anymore! If you cannot afford to send your child to preschool, then you’ll have to teach your child the skills he or she needs at home in order to prepare him or her for Kindergarten.
A nice, easy way to do this, is to just have your child sing and dance along with our Letters and Sounds DVD! Kids usually love it so much that they don’t even know they are learning! It’s a fun, natural, easy way to learn. Of course, you will also need to read to your child every day and point out the letters and say their names often. But using the DVD is a great kick-starter to getting the process started and to help your child get ready for Kindergarten. To find out if your child will enjoy and respond to our music, you can try out some of our video clips on YouTube. Here is one of them:
We also have a workbook for working on writing the alphabet, finding the letters (visual discrimination,) and a workbook to practice the letter sounds that can help your child get ready for Kindergarten. There are flash cards in the workbooks as well. You can get alphabet flashcards just about anywhere or make them yourself, just be sure to separate the capital letters from the lower case letters on the cards, or some children will ONLY learn to recognize the letters when they are together! For more preschool games to help children learn the alphabet, you may wish to read my blog post here. And for suggestions to help children that are struggling with learning this crucial skill, please check out this blog post here.
4. To prepare for Kindergarten, your child needs to be able to recognize the shapes and numbers from zero to ten, and be able to count to ten (at least!), and be able to count a group of objects correctly up to a quantity of ten.
I was surprised recently to find some recent research showing that early math skills in counting and shape recognition are even better predictors of future success than knowledge of the alphabet and letter sounds! And that is something that I would not have guessed! But here is a quote from the research article: “We found that only three of the school-entry measures predicted subsequent academic success: early reading, early math and attention skills, with early math skills being most consistently predictive.”
The Jumpin’ Numbers and Shakin’ Shapes DVD is a nice, easy way to introduce your child to the numbers and shapes, just by letting them sing and dance! It is just as fun and easy as the alphabet DVD, and every bit as effective. But you’ll still need to play counting and number games with your child, such as Hi Ho Cherry-O or Chutes and Ladders. Counting out objects for any reason at all will also help your child prepare for Kindergarten, such as when setting the table or cleaning up toys. I always had my kids count the toys as they picked them up. I would say something like, “Everybody find ten things that are not where they belong and put them away!” Then they would all dash for the easiest ten things that they could find! When they got better at counting, I raised the number to fifteen, etc. That wasn’t too hard, since their messes got bigger and bigger as they got older!
Here is a clip from our Number Jumble DVD!
5. To be ready for Kindergarten, your child needs to be able to tell the beginning sounds of words that he hears, know when he is hearing sounds that are the same and sounds that are different, and recognize when words rhyme.
Being able to give the beginning sound of words that you hear, knowing when sounds are the same or different, and knowing when words rhyme all fall under the umbrella of “Phonemic Awareness.” A phoneme is a sound, so this is simply a fancy way of saying that your child is aware of and has a knowledge of sounds in the academic sense- and this is incredibly important in getting ready for Kindergarten! The best way to do this is to simply read, READ, READ– and talk, TALK, TALK! Yes, children should be read to and talked to from birth on! So whomever said that “children should be seen and not heard” was just plain WRONG, unfortunately. Yes, children should know when it is time to be quiet, and do so when asked, but other than that, the only way to gain language skills is by using them. And children that are read to daily wind up with vocabularies that are many thousands of words greater than those that don’t!
Be sure to include books that rhyme, and books that “play with sounds,” such as books from Dr. Seuss or our Alphabet Action book or the Opposites Rhyming Song Picture Book. Make sure that you point it out when you come across rhyming words in books, or words that all start with the same sound. This will help the most! Then, when you are in the car or out shopping, just ask your child occasionally things like this: “Oh, I see a tree! What is the beginning sound of ‘tree?'” Of course, at first your child won’t have any idea what the beginning sound is, but if you tell him or her and then have your child repeat it, it won’t be long before they catch on, especially if you start when your child is just three or four years old. The brains of children at this age are developing and growing SO fast, that you probably would never believe what your child is capable of until you try. And children’s brains in particular are hardwired to pick up language skills quickly and easily. Just consider how easy it is for children to learn a new language before the age of five! It’s AFTER the age of five or six that learning a new language becomes a chore!
You can help children realize if sounds are the same or different simply by listening to two animal sounds. Are they the same, or different? Once your child understands what you mean by the words “same” and “different,” then you’ll be able to move onto words and letter sounds. Say two words, such as “dog” and “cat.” Are they same words? NO! Okay, let’s listen to the beginning sounds: /d/ and /c/. Are they the same sound or different sounds? And so it goes from there! Although it may seem complex at first, helping children gain an awareness of sounds is really one of the easiest things parents can do to help prepare their child for Kindergarten, since it can be done absolutely anywhere, any time. To read a bit more on this topic, check my blog post here.
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