The time is here! Sound the trumpets! Your child is going to kindergarten. For many children, this means they are off to the big, local public school with new friends, bigger classes, bus rides and nervousness. That nervousness can be from you, your child or both. How do you navigate this rite of childhood passage? Will your child be ready? Will you be ready? I can assure you that everything will be fine and that your school is well prepared to welcome a new group of kindergartners to their building. Here are some tips to help your child start off their kindergarten year and public school career on the right foot.
Your child may have gone to a preschool with small classes that had multiple teachers and assistants in it. Someone was always there to help your child with whatever they needed. When at home, you help them with whatever is needed. Well, I don’t mean to be blunt, but stop that! Once your child gets to kindergarten, they will be in a bigger class with less adults there to help them. Teaching your child to be independent and a problem solver at a young age is one of the biggest gifts you can ever give them. The world is getting more and more complicated and hi-tech. We need to problem solvers who will be ready to take on these new and elaborate processes when they get out on their own. So you may say, “but they are only 5 years old...they won’t be on their own for years!” I am telling you as a mother and teacher, the skills that they need to be successful start at those young ages. Have them figure out how to get their coat on. Have them figure out how to get the top off a yogurt. Have them put their own socks and shoes on. Yes, it will take a lot longer than if you did it, but it will be such a success story when they conquer it. They will be so proud of themselves and it will make them want to try other things. Take my word for it, problem solving is a lifelong skill.
So you may be saying, well of course I teach them manners. Be sure that you are reinforcing it every time a please or thank you or excuse me is needed. They can never get enough reinforcement for this. It needs to become an automatic response; something that they don’t have to even think about. This skill is something that all adults and peers will appreciate and respect as they have interactions with your child. It also inspires gratitude and happiness in your child.
Fine Motor Practice
Fine motor skills are the skills that are used for writing and for working with small objects, such as zippers, buttons, silverware, etc. You do not have to have your pre-kindergartner practice writing letters. Actually, most kindergarten teachers would prefer that you NOT do this. Why? Because teachers teach letter formations in very specific, systematic ways and if you are teaching them a different way, it is almost impossible to break the bad writing habits that they acquire before kindergarten. Also, there is a healthy pencil grip that most teachers want to see and if your child learns to grip a pencil improperly, this is another habit that is next to impossible to unteach. So what can you do to help with pre-writing skills? Legos are great fine motor toys. Be sure to let them pull them apart after they build something; great way to strengthen fingers. Play dough is another great resource; have them roll out snakes, make little balls, make shapes, etc. Have them pick up pom poms between their pointer finger and thumb. They can sort different colors into different bowls. Although it may make you nervous, have them use scissors. You can get child size scissors that are not as sharp as adult scissors and they fit a child’s hand much better. They should always cut with their thumb on the top of the scissors. They can help cut out coupons or have them cut up straws into small pieces. They can then use the cut up straws as beads to make a necklace or bracelet. Another great fine motor activity. The possibilities for fine motor practice are endless so visit your local craft store or dollar store and stock up on some of the above supplies. Your child’s kindergarten teacher will be thrilled if they come into their classroom with these practice activities under their belt.
Sitting While Reading a Story
Each day, have your child sit in front of you while you read them a story. It doesn’t have to be every story, but one or so stories a day read in this manner will help them to get prepared for the expectations of kindergarten. They may sit for the entire story, which is wonderful. If they want to get up in the middle of the story, try to get them to stay seated. Tell them, “We are practicing for kindergarten so you are all ready when you get there.” If they still want to get up, try making the seated time a little longer each day until they can sit through the entire story. Be sure to praise them when they accomplish this activity.
Waiting their Turn
Since kindergarten classes are usually bigger than preschool classes, taking turns and waiting are inevitable. If your child has been at home and hasn’t had any experience with turn taking, it good to focus on it during play dates or when other children are around. A huge piece of kindergarten is the social interactions that go on all day, every day. There aren’t enough toys or markers for everyone to have their own of each thing so sharing is of the utmost importance. Playing board games, physical education games, using recess equipment and structures all include waiting for a turn. It is a skill that your child is going to use throughout their life.
Opening/Closing their Backpack
There are those pesky zippers again! Have your child practice opening their backpack, putting items inside it and taking them out. Show them where all the pockets are and what you will be putting in each pocket. Try to get a backpack with one big space and one small little pouch on the front so they don’t get confused as to where items are. Again, there will be many more students than teachers and when it is time to unload and load their backpacks, it will be a HUGE help to the teacher if you child can navigate this skill independently. It also gives them a sense of pride too.
Ziplock bags; another nemesis of the kindergarten teacher. Teach your child how to open a ziplock and then the most important skill...re-seal a ziplock. It may sound silly, but it is a huge deal when you have 15+ children needing their ziplocks re-zipped. Teach them how to put a straw in their juice box/pouch. Another one that sounds silly, but so helpful when students can do it on their own. I mentioned the yogurt containers in fostering independence. Teach them how to open individual chip bags/granola bars/etc that how the plastic wrapping. Their is usually a little cut somewhere to get them started, but most children don’t know about it. If there is no cut, show them how to hold the package and pull to get it open. Silly, you say? Nope...another helpful skill in kindergarten. Finally, make sure that they can open and close their lunch box easily. If you can find a lunch box/bag without a zipper, even better :)
This used to be the focus of kindergarten, but not any more. Unfortunately, it is assumed that children will know their upper and lower case letters and numbers to 10 as they walk in the door of kindergarten. If they don’t know them, obviously the teacher will take the time to teach them, but that puts them behind in all aspects of academic activities. Make this something fun. It can be a game or a song or a short video...whatever grabs your child’s attention. Recognizing most or all of the upper and lower case letters and recognizing numbers 1- 10 will put your child in the right lane for starting their wonderful kindergarten experience.
Knowing How They Get Home from School Everyday
Most teachers will make a list of where each student goes at dismissal each day of the week. It is important, however, for you to tell your child each day how they are getting home. Most school dismissals are very hectic because they are trying to move a lot of children to other places in a short period of time within a small area of space. If a child gets confused as to where they should go, if they can tell an adult where they are going, it will make they feel a lot better about this routine. If the dismissal routine changes for a day, a week, or longer, be sure to let the school know. Teachers and administrators can’t go by the suggestion of a 5 year old, who may or may not be telling the true story. Sometimes they are mesmerized by the buses, but they get picked up in a car everyday. If they say, I’m taking the bus today...that could be them just wanting to go on a little adventure. A call, text or note from a parent alleviates this problem.
Inside Voice/Outside Voice
Teaching your child the voice level they can use inside as opposed to outside is another oh-so-helpful skill. When there is a room of 15+ children, of course, it’s going to get noisy. If all those children are using voices that are more appropriate for outside, it can be deafening. Discussing how to modulate your voice (again you don’t have to teach it as a lesson, just mention in when they are outside yelling and running around or inside playing) is another skill that they are going to need throughout their lives. Also, mention to them that if you’re yelling inside, the adults may think there is an emergency so you don’t want them to worry about that. Using that loud voice inside when there is an actual emergency is okay.
Read, Read, Read
I know that I wrote earlier about having your child sit while you read them a book, but this is different. This is just reading for the love of reading. This is cuddling up and sharing your favorite books. This is just getting your child to love reading. You can even make it a game with reading signs while on drives and pointing out letters or playing I Spy. The level of success students who are read to have over those who are not read to skyrockets as the years go by. Plus it is a great bonding, parent/child moment that your child will always remember.
Contact Your Child’s Teacher before School Starts
The first day of school is quite busy so if you have questions that you want to ask your child’s teacher before that first day, send them an email. You are almost guaranteed to get a detailed response, probably longer than a conversation on the first day when everyone is asking them questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them about anything you for which you are uncertain. Remember…it’s all going to be okay!
So many of these ideas you may have known about and you have been doing them...that is so great! Maybe there a few that you need to work on...that’s fine too. Remember that these are things that you can do before your child enters kindergarten, but most of them should be continued once school starts. It’s a great year of learning, challenges, risk-taking and fun. Enjoy it because time passes so fast.