Is your child ready for Kindergarten? You want to make sure you do everything you can to have your child ready. But - what does “ready for Kindergarten” really mean in this day and age?
Kindergarten is viewed by some as the new grade one, which can generate some anxiety and doubt thinking children need to know how to read before they even start. (you don't.) Or you worry that if you teach them too much, they will be bored sitting in a classroom, (read on to find out why they won’t) but aren't really socially and developmentally mature enough to be advanced a grade.
Any Kindergarten teacher can verify that children’s skills vary significantly at this grade and before you begin to teach your child all of the skills I am outlining in here realize that the maturity and ability levels of children in the classroom will vary drastically. I am a firm believer that the more mentally, emotionally, academically and socially prepared anyone is in any setting they are better off – it just makes sense. The same applies to our children in Kindergarten, how ready they are entering will directly influence the rest of their school year!
There are three general camps of thought about Kindergarten, 1. Those who want to let their child develop at their own rate and not push them at all, 2. Those who want their child to be at the top of their class academically, emotionally and mentally and let Kindergarten focus on the social component and 3. Those who are in between, they don’t want their children behind however they don’t necessarily need them to be at the top of the class and they want them to be strong emotionally, and socially. More than likely if you are reading this blog likely you are in the second or third camps of thought.
Gimme the goods you say, "What do they really need to know entering Kindergarten?" I will address the very basics and then I will address the other end of the spectrum so that no one is left out. The challenge we all encounter is that Kindergarten programs vary drastically and what one school or school district expects can be strikingly different from another. Some Kindergarten programs expect their students to learn a minimum of 900 sight words by the end of the school year, others teach them to sound out words using some form of phonics, rather than memorize sight words and others require a combination of the two. As a teacher who trains and interacts with Kindergarten, grade one and two teachers frequently, even their individual expectations differ based on the dynamics of their class and their school.
Being ready for Kindergarten is more than having one specific skill set, it's a combination of many different skills in many areas, including physical, academic, social and emotional. Although some of these skills will develop while they are working on others, you can support your child by boosting what they already are capable of. When you enrich your everyday life experiences, provide in-depth conversations and offer a different viewpoint you are helping to get your child ready for Kindergarten and how to think critically. (a very important skill).
Here are some fundamental skills for your child to know prior to entering Kindergarten.
Let's Talk About Concept of Print
It is essential that they have an understanding of the concept of print. This is an important early literacy skill that will help your child immensely. You probably already read books to him, but now you will want to really start looking in-depth at books to help him notice how books are set up and how to use them. Let him handle the book so that he can learn the difference between the front and the back, the correct way to hold the book, and that the pages turn left to right.
I would also suggest when you read use your finger as a guide to point to words so they begin to associate text with the storyline and that it often describes the pictures. Once your child seems to have grasped these concepts you can move on to more complex ideas such as recognizing that the text is made up of letters, which make up words and a string of words makes up a sentence. They also need to consider the characters in the story, summarize the story in their own words and tell how the story made them feel (a personal connection with the story).
Let's Talk About Language Skills
It is important they have a level of proficiency in Language Skills. We all know that talking daily to your child is going to expose them to greater language and conversational skills. To be better prepared for Kindergarten, it is now important to discuss our feelings and emotions, share what we are thinking (think aloud), and talk about our day in terms of the schedule for the day giving them a timeline for self management. You could also share with him what’s going on in his world, his family, his friends and his community (school, neighborhood, church, etc). Exposing him to these new ideas will provide him with new and richer vocabulary that he can then use to communicate his own ideas and how he sees the world.
Additional language skills include: following two or three step instructions such as; 1.Get a piece of paper and a pencil, 2. Put it on the table by the window and 3. Draw me a circle? Begin asking your child to talk their way through a task, not only to see if they're able to explain what they’re doing, but to also get a sense of what problem solving strategies they are using. It's helpful to know how your child solves problems and whether or not they come at them from a different angle than their peers.
Let’s Talk About Fine Motor Skills
Let’s consider your child’s fine motor skills. Most children by the time they enter Kindergarten have used scissors however I have discovered some have not. So as scary as it may seem to give your child sharp instruments, she really needs to learn how to use them. The same goes for items like pens, pencils, crayons, and markers, even better if they have a variety of different thicknesses to hold onto. Children who are entering Kindergarten need to have had enough exposure to these tools to have learned how to hold them correctly.
I strongly suggest investing in a pad of drawing paper for their masterpieces and give them things to cut out such as newspapers and magazines and be prepared to have a houseful of little bits of paper everywhere! Keep in mind you can purchase scissors that only cut paper and not hair.
Let’s Talk About Independence
Developing independence away from significant adults in their life will help your child be ready for Kindergarten in many ways. Whether they are attending full-day or half-day, your child will be expected to not only spend time away from you but also need to make decisions and complete tasks without your input and direction. For many children, this is a big and important adjustment and even the most independent children can find this a bit daunting. You can ease this transition by starting to take a step back and let your child handle a little more responsibility.
A wonderful way is to set up playdates where you drop him off instead of hanging around or you could leave him with a babysitter more often. A great way to have your child explore what he's able to do on his own is to take advantage of activities like mini-workshops for kids, Sunday school groups at church or team sports.
These are four really important areas your child needs to be able to handle quite comfortably to ensure he is ready for Kindergarten.
Another opportunity for you to gain more knowledge and feel more comfortable about your child attending Kindergarten is my workshop, How to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten, this Monday, August 16 evening at 7:30pm – 8:30 pm MDT, 6:30 PST, 9:30 EST. Here I will be sharing more about what you can expect from your child when they enter Kindergarten and what you can do to help your child, curriculum changes, a teacher’s yearly assessment form to download, a pre-assessment download, resources you can access, and we will be looking at the curriculum and all of the domains that they cover. Make sure you register!
Now if you are a keener and are looking for more, keep reading cause I’ve got you covered!
Now if you are eager to do as much as you can and would like your child to be at the top of the class academically or if either parent had challenges with reading or math themselves then I would work on a few additional things to ready your child for Kindergarten.
As an educational consultant, teacher, and parent I have come to recognize that most learning challenges are genetically passed down from one generation to the next. After over 30 years of being an educator I have seen it in multiple generations of families. The silver lining is that it doesn’t have to stay that way and that our brains have neuroplasticity and can be changed given the right input and environment, and the earlier we start in a child’s life the better! This is the very reason why governments and school boards put more funding into early childhood intervention than in any other grade.
If we can provide intervention between the ages of 3-7 we have a much better chance of turning their academic skills around, creating a lasting change that will positively impact the trajectory of their school career. This is important for you to know as a parent, homeschooler or teacher so that you can better prepare your child now and also when people tell you they will outgrow any reading struggles you will know that now is the time to act and that early intervention is the most effective time to turn things around! You will often need to be the change agent even for those children who have a predisposition to dyslexia.
With all that being said, I must confess I am a strong proponent of preparing early readers simply because the current inclusive crowded grade one classrooms are full of diagnosed and undiagnosed students with ADHD, ADD, ODD, anxiety, autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia and even children with physical limitations, cerebral palsy and downs syndrome. Quite frequently I am the sound board for first grade teachers sharing, “I am so frustrated! I get to work with maybe 10% of my students each day. I just can’t get to them all.” They are feeling defeated, and frustrated with no additional classroom help in sight. Here in Alberta, Canada we currently have a 35% grade one and two reading failure rate and it isn’t only here, it is across North America and abroad. The teachers are devasted because they sincerely want to help every student however, they are limited by the dynamics of their classroom making it nearly impossible to reach each one. They are thankful and relieved when students come in already reading even if they are just getting started!
Although early reading is definitely not necessary in terms of being ready for Kindergarten or grade one it is something that will set them up for an easier transition into the grade giving them confidence in completing the classroom work allowing them to be a leader, receive enrichment and focus on some of the softer skills. The choice is yours, you get to choose how you want to prepare your child.
If we think of it in terms of packing for a trip. If you just throw in a bunch of clothes in your suitcase and not take the time to coordinate your wardrobe according to the weather conditions of where you are heading you could end up not being able to enjoy the experience and limit the type of activities you are able to do. You simply did not take the time to be ready for the weather directly affecting your ability to participate in the activities you were hoping to engage in. This lack of preparation can take the joy out of the vacation you excitedly signed up for! Same is with Kindergarten!
If you would like to prepare your child with a few more skills, so that everything is not entirely new, and trust me they will not be bored. Learning something in the safety of your home, most often times with an adult alongside you, is quite different than learning it in a larger, noisy class amongst your peers with much less support. There are many things they will learn in Kindergarten aside from academics, getting along and cooperating with others, belonging to the class and finding how they fit in, rules of the classroom, waiting patiently for their turn, contributing to discussions, transitioning from one activity to another on a dime sometimes with little warning, handling your own emotions when other kids act out in the class and are not kind, getting themselves dressed and eating their snack quickly to get the most out of recess, how to hold a pencil and what to do when it breaks or how to manage yourself if you like someone else’s pencil or markers and they won’t share, and learning how to listen to directions, complete a task in a fixed time frame and handling the emotions of your work being posted next to your classmates on a bulletin board, are just a few of the many things a child will experience in Kindergarten. These skills all seem so basic, yet all are quite complex in nature and are demanding on our children in many ways.
Two additional developmentally appropriate ways you can get your child ready for Kindergarten are early reading and foundational math skills. Keep in mind these are not must haves but rather a personal choice based on your knowledge of your child and what you feel would make them more successful in Kindergarten.
Some Kindergarten classrooms require their students to learn up to 900 sight words. As an educational consultant it is imperative that they know their letter sounds prior to learning sight words, sadly this is not always the case in every classroom. Very rarely does a parent know how their child will be taught how to read and as a protective measure I would teach them the individual letter sounds and then how to sound out simple words such as cat, dog, and net. I have developed something specific for this as well as in response to the plea by first grade teachers to develop early readers, I have created Bright Futures Reading System where children as young as 3 years old can learn to read in only 8 minutes a day. This is something you could start right away and continue throughout the year. It is a video program that they can watch with or without an adult and will give them a good strong foundation in letter sounds and beginning reading. You also get lifetime access if you have younger children or need to review a module. Your child’s teacher is sure to comment as they progress through the 7-week program!
Number Sense and Number Bonds
One other area you could work on is developing number sense for mathematics. Research has shown that children need a lot of play making numbers using manipulatives, specifically counting to 20 and simple addition or number bonds which is a fancy term for the many different ways you can make a specific number. You could work on the different ways to make the numbers 1-10. Let’s do one together. To make the number 4, you could set out 4 blocks and have them figure out how many ways they can make 4, such as (4 and 0), (3 and 1), and (2 and 2). Children needs lots of play and practice using objects to develop good number sense.
Is your child ready for Kindergarten? You‘ve got the information to make it happen. With basic skills in understanding concept of print, to language skills to fine motor skills and independence your child is sure to be ready. Additionally, you can teach them their letter sounds and get them started reading with our Bright Future Reading System to give them an advantage and be proactive in averting them from any future reading challenges. Remember the more prepared you are the less pressure you feel. For myself the more prepared I am, the less nervous, less stressed and more focused I am. This is my hope for your child entering Kindergarten.
Cheers to a great new school year!
Let's make a difference together!
Remember to JOIN me in my workshop, How to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten, this Monday, August 16 from 7:30-8:30 MDT, 6:30 PST, and 9:30 EST and set your child up for a successful school year!!
Stay tuned for my next blog on games you can play with your child to prepare them for Kindergarten, Grade One and Grade Two.