On my son’s first day of Kindergarten, I hid behind a pine tree to spy on him during the first recess. I wanted to make sure he found other children to play with and that he would line up with his class when it was time to go back inside. I stood there for 20 minutes peeking out from behind the tree and chatting with other parents who were doing the same thing.
As I stood there, I asked myself, 'Had I done enough to prepare my son for Kindergarten?' The other parents with me were wondering and worrying about the same thing. Kindergarten-readiness is a popular topic these days, but what does it mean when someone says your child is “ready for Kindergarten”?
“What readiness means varies incredibly from community to community, school to school, teacher to teacher, parent to parent, nation to nation,” says Beth Graue, Ph.D., a Professor of Early Childhood Education.
Although the definition of Kindergarten-readiness can vary depending on the context, here are five simple ways to help prepare your child for Kindergarten:
1. Invite your child into conversation with you. Talk with your child early and often. For example, chat with your baby while you are changing their diaper, pushing them in the stroller or riding in the car. Your child’s response may be verbal or non-verbal, but the most important thing is to talk to your child and listen closely for their response. Do not ask and answer a question for your child or forget to listen to your child’s answer.
“You have to be a really sensitive listener to your child,” says Graue.
2. Give your child time to play. All children need free time to simply play. Giving your child time to play is not wasted time. It’s just the opposite as playing provides children with many developmental benefits. Physical play helps children develop their motor skills, and very young children often do practice play by repeating the same movements over and over again in order to master them, according to Jill Steinberg, Ph.D., a Faculty Associate in Human Development and Family Studies.
Group play helps children learn social skills, including how to resolve conflicts through negotiation and compromise, how to be persuasive and how to express their desires, says Steinberg. Much of the benefit of social play comes when children learn to work out their own conflicts, with as little assistance from adults as possible. Graue recommends choosing a preschool that gives children ample time to play.
3. Provide experiences away from you. Enroll your child in preschool or another activity, such as a religious education class, swimming lessons or storytime at your local library. Five-year-old Jada started Kindergarten this year, and her mom, Michelle, credits her easy transition to her preschool experience and the fact that Jada was comfortable taking directions from and listening to other adults.
“I would provide several situations where your child is taking instructions from someone other than you as a parent for two reasons: The child will know who to listen to and how to take instructions from someone other than yourself, and they will feel comfortable with you not being there for a good duration of time,” says Michelle.
4. Encourage independence and self-care. In Kindergarten, teachers will often give multi-part directions that require children to complete a number of tasks. Encouraging your child to be independent and learn how to care for themselves and manage their own things helps them master the ability to handle multiple tasks at school too. As a mother of three, Leane was especially nervous when her oldest daughter, Franny, started Kindergarten.
“We prepared Franny for Kindergarten by working on the physical development areas like getting dressed, putting on and zipping her coat, and even tying her shoes - although she didn’t actually learn to tie her shoes until late in the first grade. We also concentrated on following a routine, following directions and cleaning up her toys and games,” says Leane.
Teaching your child to be independent builds the way for them to transfer those skills to a higher stakes situation, like school. “Being able to clean up is a great asset in Kindergarten,” says Graue.
5. Keep learning fun and relaxed. Does your child need to know how to read when they begin Kindergarten? No, says Graue.
“I wouldn’t worry about a child not reading going into Kindergarten. It’s important kids know the letters in their own name and letters in general; but again, drilling kids isn’t the only way to teach,” she says.
It’s important to teach letters in a fun, play-based manner and to expect that there will be instruction in Kindergarten to support your child’s literacy skills. Instead of drilling your child on their ABCs, you can point out letters on signs and while reading to your child. The key is to help your child recognize letters in the context of their environment.
In addition to recognizing letters, teach your child how to say their first and last names, their phone number, street address, names of family members, colors and shapes.
Michelle found her daughter Jada’s enthusiasm for reading didn’t spark until after she started Kindergarten.
“I tried to push reading with Jada but she lost interest quickly,” says Michelle.
“Now in Kindergarten she is coming home every day with a new story about each letter and finds it fun to find site words and do flashcards.”
As a freelance writer and mother of two, Laura no longer hides behind a tree on the playground as her children find
it too embarrassing.
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