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Kindergarten is my JAM. Big time. Before I was a mom, I was a kindergarten teacher. I am passionate about this age and grade level for many reasons but here are just a few:
- kinders absolutely LOVE everything that you plan for them
- they have the most hilarious things to say
- school/learning is new, fun, and exciting to them, AND
- they grow leaps and bounds (academically and socially) from the beginning of the year to the end.
I just have such a special place in my heart for this stage of childhood.
In the middle of my time teaching kindergarten (a total of 3 years including my student teaching), my husband’s job relocated us to Lincoln, Nebraska (from the Chicago suburbs) for a year. It was here that I got the chance to teach preschool. During that year, my love for sensory and play-based learning grew immensely. I loved being able to use what I knew from my world of kindergarten, combine it with a newfound love for this type of learning, and apply it to helping prepare preschoolers for what was ahead.
So, the burning question for a preschool teacher:
“What does my child need to know before I send them off to kindergarten?”
Kindergarten today is worlds different from how it was 20 years ago. Some even say that kindergarten is “the new 1st grade.” But don’t panic. I feel that I have a decent grasp on the keys to success for a kinder-kiddo, and I’m going to let you in on what some of them are.
Before I start, I will say that this is a general list. Depending on the area you live, the school district, the community, etc., kindergarten classrooms will vary along with expectations for their students. These are all things, however, that WILL set your child up for success regardless of where you live or what school you send your child to. They are developmentally appropriate skills that will serve as a solid foundation for your child’s learning.
The most important thing you can do for your child, before accomplishing anything on this list, is to help instill a LOVE for learning so that they can get excited about going to school and learning more. The main way to do this is through play-based learning. Children should be able to learn many of these skills in a way that seems and feels like play. They should be learning through engaging, enjoyable, hands-on activities without even realizing it. I will provide links when applicable of ideas and resources for working on these skills through play-based learning as well as some great resources from The Creative Toy Shop.
Okay, here’s my top 12 (in no specific order).
1. Children should know most of the letters in the alphabet, especially the letters in their name, as well as some of the letter sounds.
Knowing the letter names and sounds is one of the very first steps when a child is learning to read and write. By the end of kindergarten, your child will be expected to do both of these things.
- The following resources can be used for uppercase/lowercase letter matching as well as name recognition:
The Creative Toy Shop - A-Z Letter Outlines (Print and laminate these or slide them into plastic sheet covers and use them with play-doh or dry erase markers!)
The Creative Toy Shop - Snap-n-Learn Alpha Gators
The Creative Toy Shop - Write and Wipe Lowercase Letters (The shop has uppercase too- I linked the lowercase because these are always trickier to learn!)
2. Children should be able to write their name (first letter uppercase with the rest lowercase), or be willing to try.
In my kindergarten classroom, we were writing, spelling, identifying, and talking about our names the very first week school began. Though we spent the whole year perfecting the correct way to write our names (first letter uppercase with the rest lowercase) and the legibility of them, it would benefit your child greatly if they began the year with a head start in this area.
3. Children should be able to sit and listen to a story and be able to recall the story (tell what it was about).
- Your child may be able to fluently read a beginning chapter book, but if they finish it and can’t tell you what it’s about, that’s not reading. Reading for meaning and purpose is JUST as important as reading the words on a page. Kindergarten students will be read to, A LOT. It is imperative that they have the stamina to sit and listen attentively through a read aloud. The best and EASIEST way to practice both reading comprehension and ability to sit through a story, is simply to read to your child as much as possible. Don’t just read the story, say “the end,” and put the book away. Talk to your child about the story when it’s over. Ask them if they liked it and why or why not. Ask what their favorite part was or who their favorite character was.
4. Children should be able to count to and identify numbers 1-10.
By the end of kindergarten, most schools expect their students to be able to count to at least 100. Start them early by counting everything and anything you see. Count how many crackers you give them at snack time, count the number of stop signs you see when driving, count their fingers and toes, count the legos and blocks they use to build with- count, count, count!
5. Children should be able to count objects while pointing to them (this is called one-to-one correspondence).
Many children think they are counting objects because they are pointing to them and saying numbers. Most of the time, however, they end up pointing to the same one twice, or skipping over multiple objects and ending up with an incorrect total. In kindergarten, children will learn to count one object at a time, and either move it to the side (if it is an actual object) or cross it out (if it is a pencil/paper activity) as they count it. This is a way for children to learn not to count objects twice, and to make sure each object gets accounted for. You can practice this skill with everyday objects as well. Snack time is a GREAT time to practice counting and one-to-one correspondence.
Colored Counting Tubes - This activity not only works on one-to-one correspondence but color matching too.
6. Children should know the basic colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, black, white and brown) and some basic shapes (circle, square, rectangle, triangle).
Aside from learning to read, write, and count in kindergarten, your child will do lots and lots of coloring. Coloring is a great way to build fine-motor skills which will eventually lead to things like good handwriting, hand-eye coordination, cutting/pasting skills, etc. Children will learn about coloring in the lines, leaving no white space inside what they are coloring, and using colors that make sense in their picture. It is important that children come in knowing their colors so that they can easily follow directions given by the teacher and successfully complete art projects and coloring activities in the classroom. Color words are also some of the very first sight words that most kindergarten classes learn. Knowing the colors and their names will help tremendously with this as well.
Feed Lego Monsters - Sorting & Building
Pom-Pom Color Fun
Aside from these activities, talk to your child about colors as much as possible. You can talk about colors you see when reading books, on the clothes they wear, on the cars that drive by, etc.
Fine Motor Fun With Basic Shapes
Roll, Hop, Shape Game
The Creative Toy Shop - Shape Stencils
Learning basic shapes is also one of the major math concepts taught in kindergarten. In my classroom, we learned 2-D shapes the first half of the year and then were introduced to 3-D shapes the second half. If your child can start their school year already familiar with most of the basic shapes, they will be off to a great start. Shapes are everywhere- similar to colors. Talk about them in everyday activities to help your child become familiar with the vocabulary. Before you know it, your child will be pointing out “Hey, that sign is a rectangle!” or “Look, mom, my cracker is a circle!”
7. Children should know how to correctly hold scissors (or have at least held them and attempted to cut with them), and have an idea of how to correctly grip a pencil.
Kindergarten students will do art projects, and kindergarten students will be expected to write. Give them a boost before starting their year by simply letting them hold each of these objects. By holding them and becoming familiar with them, they will already be a step ahead of some other students, believe it or not. Cutting is a difficult skill to master, especially when those little fine-motor muscles are still developing. Give your child lots of opportunities (supervised opportunities) to practice. Draw some fun zig-zag or curvy lines on a piece of paper and let them practice cutting them. Once they master how to hold a pair of scissors, the next step is strengthening their muscles to be able to open and close them independently. The best way for them to master this skill is by getting the chance to practice. Same with writing- let your child practice writing with fat crayons or thick pencils to start with as they are often times easier for small fingers to manipulate.
How to Hold Scissors
8. Children should be able to talk about the weather.
Most kindergarten classrooms (if not all) star their day with calendar time. During calendar time, they also discuss the weather. They will be expected to tell if it is cold, warm, sunny, rainy, etc. and should also know about how to dress appropriately for different weather conditions. For example, if it’s cold, we wear a coat, if it’s warm, you can wear shorts, etc. This is a life skill that will hopefully help them (and you, as their parent or caregiver) down the road in independently making decisions when getting dressed and leaving their house each morning. This is an easy one to practice with your child on a daily basis at home as well. Have them watch the weather channel with you some time and then let them pretend to be your weatherman/weathergirl. This is a great pretend-play activity! Here are some books you can read about weather as well:
Hello, World! Weather
Oh Say Can You Say What’s the Weather Today?
What Will the Weather Be?
9. Children should be able to share with friends.
Socialization is a HUGE part of kindergarten. This will set them up for the rest of their lives, in school and in the real world, when it comes to working well with others. Start teaching your child simple, practical phrases to use when playing with other children such as “When you’re done with that, may I please use it?” or “I’m almost finished with this and then I will give it to you.” and even using manners such as saying “please” and “thank you.” Though to us adults, this may seem like a simple concept, it is very much a learned skill for children. It is important that we teach them how to use their words to communicate with their peers about what they would like or how they are feeling.
10. Children should be able to problem-solve (or be willing to try and solve a problem).
When I say “problem-solve,” I’m talking “I can’t get my shoe tied,” or “I don’t have a red crayon,” or “my pencil tip broke.” Many children have an initial instinct to panic when they have a problem. They state the problem (often times in a whining voice- am I right?), but then don’t do anything about it. For the majority of their lives thus far, they have likely had someone solving their problems for them. There is nothing wrong with that. I am a mom, I get it. It’s actually physically impossible NOT to solve our child’s problems. It’s what we do. But, when your child goes to school, there are 15-20+ other little ones with problems that need to be solved, and though the teacher is there to help and guide them, their job is not to solve all of their “problems.”
It is important that a child can learn to think to themselves “how can I solve this problem?” As a teacher, when a student came to me with a problem like I listed above, that is what I would ask them… “What can you do about that?” They almost ALWAYS knew the answer, even if the answer was just “Ask for help.” There is a difference between getting worked up and whining “I can’t get my shoe tied,” and coming to the teacher saying “I’m having some trouble tying my shoe, could you please help me?” Start practicing these things with your child as soon as possible. It is a good skill for us to practice as parents too. Trust me, you don’t want to still be zipping your child’s coat when you are sending them off to college. ;)
11. Children should be able to be somewhat independent (this could take years… but it never hurts to start practicing early with things like getting dressed, zipping their coat, putting on their shoes, etc.).
See explanation for #10 - this goes hand-in-hand with problem-solving.
12. Children should be able to play well and socialize with other children.
This goes along with #9. Children need to learn how to talk appropriately to their peers, make friends, share, use their words if someone does something to upset them, etc. They will be around other kiddos their age the majority of the day and we all want them to make friends with those kiddos. Make sure your child gets opportunities to practice these things by having playdates with other children their age before the start of kindergarten.
And there you have it! Some of these academic and social skills will come easier than others and every child learns best in different ways at different paces. The best piece of advice I can give is to relax and have fun with it. Just play! The learning will come. :)
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