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Thoughts on Kindergarten Readiness

Kathryn Young Thompson

It might not be possible for parents to ever be really ready to send their children off to kindergarten, but we should be able to help our kids prepare for that transition. What are the most important things a child needs to do to be ready to start school? This week our Mom Congress delegates give a few suggestions to help you make sure your child begins kindergarten on the right foot:

Routine, routine, routine!  Set up a location in the home for schoolwork/homework.  A table with adequate lighting, pencils/paper, and few distractions.  Set up a schedule that is repeated daily such as upon coming home a light snack, and then homework time.  Set up specific homework time on a calendar that the child can see and stick to the times.  

Take into account that you may be placing your children in extracurricular activities to enhance their skills such as ballet or baseball.  Place those activities into the weekly calendar and adjust the homework time frame.

A time for bedtime should also be adhered to.  Again, routine is critical from as simple as brushing teeth, preparing clothes/backpack for next day, and fifteen minutes of reading time prior to sleeping.  I strongly encourage all parents, regardless of the child's age, to require reading before going to sleep.  For kindergarteners, I suggest a Reading Log that logs not only time, but the number of pages read in the evening.  Make it a point to go once a month to the library to select books for this nightly reading.  Have your child get their own library card. ~Dr. Marilyn Zaragoza – 2011 Florida Delegate 

Our kindergarten teachers feel that if a child can sit for up to 10 minutes, follow 1-2 step directions and know how to listen to the speaker they will have a good start. ~Tiffany Pratt – 2011 Hawaii Delegate

As the mom of three, with the youngest being 10 years old now, I can still remember how shocked I was at how much my kindergartner was expected to learn!  They have to count to 30?  Write their name?  Sit quietly and listen?  I remember just playing and napping in kindergarten but times have changed.  I would ask parents to prepare their child for the separation; it's hard for them to be alone with a strange adult and all these children they don't know.  I put my youngest two children in pre-school for a year before kindergarten (just part-time a couple of days a week) and that helped tremendously with their social skills and to calm any separation anxiety.  Start working with them on writing their names, recognizing letters, learning to follow rules.  And be prepared -they are going to be TIRED!   Work on getting them up early and ready every morning for a week or so before school so they can acclimate to the new schedule. But after the first couple of weeks, you will be amazed at how excited they are to go to school and learn new things, see new friends, and have all these new experiences.  As their parent, see how you can get involved - be that room parent if you can.  It is incredibly important to learn how your child acts in the classroom, to get to know their teacher and their new friends.  If you work and can't get in during the day, email the teacher and see if there's something you can do at night from home or maybe help out during a parent/teacher night.  Parental involvement is key! ~Shayne McCaslin – 2011 Arizona Delegate

If you have an infant, the time is now to begin preparing them for kindergarten.  Read to them, sing to them, and use lots and lots and lots of language.  Children also need to be socially prepared for kindergarten.  If your infant is not in a daycare setting, you will want to find creative ways to help them develop strong social skills.  Take them to library time for their age group, join a play group, seek out family resource centers in your community, get to know other parents with children of similar age.  If your child enters kindergarten with strong social skills, they will be prepared to hit the ground running and learn.

If you are a year or two away from entrance into kindergarten, once again- read, strong language modeling/skills, read, sing, help your child create strong social skills with other children.  In addition, naturally weave learning into their play.  While working with Legos, talk about colors, count them, create letters with the Legos, etc.  Find out what your school district kindergarten standards are so you know what to work on with your child.  Most of all, make learning fun!  Keep it simple, weave it into their play and other activities.  ~Lisa Falduto – 2011 Wisconsin Delegate

Most Kindergarten teachers will send home a list of knowledge that kids are expected to possess, BEFORE kindergarten, such as being able to write their name, write and recognize the alphabet, know basic shapes and colors, etc.

Kindergarten teachers have a real challenge.  They get students that know nothing and students already reading at a first grade level.

I really feel it is the responsibility of the parent to provide preschool for their kids.  If they cannot afford to send their kids to preschool, they can work with their kids at home.  All kids (where intellect and language ability allows) should go to kindergarten knowing the required basics.  Kindergarten is not the place for your child to first be exposed to the alphabet, shapes, and colors. Too much of a kindergarten teacher's time is spent teaching kids concepts they should already know. ~Candice Larsen – 2011 Idaho Delegate

When my children were toddlers, I had an opportunity to serve on the Sacramento County Children & Families Commission Blue Ribbon Task Force on School Readiness (about 10 years ago or so).  Here are a few things I did with my own kids and shared with the panel:

  1. You are your child’s first teacher and you come equipped with all the tools you need to do a good job.
  1. Your state Department of Education or your local elementary school will have printed guidelines describing what your child needs to know or be able to do before they start kindergarten.  Get a copy when your child / children are about age 2. 
  1. Based on the guidelines – look around your house to see what you already have to work with:
  1. Do you have a magnet alphabet on your fridge?  Numbers?
  1. You probably have a shape puzzle – great! Put it to use.
  1. Talk with your child about what’s in their environment.  Point out the red stop sign, the yellow triangle, the big blue “W” in the Wal Mart sign, or the circles on the Target building.  These big, visible things demonstrate shapes and colors in their environment – just like Sesame Street!
  1. Sing with your child!  They don’t care if you sing on key – just sing!  It helps build pathways in their brains that help with math and language and you can draw on those old favorites like the ABC song and others that teach the concepts they need to know in a fun and entertaining way.
  1. 5.       Count, count, count.  We used to put vegetables on my son’s high chair tray and count them each time we set them down.  After a while, our son could look at the number of peas on his tray and tell us – “five?  Mommy, I wanted six peas.”  Being able to see sets of items as a whole and identify the number quickly is a great early math skill.  ~Laura Taylor – 2010 California Delegate

*With more pressure placed on teachers, that stress can transfer to students early on. It's very sad to see a kindergartener already tired of school. School should be fun! Keep an excited and upbeat attitude about school at home to help your little one get off on the right foot. Parents have much more of an effect upon children's outlook than teachers do.

*Remember to always speak respectfully of your child's teacher and school in front of your child. Whether or not your opinions are correct, they are valid for your child and may affect his or her attitude toward learning. If you encounter an issue that needs to be addressed, explain to your child that you are a team and will find a solution together.

*Help them prepare to be thinkers. Ask open-ended questions all day long. You might start with, "What color is that fire truck?" but then follow up with, "Why do you think fire trucks are usually red? What would be another good color for a fire truck?" (An awesome creative art project could ensue...)

*As a preschool teacher, I am always concerned with kindergarten readiness. I sometimes will include a quiz on a monthly newsletter, asking, "What is the #1 thing parents can do to get their child ready for kindergarten? A. Read 20 minutes a day B. Read 20 minutes a day C. Read 20 minutes a day." It's that important!!! ~Jamie Pearce – 2010 Idaho Delegate

For parents and preschool teachers of children entering Kindergarten, I say that Kindergarten is their last year to freely move about and discover.  Children graduating from my Montessori preschool are overly prepared with their numbers, letters, colors, shapes, continents, vocabulary and many other topics.  They have learned how to listen, speak when it is their turn, raise their hand to be recognized, wait beautifully, stand in line, pay attention when spoken to including eye contact, say “please”, “thank you”, and “may I”, as well as use their words to express themselves.  They know how to be kind, thoughtful and helpful.  Kindergarten will be their time to learn the ground rules and lay of the land for the rest of their elementary school years.  Once they get to first grade, it's sit at your desk and be quiet much of the time.  They need the extra preparation in preschool years to be prepared for the regimen most classrooms use.

And, remember dancing, music, art in all expressions.  Some children will continue in the arts as they go through elementary, others will go literature. ~Darlene Shue – 2011 Texas Delegate

Entering kindergarten can be an exciting yet trying time for the child and the parents.  When we can help to prepare our children emotionally, socially and with skills, this can lead to a better transition and better experience for all involved.  We, as parents or guardians, must lay a stronger foundation for our children to improve their chances of success and increase their own joy of learning and going to school.  This places expectations on the family, then the school, as the child's expectations get nurtured and take shape.  I found it exceptionally useful to start teaching my children to read, write and do math at home.  I started earliest with my youngest daughter who is reading and doing math a couple grades above level. 

1.  Reading:
Simply reading with your child is one of the most valuable activities you can share - next to feeding, hugging and caring for your child.  To me, it is an important way of showing love.  Let your child hold the book and get comfortable turning pages and identifying some of the pictures. Teach the alphabet and the sounds of the letters and associate pictures of items starting with each alphabet. Focus on a few letters and sounds daily using examples throughout the day or allotted time.  2. Writing: Show your child how to hold a pencil and start shaping the letters of the alphabet and work up to small words.  Then teach your child to say and write their name, address and phone number.  3.  Math: Teach numbers and basic adding and subtracting.  Simply using safe small items or drawing pictures of apples can be helpful.  There are many workbooks and websites that are helpful in these efforts. Some basic science concepts can be explained as well, such as the importance of water, air and their uses. Remember, hugs and praise go a long way-for the child and for you!

Here is a checklist that can be helpful in directing your readiness routine. ~Brenda Martin – 2011 Kentucky Delegate 

I asked a kindergarten teacher once on what I should do to prepare my child for kindergarten and her answer was READ!  Read, read, read, and read some more! I really took that to heart and my daughter is a 4.0 sixth grader who loves school and my son, who is a kindergartner, loves school and is doing very well academically.  I didn't spend a lot of time on drill and practice of numbers, letters, etc; I just made sure that we went to the library every week, read stories before bed and went to every story hour we could.  ~Chanda Kropp – 2010 Minnesota Delegate

I think one of the best ways to prepare children for kindergarten is to go and visit the school.  Many schools have activities that are open to the community (throughout the school year) and this would give the children an opportunity to visit the school during a fun time.  I also advise all parents to attend the open house or registration day because many schools have a program for the children and the parents.  I think making friends with neighbors or members of the community with children a little older will help the parents get ready for school too!  They can ask questions and not feel so alone.  And this parent readiness will impact the readiness and comfort of the child as well. ~Becky Staley – 2010 Hawaii Delegate

In preparing my daughter for kindergarten this year we did our best to make the school seem as familiar as possible. We made several visits there. We went to play on their playground several times during the summer, attended several of their events that were open to the public. About a month before school started I organized a class wide playdate at my house. We had another at a local park. This made such an impact on the kids the first day of school. When a child is in a familiar place with familiar people they are so much more open to learning! ~Meghan Lynch – 2011 New Jersey Delegate

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at Bite Upon Bite, and occasionally the gym.