Among the parents, there was a lot of discussion and many questions about kindergarten readiness. As a primary teacher, I am often asked by friends, family and my readers what kids need to know and be able to do before starting school, so I hope this post topic will be helpful to many. I also bugged Frannie’s future teacher (who knows something about it, having taught the grade for 20 years) to get some insider information — because let’s be honest, we all want to know how our child compares.
1. PLAY. AND PLAY SOME MORE.
Before starting school, and even in kindergarten, play is preferable to flashcards and academic drills. A ton of learning can be done through exploration and role-play, so you’re a good mom if you let your kids play. A lot. Through play, kids also have a natural opportunity to learn about their environment (colours, shapes, nature, weather), so try answer their questions as much as possible as they explore. Play should be the basis of the development of the next four categories.
I know my girls play a lot, and learn while doing, both at daycare and at home. My weakness though is actually taking the time to engage with them. It always seems like there is something more pressing to do, but I am trying to make more time for fun with my kids. It’s a pretty painfree investment in their development.
2. READING READINESS (NOT PROFICIENCY)
You can already start using orally many of the comprehension strategies we teach in school, such as questioning, predicting, and retelling. At the Kindergarten Night, one of our teachers was at the Reading Centre, and as she read a book (The Hungry Caterpillar) she encouraged the kids to make connections to their lives. At one point she asked the children what they would eat, if they could choose anything in the world, and my people-pleasing and fruit-boycotting daughter announced “apple slices”! Hmm. She’s bright enough to know that she might get praised for that healthy answer…but also a bit of a liar!
You want to instill a love of reading in kids, and not make it any sort of chore or drag. If your child is ready, it’s certainly valuable to work on letter recognition (there are many different games you can make or purchase to help with this – I love the Leapfrog Fridge Phonics and even cheap magnetic letters), and then letter-sound correlations, but don’t rush. If your child can recognize and/or print his or her name before September arrives, that’s a bonus. Games using rhymes will also help develop your child’s literacy skills.
You can google all sorts of pre-reading activities on the net, but aim for the interactive and hands-on stuff, and try to stay away from workbooks and worksheets. I have to admit this one is hard for me even though I am well-versed in educational research, so in the interests of full disclosure I am hereby admitting that Frannie does use letter and number workbooks purchased from the dollar store. She has also learned to print her name, thanks completely to Aunt Rose and her fantastic daycare program.
Insider information: at our school, the majority of JK’s entering in September can identify a quarter to half the alphabet, and very few know letter sounds.
Insider information: The majority of beginning students can identify numerals 1 to 5, and count to 10.
4. PHYSICAL SKILLS:
Here’s what to work on before September:
-gross motor skills such as skipping and hopping on one foot
-fine motor skills: use of pencil, crayons and scissors (working with play doh is fantastic for finger control and coordination, and helps prepare your child for writing)
On another physical note, you should ensure that your child has all necessary immunizations before starting school.
Insider information: Most students start school holding a pencil with a functional grip, and cutting with scissors properly, but not perfectly.
Many would argue that this is the most important aspect of preschool and the kindergarten program. Children at this age are learning to regulate their own behaviour, and therefore need practice with the following (again, remember that there are many games you can play at home to reinforce these skills, with a wealth of resources available on the internet):
-paying attention for short periods of time (e.g. for stories)
-using manners (kids love to role-play “don’ts”, followed by well-praised “dos”)
-sharing (socialization with other children is important for this one)
-following one and two step oral directions
-using oral language to converse with others
-cleaning up after self
So, now that you’ve taken all that in, how do you feel? You’re probably already doing most, if not all, of these things, and still wondering if your child is ready. By these standards, I know Frannie is all set, partly because she is a March baby, and a girl. She definitely requires some work on sharing and taking turns, though — I think our little chatterbox is in for a rude awakening when she realizes that she won’t be allowed to just talk when she wants to, and that she will have seventeen other four year olds vying for the teacher’s attention! Let me be honest, though. I’m not aspiring for my child to just meet minimum standards, I want her to excel, (do any of you disagree?), so we will continue to work on letter and number recognition and printing her name throughout the summer as well.
We have to remember that kids develop at different levels. Although we are not “supposed to” compare, I note with interest of all of the differences between Frannie’s and Maggie’s developments, and how they compare to their peers as well, but the intellectual side of me knows it’s okay that they don’t necessarily achieve milestones at the same rate, especially at such a young age.
I sent this post to my colleague for her approval, and when she sent it back with the “thumbs up”, she also made the following comment, which sums things up so beautifully that I will let her have the last word:
“As parents and educators, we always have to remind ourselves to let our children be children. There are so many pressures put on today’s children, and they are little for such a very short period of time. I truly believe they will reach their potential in the early years with endless love, support, and kindness. The world is huge in their eyes, and it’s sometimes the adults who have to be reminded how precious these years are, and to celebrate all their grand successes. I just believe in nurturing well-rounded children who have a great love and passion for life. I truly love watching children who believe everything is possible. It’s so delightful to see.”