Although we’re right in the middle of summer, (I hate to say this) school is right around the corner. For a group of sweet four and five year old girls and boys, that means their very first day of Kindergarten. For a group of moms, that means their babies have taken a big step on their way to growing up (pause for a good cry right here). You are probably wondering, “Is my child ready for Kindergarten?”
You probably have seen all kinds of lists of academic concepts and skills your child should have mastered before Kindergarten. These lists can sometimes include counting to 100 and knowing all 26 letters of the alphabet. It’s enough can stop a mom in her tracks and result in sleepless nights. You may be wondering have I not taught my child enough? Should we have spent less time playing and more time memorizing? My answer is a firm no.
While every province and state has different standards, as a teacher of ten years, I can tell you for certain, academics are NOT the most crucial part of Kindergarten readiness. Though academics are important, there are more important things to know when entering school for the first time. Below I’ve listed ten basic things EVERY child should know before going to Kindergarten. As a Kindergarten teacher, I would rather my students know these things than know the name of a single letter.
The following list will give you an idea of what is needed to REALLY be ready for Kindergarten.
Express feelings and needs in words
Is your child able to explain how he/she is feeling, even when upset or frustrated? Verbalizing frustrations or needs is very important in order for a new Kindergartener to communicate with a teacher. I can’t tell you how many times a child will hold a container up and grunt at me, instead of asking me to please open their container. Worse, is when frustration builds up and a child resorts to hands-on behaviour because they are unable to express their feelings in words. It’s important to get in the routine and expressing needs through words before coming to Kindergarten. Modeling this at home is a great first step.
If your child gets so upset that they are unable to express what it is they want (it happens to the best of us), it’s time to do some coaching. Try saying “You need to use your words to tell me what you want/what is upsetting you,” before the child becomes inconsolable. This is a big step for children, so you may need to model this many times before your child is able to do it independently.
Following Two-Step Directions
In Kindergarten, children will be getting lots of directions, whether it be academic in nature (Colour a picture and write a sentence), or dealing with classroom routines (Push in your chair and walk to the door). Children will be expected to follow two and three step directions. If this is difficult for your child, they may end up feeling confusedor lost during school time.
Observe your child and see how they do when you give more than one direction at a time. Some children may be used to accomplishing one task, then relying on an adult to give a second direction. Can your child accomplish two tasks without giving them a reminder in the middle? Try some simple tasks (e.g. put your toy on the shelf and pick out a book to read; brush your teeth and go to the bathroom; push in your chair and bring your plate to the sink, etc.).
If your child struggles with this, you may wish to practice before Kindergarten. Start with small and simple related tasks (draw a yellow square and colour it blue, drive your red car to the carpet and then get your green truck) and gradually work towards two unrelated tasks (put away your toys and wash your hands for dinner).
Respecting Adult Authority
Sometimes our preschoolers like to be “the boss.” Actually make that most of the time! Some households are more strict and the child knows that they must obey mom or dad. Other households have more leniency and the child is in charge of making many decisions. This is a parenting choice that is, of course, yours to make. However, once your child is at school, there s no doubt that the students must comply with teacher requests. If your child is used to taking charge, you may need to have a talk (or probably several talks) to explain that school is different and they will need to follow the teacher’s rules and instructions. You can frame this in a positive way (Mrs. So-an-so is in charge at school. She will help you learn the rules so you can have fun and lean lots of new things).
Being respectful of adults before coming to school is really important for Kindergarteners. Time that may have been spent having power struggles between teachers and students can be spent learning instead. often the other children in the class are perceptive and can view an argumentative or disobedient child as “the bad kid.” Being respectful of adults will help your child have a positive start at school.
One additional note: in my experience, many children understand that the teacher is in charge quite easily. However, sometimes children do not treat other adults in the school with the same respect (this could include educational assisstants, secretaries, support workers, cafeteria staff, custodians, etc.). It’s worth having a conversation with your child about being respectful to all adults in the school community.
How does your child do at sharing with others? Often children can be possessive about toys and materials. At home, this may be OK, but at school, children are expected to share most things. If you only have one child, or have two or more children with a significant age gap between them, it’s a good idea to be sure your child is used to playing with other children their own age. Playdates, play groups, preschool or summer camps are excellent ways to expose your child to other children. Be present and encourage sharing. Positive reinforcement and modelling good behaviour will go a long way to help your child learn to share.
How to be a Friend
This is so important and so lovely to see in little children. Kindness starts at home. Talking about how to be kind, and more importantly, modelling it for your children will go a long way. This is another area where spending lots of time around other children is important, as it gives an opportunity not only to play and get along with others, but also teachers children how rewarding it is to show kindness!
Self Care Skills
Kindergarten students are going to need to dress and undress themselves for outdoors A LOT. For instance, at my school, the children have two recess times, and we often have an outside activity/lesson in the afternoon. This means the children get dressed and undressed for the outdoors three or four times a day. If you child has never even put their own coat on by themselves, this can add a lot of stress to their day. The kindergarten teacher is there to help, but will not be dressing 20-30 children individually (we would lose half our learning time!). Take some steps now to be sure your child can put on their own shoes and jacket/sweater. When wintertime comes, spend some time teaching them how to put on snow pants, mittens, etc.
It’s also important to send your child in appropriate clothing so they can dress independently. A beautiful lace skirt with lots of tiny buttons is not practical for a five year old to go to the bathroom in. Lace up boots may look fashionable, but if your child cannot tie their laces, perhaps they should be saved for home.
If your child cannot dress independently, it can affect them negatively. Self confidence may suffer when they see their peers doing what they cannot. Likewise they can become frustrated waiting for a teacher to help them. Taking the time to teach them this important self care skill is definitely worth it.
Similar to dressing independently, being able to eat snacks and lunch independently, which includes opening containers, juice boxes, etc. is another important skill for Kindergarteners to master. While the teacher will be there to help with tricky items, it is better to send most items that your child can open themselves. Imagine that it’s lunchtime and everyone in the class has a container or thermos that needs to be opened. The teacher is making her way down the table as quickly as possible (or is cleaning up an accident or is helping a child who is sick or hurt, etc. etc. etc.) but it turns out your little one is the last one in line. Your child is probably feeling frustrated and hungry by the time it is their turn. Not a great way to start school, right?
Time to start practicing opening containers and juice boxes (or whatever it is you plan on sending for lunch) now. You may need to coach your child to open some items, but they will get there with practice. You may also want to consider purchasing some easy-open containers that your child can open easily!
There are certainly some snacks that come in packages that are quite tricky for little ones and require dexterity to open. I’m not suggesting that your child must open all snacks independently, or that you can never send anything that they can’t open by themselves, but definitely be sure that they can open a good portion of their lunch by themselves.
“Ms. Hemmmmmmmming, I need you to come wipe my bum!!!!” This is a comment I’ve heard more than once in my career as a Kindergarten teacher. Be sure your child can do this independently because I am not doing it for them 😉 No way, no how!
Skills like washing hands independently and zippering or buttoning up pants are also important. Yes, the teacher will help with a tricky button, but it can be embarrassing for a child to have to ask.
Skills to Support Learning
Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are an important part of success in Kindergarten. As well as being able to accomplish the self care tasks listed above, having fine motor skills (the ability to make small, precise movements with the hand) allows your child to print easily and neatly. This is crucial to their success as a student, particularly when writing. So many children have delays in their fine motor skills these days, and it is a true shame. Each year, I see children struggle with academics (particularly writing, but also in reading, math and science as they progress through the years), not because they are not smart enough, but because they have trouble actually forming letters when writing and getting their thoughts down on paper. This makes a giant impact in their self confidence, and is often a self-fulfilling prophecy as their learning suffers as well.
I encourage all parents to ensure that their child spends time engaging in fine motor activities (this can be all done through fun and games, not structured activities or worksheets). Need ideas? Take a look at these quick fine motor activities that are about as uncomplicated as they come.
Attitude About School and Learning
Does your child love to learn? Are they excited about starting school? Your attitudes go a long way in shaping the attitudes of your child. Your praise and excitement when they learn a new skill is so important to creating a life-long learner.
When discussing Kindergarten with you preschooler, be sure to show your excitement. If you talk about school as if it is the most wonderful thing, your child will think so too. On the other hand, if you have had issues with your own schooling, your child may pick up on the tension and may start to dread going to Kindergarten. Likewise, jokes about not wanting to do homework or playing hooky can alter a child’s perception of school too. We as adults are just joking, children can internalize these comments).
If you have criticism about your child’s school or teacher, be sure not to discuss this in front of your child. I’m not suggesting your concerns are not valid. However, it can have an effect on your child’s attitude toward school, so it’s worth making sure little ears are not listening.
Conclusion: Getting You Child Ready for Kindergarten
Well, there you have it. Ten skills that will ensure your child is ready for Kindergarten. Likely you child is already doing many of these things (and if you feel your child has all these skills mastered, congrats to you!) but there may be one or two areas which could use a little improvement before September. I would encourage parents to stop stressing about academics and focus on these skills. They will not just help your child make a positive start in Kindergarten but will benefit them for their entire school career!
Do you think your child is ready for Kindergarten? Would you add anything else to this list? Let me know below!