Kindergarten is a big step for both children and parents. It’s when children start to learn more about the world around them and develop important skills. For some parents, it’s their first time being away from their child, which can be scary. But if you are the parent of an upcoming kindergartner, have no fear! We asked parents to share what they wish they’d known when their children started kindergarten, and we also asked parents of upcoming kindergarteners what they are doing to prepare.
Getting ready academically
Most parents who want to prepare their children for kindergarten focus on helping them learn basic skills like counting, reading, and writing. Matthew Albert, a high school teacher in Chicago whose daughter Maya is starting kindergarten in a month, is doing just that. He’s having Maya write letters in both capital and lowercase, write numbers up to 20, adding up to 5 + 5 and reading pages of books like Goodnight Moon.
One mom told us that she remembers “not realizing how much emphasis was put on them coming with a knowledge of sight words.” Sight words are common words that kids learn to recognize instantly- unlike other words that children can sound out phonetically. Here is a website with printable sight word worksheets, bingo cards and other games.
Academics aside, there are some basic skills parents can work on with their incoming kindergartners. It’s important that children work on developing fine motor skills, such as holding a pencil and cutting with scissors. Maria Shaughnessy-Solot, a parent from North Carolina, told us that in addition to having a grasp on basic letters and sight words, teachers requested that children work on opening their lunches and buttoning their clothes. “There isn’t one-on-one like at home. They need to know how to open the package or button their pants. Lunch aides see kids struggle daily with lunches.”
Kristina, a former elementary school teacher, shares teaching resources on her blog, Sweet for Kindergarten. She’s written about the effects technology has had on incoming kindergartners, such as their lack of fine motor skills, since many children have never held a pencil or a pair of scissors before the classroom. By the age of 5 or 6, Kristina shares that children should be able to:
- Cut with scissors
- Draw shapes
- Grasp a pencil correctly
- Cut out a circle
- Fold paper
- Tear paper
- Build with legos or playdough
Play is important too
Children typically learn through play in preschool, yet over the years, many districts across the country have raised academic standards for kindergarten. Still, many educators realize that fostering a love of learning is most important. For example, New Hampshire passed a law in 2018 requiring schools to use play-based learning in kindergarten.
Danya, a mom to a kindergartner and early childhood teacher says to, “let them play, play, play! Play is the highest form of research and the most important ‘work’ children can do. Of course when I say play, I don’t mean video games, but imaginative play, at the playground, board games, etc. The rest will come.” She also says to, “read, read, read to them! Don’t worry about them learning to read or forcing them to read. Unless they want to. Make it a fun ritual and special quality time, not a chore.”
Nicole Bruno Altamirano would agree. “I wish I would have not pushed academics- that will come. I wish I would be thinking of the marathon of parenting and development. I wish I would have let them be kids more, I wish I would have known that in the grand scheme of things, kindergarten doesn’t matter. What matters is that your child is happy and loved. My kids all read at 4, and did advanced math for that age. Guess what? It doesn’t matter.”
Some parents get really creative with learning through play. One mom, Joi, recently did a lemonade stand. “[We] planned, then counted our money, and learned about opposites (hot and cold; sour and sweet). We are also doing one page a day of sight words and a workbook when we remember!”
Finally, parents can help children prepare for kindergarten by talking to them about what to expect. The website Edutopia shared some ways both parents and their children can ease kindergarten jitters:
- Practice saying goodbye: allow children to spend time with other caregivers so they can see they are just fine without mom or dad present.
- Learn the lay of the land: Visiting the school, practicing social skills, and even introducing them to one of their classmates ahead of time can help prepare them.
- Address your child’s concerns directly: Let your child know any worries they have are normal and then brainstorm solutions together.
Read more ideas here.