Prep for Kindergarten

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Here are 5 simple ways to get your kids ready for the kindergarten transition.

On my son’s first day of kindergarten, I hid behind a pine tree to spy on him during the first recess. I wanted to make sure he found other children to play with and that he would line up with his class when it was time to go back inside. I stood there for 20 minutes peeking out from behind the tree and chatting with other parents who were doing the same thing.

As I stood there, I asked myself, “Had I done enough to prepare my son for kindergarten?” The other parents with me were wondering and worrying about the same thing. Kindergarten readiness is a popular topic these days, but what does it mean when someone says your child is ready for kindergarten?

“What readiness means varies incredibly from community to community, school to school, teacher to teacher, parent to parent, nation to nation,” says Beth Graue, Ph.D., a professor of early childhood education.

Although the definition of kindergarten readiness can vary depending on the context, here are five simple ways to help prepare your child for kindergarten:

Talk It Up Early and Often

For example, chat with your baby while you are changing his diaper, pushing him in the stroller or riding in the car. Your child’s response may be verbal or non verbal, but the most important thing is to talk to your child and listen closely for his response. Do not ask and answer a question for your child or forget to listen to your child’s answer. “You have to be a really sensitive listener to your child,” Graue says.

Communication is an essential component of a child’s development. “Helping children learn how to participate in a conversation is one of the first steps toward developing strong communication skills,” says Phyllis Phillips, pre-k coordinator, leadership and learning, for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. “Children who have been given opportunities to engage in conversations are more likely to have good oral language skills as well as an extensive vocabulary.” Phillips adds that conversations help foster a child’s natural curiosity and joy of learning as well as build a child’s confidence and sense of value. “When a child is encouraged to give his thoughts and opinions, not only are his academic skills improving, but his social and emotional development is strengthening as well,” says Phillips.

Give Your Child Time to Play

All children need free time to simply play. Giving your child time to play is not wasted time. It’s just the opposite, as playing provides children with many developmental benefits. “Physical and social play is an intricate part of a child’s development,” says Phillips. “The importance of play can be misleading when the significance is not understood. A child running, jumping, skipping or hopping not only releases loads of energy but strengthens large motor skills in order to help with balance and coordination.”

Group play helps children learn social skills, including how to resolve conflicts through negotiation and compromise, how to be persuasive and how to express their desires. Much of the benefit of social play comes when children learn to work out their own conflicts, with as little assistance from adults as possible.

“Play allows children to exercise their creative, imaginative minds. Children are role playing, building structures, learning how to solve simple problems, using their creativity to express, explore and discover,” says Phillips. “These tools of learning that children develop through play are an important part of building literacy and numeracy skills.”

Provide Experiences Away from You

Enroll your child in preschool, swimming lessons or storytime at your local library. Five-year-old Jada started kindergarten this year, and her mom, Michelle, credits her easy transition to her preschool experience and the fact that Jada was comfortable taking directions from other adults.

“Provide several situations where your child is taking instructions from someone other than you as a parent. The child will know who to listen to and how to take instructions from someone other than you, and she will feel comfortable with you not being there for a good duration of time,” Michelle says.

“Many families who enroll their child in a pre-kindergarten program find that the transition into kindergarten typically is smoother,” says Phillips. “Participating in pre-kindergarten programs can help a child feel more comfortable about being away from parents prior to enrolling in a more structured program like kindergarten — these programs also help to develop a child’s social and emotional skills needed for success in school as well as in life.”

Encourage Independence and Self-Care

In kindergarten, teachers will give multi-part directions that require children to complete a number of tasks. Encouraging your child to be independent and learn how to care for himself helps him master the ability to handle multiple tasks at school, too.

As a mother of three, Leane was especially nervous when her oldest daughter, Franny, started kindergarten. “We prepared Franny for kindergarten by working on the physical development areas like getting dressed, putting on and zipping her coat, and even tying her shoes, although she didn’t actually learn to tie her shoes until late in first grade. We also concentrated on following a routine, following directions and cleaning up her toys and games,” Leane says.

Keep Learning Fun and Relaxed

Does your child need to know how to read when he begins kindergarten? No, says Graue. “I wouldn’t worry about a child not reading going into kindergarten. It’s important kids know the letters in their own name and letters in general, but again drilling kids isn’t the only way to teach,” she says.

It’s important to teach letters in a fun, play-based manner and to expect that there will be instruction in kindergarten to support your child’s literacy skills. Instead of drilling your child on his ABCs, you can point out letters on signs and while reading to your child. The key is to help your child recognize letters in the context of their environment.

In addition to recognizing letters, teach your child how to say his first and last names, phone number, street address, names of family members, colors and shapes.

Michelle found her daughter Jada’s enthusiasm for reading didn’t spark until after she started kindergarten. “I tried to push reading with Jada but she lost interest quickly,” Michelle says. “Now, in kindergarten she is coming home every day with a new story about each letter and finds it fun to find site words and do flash cards.”

“To keep learning fun and relaxed for children, many families make learning a natural part of their child’s day,” adds Phillips. “Children can practice counting by helping to set the table — placing cups, plates, napkins or forks and counting them. In the grocery store, games can be played finding certain items or letters in their names on grocery items. While riding in the car, find colors or shapes of various passing cars or signs. One of the most valuable fun, relaxing times a parent can plan for is spending time each day reading and talking about the story with the child.”

A Sample of Kindergarten Learning (source: Parents Guide to Student Success from the National PTA)

  • Naming upper- and lower-case letters, matching those letters with sounds and printing them
  • Stating an opinion or preference about a topic or book in writing
  • Speaking clearly to express thoughts, feelings and ideas, including descriptions of familiar people, places, things and events
  • Asking and answering questions about key details in stories or other information read aloud
  • Understanding and using question words (who, what, where, when, why and how)
  • Learning to recognize, spell and properly use grammatical words that hold language together (a, the, to, of, from, I, is, are)
  • Acting out addition and subtraction word problems and drawing diagrams to represent them
  • Adding with a sum of 10 or less; subtracting from a number 10 or less; and solving addition and subtraction word problems
  • Correctly naming shapes regardless of orientation or size (e.g., a square oriented as a “diamond” is still a square)
  • Comparing two groups of objects to tell which group, if either, has more; comparing two written numbers to tell which is greater


As a freelance writer and mother of two, Laura Lane no longer hides behind a tree on the playground as her children find it too embarrassing.

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