Getting ready for kindergarten seems like it should be so simple. Backpack? Check. School supplies? Check. Know how to ask to go to the bathroom? Check. Okay, let’s go to school!
But consider this: A child’s first year in school is a critical one. Kindergarten can set patterns and habits that last a lifetime, and it gives kids the foundational knowledge and skills they’ll need to be successful in school and beyond. One study found that Tennessee students who learned more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college, earn a higher salary, and save for retirement, and less likely to become single parents.
So what can you do to set your child up for a strong start? We asked for advice from a range of early childhood education experts, including Fishman Prize-winning kindergarten teacher Erica Mariola of New Orleans’ KIPP East Community Primary school. They suggested that parents focus on five simple activities:
1. Getting to know letters and sounds
This means more than just singing the alphabet song. Point to a letter and ask your child to identify it and the sound it makes. Have your child practice holding a pencil to write their name, but also try fun activities like using a finger to make letters in salt or shaving cream on a plate. When you’re on the go, talk to your child about the sounds of words. What’s the first letter of “dog?” The last letter of “cat?”
2. Reading and talking to your child—a lot
Every. Word. Counts. Read with your child at least 15 minutes every day. As you read, point out sight words like “his,” “the,” “and,” and “is,” which your child doesn’t need to sound-out every time. Try to use full sentences when you talk to your child, and explore new words. Don’t be afraid of big words like “nocturnal.” Kids are curious and love to learn words that others may not know. Encourage your child to ask what a word means when she isn’t sure. If you aren’t sure either, make a game of looking it up together. (Looking for book suggestions for early readers? Check out this list from GreatSchools.org.)
3. Practicing numbers and counting
Help your child learn to count up to 20 and identify numbers. When you’re with your child, practice naming numbers, counting, and comparing amounts of things you see. What number is that bus? How many yellow cars are there? Which table has more chairs? Practice touch-counting things like snacks, having your child touch each carrot or cracker while counting them (and make sure each item gets touched only once).
4. Making friends and being nice to others
Teaching your child to share toys, say please and thank you, and wait his turn can all make the transition to kindergarten easier. Focus on helping him introduce himself nicely to other children, respond appropriately when invited to join an activity, and express himself with words (“I feel frustrated”) rather than behaviors (like hitting or acting out).
5. Working hard and not giving up
An important part of learning is not giving up when you run into a challenge or problem. You can help your child practice this before school by encouraging her to try new things (even when she doesn’t want to), and keep trying when things get difficult rather than getting frustrated or quitting. It’s also a good idea to have your child practice following directions with multiple steps (“Please put your toys where they belong and then put on your shoes”), which she’ll need to be ready to do in school.
Getting ready for kindergarten doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful, but it does mean more than buying a backpack. Focus on the simple things. Read and talk to your child as much as you can, practice basic writing and counting, and help your child learn to try hard and get along with others.
“Going to school for the first time is a major transition for a child, both academically and socially,” notes Ms. Mariola. “As a teacher I see that the students who enter Kindergarten with some knowledge of letters, sounds, and numbers have a much smoother transition. If you really want to help your child hit the ground running, worry less about the back-to-school supplies and more about whether they know the difference between a ‘b’ and a ‘d.’”
For more ideas and tips, download our Get Ready for Kindergarten guide today!