Kindergarten is a big step for both child and parent. Here are 5 tips to help you best prepare you and your preschooler for the transition.
1. Teach concepts. While it’s helpful to head into kindergarten knowing colors, shapes and numbers, comparative concepts and opposites can help children better understand and communicate what they’re thinking. Work on simple, visible comparisons like “bigger,” “shorter,” and “under,” as well as tangible opposites like wet and dry, or soft and hard.
This is also a good age to talk about the basics of bullying (what it is and what to do if you experience or see it), safety (stranger danger), manners (respect for self and others) and general differences between people (cultural, physical, abilities, etc.). Try to incorporate one of these discussions into an existing or occurring situation, rather than sitting down the week before school to go over everything. Seeing a child in a wheelchair at the store might present an opportunity to discuss differences – and perhaps bullying – on the ride home.
2. Let them make choices. It’s natural for even the most outgoing kids to be nervous about kindergarten – especially if they didn’t attend preschool. Involving your child in decisions can help them feel a bit more in control when facing the unknown. Let them help choose school supplies, snacks or brown-bag lunches, barrettes, outfits – and maybe even dinner on the first day of school. Cut photos of foods from a magazine and create a shopping list or menu for the first week of school. Have her lay out several outfits for the first week of school and post photos of each in her room so she can get dressed without help – or hassle.
3. Build cognitive skills. Many parents incorrectly believe that letter knowledge is the foundation to reading. But reading skills are built on phonemic awareness (sound blending and segmenting). In fact, studies show a 90 percent decrease in reading problems if children are first introduced to sound analysis activities.
One easy way to work on sound analysis skills is to practice rhyming. Rhyming forces the dissection of sounds. The importance of this skill became obvious in the largest ever study of reading struggles. In the 10-year effort by the Institute of Health, 130 studies identified a single weak cognitive skill as the cause of 88% of all learning to read problems: phonemic awareness.
Sound segmenting games can also offer a fun opportunity to teach phonemic awareness. Say a two-sound word, like bee or tie, then have your child tell you which sounds are in the word (“b” and “ee” for “bee” and “t” and “i” for “tie”). Gradually increase to three-sound words like cat, (“c” “a” and “t”) and tree (“t” “r” and “ee”). This builds auditory segmenting, which they’ll need as they begin to spell.
If you have building blocks, you can help develop analysis skills by using blocks to make up nonsense words. Start with two to three blocks, then have the child remove one of the blocks and add a new one while verbally trying to figure out what the new nonsense word sounds like. (If they can’t read, just say the sounds for them, and ask them to try to figure out from hearing the sounds what the new word would sound like when they switch the blocks.) Remember, the goal isn’t to teach them letter or word recognition, but rather sounds.
Playing games that strengthen other cognitive skills will help too. Together, memory, attention, visual processing, logic and reasoning, and processing speed make up the foundation of a child’s ability to learn ANYTHING – reading, writing, math, history, science or languages.
4. Stay social. A lot of kindergarten is based on sharing, collaboration, cooperation and interaction. Children who have attended daycare, regular playgroups, group classes or have siblings close to their age naturally have more practice. Find opportunities to encourage interaction with other kids – even if they’re not the same age. Playgrounds, dance or gymnastics classes, YMCA and hourly care facilities can all provide great sources to practice social skills.
5. Tour the school. Ask the school about orientations that are appropriate for the children and not just the parents. Taking a 5-year-old to a two-hour Q & A with a packed gym won’t leave him excited to return. If possible, set up a private meeting so he can meet the teacher, touch things in the classroom, visit the library and even play on the school playground. Consider packing a family lunch to actually eat in the cafeteria, and take photos of everything to allow him to share his dry run with a friend, neighbor or relative.
And to prepare yourself? Expect tears – from both of you – on the first day of school. Take photos to capture the moment because before you know it, they’ll be heading off to college.