Top 10 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten October 15 2009

As a previous K-2nd grade teacher and school counselor, I have seen astonishing results from the obvious effort many parents are taking to prepare their children for Kindergarten. If you are reading this, you are likely one of the parents who will create an environment in which your child can thrive. However, many teachers have seen the devastating results of heart-broken children who aren't able to focus in school because early-on their lives were full of pain and heart-ache. The teacher truly can make a difference in the lives of children. However, there is absolutely no question in that the initial experiences of early infancy and childhood stay with the child throughout his life.

You may be thinking, oh yeah. I know about that. I want to know about academics. What does my kid need to know? Get to the point. Well, the point is... if the parent doesn't focus on the #1 point we have on this list, failure is likely to occur. Not necessarily in grades at first, but in the child's self-esteem. So, if we really want our children to succeed, we need to focus on the #1 on this list, before the proceeding nine. 

Parents who make the choice, create the time, and extend effort to follow this list are sure to see the remarkable growth of their children.

To do this successfully, we must ask and honestly answer serious, personal and developmentally appropriate questions regarding the up-bringing of our children.

1. Loving & Caring Parental Relationships

Infant, toddler and preschool age children greatly benefit from positive parental attention and loving relationships. This is obviously the first way in which parents can truly prepare children for success in life. So, above all else, parents who have encouraged a child's healthy self-esteem are remarkably important.  Many parents are able to help their children develop what Eric Erikson describes as "hope, will and purpose".

(Online, 10/15/09, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Erikson)

This may not be as easy as one may think. We are more likely to succeed at this if we do so intentionally, with education, intent and effort.  Unfortunately, there are also many parents who do not help their children develop hope, will and purpose and actually cause damage. It may not be intentional. It could be because they didn't know any better. Of course, all parents have the best intentions. However, it takes honest work and intentional effort to really be sure we are parenting to our fullest potential.

So, take a quick look at the bulleted lists below. As you do so, honestly answer the questions and challenge yourself with this question. "How can I be the best parent possible, so that my child develops hope, will and purpose".  For if you do these things, your child will surely be on his way towards success in Kindergarten. Sure, your child may still need help with academics, yet the strength to face all the hurdles along the way will have been established.

Infant- Trust vs. Mistrust is developed.

The infant learns if the caregivers are reliable. The development of hope is established if the caregivers are reliable.

Questions to Ask Ourselves, as Parents:

  • When my child cries, do I answer his cry?  Why or why not?
  • Do I look my child in the eyes and care?
  • Do I hug my child?
  • Do I say kind and loving words to my child?
  • Do I feed, diaper and bathe my child appropriately?
  • Do I keep my child safe from people who could break his trust?

If there is a "no" to any of these answers, your child's trust is being broken. You have the power to make the changes today.

Toddler - Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt is developed.

The toddler-age child needs to explore the world. A smothering or completely neglectful parent can prevent the child from developing will.

Questions to Ask Ourselves, as Parents:

  • Do I say encouraging words to my child as he/she explores the world,  (e.g. "Wow! Look at what you can do!"  "You helped pour the milk, that is so cool!" "You want the peas, not the carrots, you are making a choice. I'm proud of you for knowing what you like." -or- Do I say, "How could you do that? You aren't old enough for that! You can't do that! You have to eat that whether you like it or not."
  • Do I go on fun and educational outings with my child?
  • Do I take the time to listen to what my child has to say about his experiences, care about what he is saying and respond with positive encouragement?
  • Do I encourage my child to do things on his own (feed himself, learn to put on his own shoes, make choices about food and activities)?
  • Do I encourage my child to have friendships?                                                                                                                                       
  • Do I surround my child with adults that say or do things that make my child feel shameful or doubtful about himself?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, your child's will is being broken. You have the power to make the changes today.

Kindergarten - Initiative vs. Guilt is developed. At this stage, the goal is to help our children develop purpose.

At this age children need to feel secure about their choices, if they are made to feel "guilty" the development of purpose can be challenged. However, Erikson believes that a sense of accomplishment can challenge these feelings of guilt.

Questions to Ask Ourselves, as Parents:

  • Do I listen to the interest of my child and encourage him to do activities that he enjoys?
  • Do I let my child dress himself?
  • Do I try to live my life through my child by making him do activities I wish I would have done, even though I know my child does not enjoy these activities?
  • Do I surround my child with adults that encourage my child to feel a sense of initiative or feelings of shame and doubt? 

We've gotten through the most crucial and important step!

It's important for us to be honest about our self-assessment and areasof needed improvement, so our children can truly develop to their fullest potential. If we are aware of an area of needed improvement, it's important to work on it daily. Writing in a journal, discussing your concerns with a trusted friend or meeting with a counselor can improve and support our efforts. Many caring, loving and devoted parents may review the list and realize that a past pain from childhood may be preventing them from parenting to their fullest potential. That's when getting support as previously mentioned can be beneficial. I'm a parent, too. I understand the challenges involved. Know that I too have worked on this list and it shows in the healthy self-esteem development and learning capabilities of my child. No one is perfect. Yet, we must expect the best from ourselves, if we expect success in our children.

2. Assess What Your Child Knows

Now, we are talking about academics. Assessments are the hot topic now. Before instruction, teachers assesses what students already know and develop instruction based upon these results. Assessments can be formal or informal. A formal assessment can consist of the child sitting down and completing a certain task in a structured manner while the teacher takes detailed notes/records. An informal assessment can occur throughout the day in an unstructured manner. Teachers have specialized education, so they are experts when it comes to assessments. Your child's teacher will likely review assessment results during future parent/teacher conferences. Please be aware that these suggested assessements are not exactly the same type of assessments that the teacher is doing, and they are not done in exactly the same way.

It's very important that these listed assessments do not become intense or prolonged. At all times they need to be fun for our toddler or preschool children. There is absolutely no need to force any of this on a child. Doing one assessment, or a portion of an assessment, per day every month or two is adequate. You will find a list of a few suggested areas to assess below.

For each of the following "Assessments" Compile the Following Supplies:

  • 3 x 5 cards
  • Black & red markers to create each card. (Red is for the a, e, i, o, u cards.)
  • Labeled envelope (e.g. "Colors" On the envelope write the dates you do the assessments.)
  • Keep a pencil handy for notes on the back of the card. (e.g. Write the date your child says the correct answer on the back of the card.)

Assessments:

  • Colors - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, white, black, brown.
  • Shapes - circle, square, rectangle, star, heart, triangle. You could use the Wikki Stix kit to make basic shapes with your child, or create the shapes with a black pen on the 3x5 cards.
  • Numbers - 1-10. Rather than making your own, these cards are very useful.
  • Alphabet - It may be helpful to write both uppercase and lowercase on each card. Vowels (a, e, i, o, u) can we written in red. All other letters can be written in black. You could also use these tracing cards with your child. It's helpful to have the child trace the letters.
  • Concepts About Print - Hand your child a book. Watch what your child does with the book. Check off each of the following with the date when you see him come to an understanding of it. You will be able to tell by viewing his behaviors while looking at the book. 1. front of book, 2. back of book, 3. viewing pictures from the left-to-right, 4. viewing pictures from the top of the page to the bottom of the page.

Now, it's time to take these assessments and use the following activities as a guide to teach your child what he doesn't already know!

2. Music, Nursery Rhymes & Dramatic Play

Singing nursery rhymes and dramatic play is a great way to teach children. Purchase poster or make your own with classic nursery rhymes written on them. Read/sing the rhymes while pointing to the words as you read them. Do this every day. Your child will begin to understand the concepts (left-to-right & up-to-down). He will also begin to understand that the writing means something.

To incorporate dramatic play act out scenes from the rhymes together. You can also make puppets or use face masks. Here's an idea for Old MacDonald. Music and dramatic play can help children develop a sense of rhythm, patterns and large motor skill development. It can also help children develop the feeling of freedom in creativity when they begin to write in the future.

3. Reading & Writing

Create a cozy and comfortable reading area for your child.

  • Small comfortable chair, bean bag or pillows. (Don't forget a seat for you, so you can read together, too.)
  • Rotate the books in the boxes/bins. Visits to the library every week or two can make this area feel new and exciting again. Focusing on areas of study (based on assessment results) is beneficial. For example, getting a book about colors can help a child who is working on learning colors.

Creating a writing area, desk, with supplies. It may be helpful to have this desk next to your desk at home. When your child gets into Kindergarten he will already have a special place to store supplies for homework. He will have already established a workspace and will be better able to understand sitting in a desk at school.

  • Write your child's name on a piece of paper and tape it onto the desk.
  • Crayons
  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • My Very Own ABC Book is a great book to keep on your child's desk.
  • You can create small, blank books with your child at his desk, too. Fold a few pieces of paper in half and staple together. Write a story with your child. After doing this several times with you, you may begin to see your child creating books of his own!  You can write, number, letter, shape or color books. As you do, pay special attention on teaching things your child did not know during the assessments.

5. Art, Cooking & Science

 Art Station

Set up a corner of the house you can use as an art station. Put out washable paints and brushes. Children can paint on the backside of recycled paper from your printer. They can also paint old boxes to create houses or cars. If you don't have an easel, you can tape the paper onto a window outside of the house, so you can easily hose it down afterwards. If you'd prefer less mess, watercolor is an excellent choice. Crayons and markers are also great, but something about painting can really help kids feel expressive and excited about their art. This is the perfect time to discuss colors, faces & bodies (eyes, nose, mouth, arms, etc.) As your child gets older he will begin to tell stories with his art. Be interested. Ask questions. This is the beginning of story telling. Your child is developing the skills involved in creative writing by creating a story with his art. If you want your child to feel free to write expressively, encourage your child to know that in art there is no right or wrong way. Stop yourself when you want to tell him how to do something artistic "correctly". He is the creator of his materpiece and you are the admiring audience.

Cooking & Science

While we cook, it's very important to include our kids. We can teach them about measuring ingredients, what heat does to things (such as evaporation) and following instructions. These are all important to understand.

While cooking, read the instructions aloud (or recite from memory). Say each step as you let your child help. For example, if you are making playdough, the child can pour each ingredient into the bowl and help mush it together, while you measure each ingredient. Yes, it's a bit more messy. However, your child will love the special time he gets while cooking with mom or dad. Even if you make noodles or peanut butter and jelly, you can recruit their help. My daughter loves stirring cake mix, stirring olive oil in with the noodles and handing me each dish as I put it in the cupboard. I just hope she still wants to when she's older. :)

Engineering

Having blocks or large legos around can be a fun and rewarding experience for your child. He will actually engineer his own creations and get super excited about it. When we purchase something that needs to be built, it's a fun experience for your child to be involved in this process. Show him the directions and describe the pieces involved. Read the directions aloud as you build. We did this with our daughter's chair when she was too old for her high chair.

It's fun to teach kids about "patters" while using blocks (by color or size). Say, "Look at the pattern I am making." Then, say each color out loud and repeat the pattern at least a few times.

Here are some ideas for patterns:

  • Repeat any 2 colors. (e.g. red, blue, red, blue)
  • Repeat any 3 colors. (e.g. yellow, blue, green, yellow, blue, green)
  • Repeat any 4 colors and up to 6.
  • When doing six colors, it's helpful to teach your child the colors of the rainbow in correct order: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. As he gets older, you can explain that people usually say purple after blue, but after blue, it's really indigo and violet, rather than purple.
  • Shape patterns (e.g. circle, square, triangle, circle, square, triangle)
  • Size patterns (e.g. big, medium, small, big, medium, small)
  • Any other pattern ideas your or your child invents.

6. Math & Money Bank

Here's a fun "Wise Owl Bank" craft to make together. Find a special place to keep the bank in the house. Next to the bank have a sheet of paper with the total amount written on the paper. As more change is added, let your child watch as you add (not with a calculator) the additional money. If your child uses the money to purchase something he needs to be sure he has enough money ahead of time. If money is used, show your child how to subtract the money from the chart. If you have an old wallet and extra record book to track your checking balance, this is ideal. That way your child will know how to balance a check book early on.

7. Chores/Daily Jobs

Many teachers have classroom daily jobs and chores. I found that my students had a lot of pride in their jobs. I was able to keep the classroom clean because all of my students worked together to help out. It was actually pretty amazing.

At home, parents can create a chart with daily jobs listed. Here are some ideas. The older the child is the more he/she can do. If you have a 2-year old, you may have to help out until he is ready to do it on his own, but it might be a good idea to just let him do it, even if it's not exactly right. If we re-do what our child  just did it's kind of rude and it can make him feel like not doing it anymore. For example, if he made his bed by pulling the comforter over the sheets and they are crooked, who cares. At least he did it.

Create a simple chart with all the chores listed. Stickers are a fun way to mark off when a chore was done. At this age, doing the chore and being praised for it is a reward. An allowance or buying the child things for chores at such a young age may be a bit much. Because the child is at a developmental stage in which actually doing the chore brings satisfaction, especially with positive feedback from the parent, we don't need to bring up anything about earning money or a trip to buy a special toy. Right now, the positive feedback and self-esteem he gains while doing the job is enough. It's important to be sensitive to the work the child does. Like I said, if the parent continuously re-does the chore it can dis-hearten the child and the motivation will be lost. It's more important for the child to feel successful, than it is for the chore to be "perfect" in the eyes of the parent.

Here's an example of what a 2-year old chore list might look like. This does require supervision, positive guidance and help from the parent along the way.

  • Brush teeth (morning and night)
  • Get dressed
  • Make bed
  • Put toys away
  • Hand mom the dishes from the dishwasher. (Mom, please move all the knives and sharp stuff out of the way first.)
  • Help dad take out the trash. (Kid can throw the light bags in the trash.)
  • Feed the dog. (Put a cup inside the dog food bag and let him pour the food in the dish.)

If this is a positive experience, one day, without even asking you will be surprised to see him doing it on his own!

8. Classes & Play Dates

Here are examples of classes or types of play dates that can help your child develop friendships and learn how to socialize with his peers.

Many of these classes may be offered at your recreation center. There are also businesses that specialize in teaching classes to toddlers.

Here are a few ideas, but there are many more to choose from:

  • Baby & Toddler Sign Language
  • Mommy/Daddy & Me Sports or Tumbling Class
  • Art or Nature Class
  • Preschool (At age 3 or 4. Usually after potty trained.)

9.  Manners and Good Character

Very early on, it's important to teach our children the following manners and good character traits. If we do not, if may be challenging for them to make and keep friends. They also might get in trouble for being rude and disrespectful at school. It's so true when you hear the saying, "The apple doesn't grow far from the tree." Children, certainly reflect what they are taught.

  • Say, "please", "thank you", "you're welcome".
  • Introductions. "Hi my name is ___________. What's your name?"
  • Follow by example by chewing with mouth closed, covering mouth when sneezing, not gossiping about other people, not using swear words, helping others, taking turns and saying kind things to people.

For example, I have seen parents grab things out of their child's hands and say, "No. You can't have that." Maybe it's not safe to have it. It could be something dangerous for a child to have, like matches or a sharp object. The only problem with doing it that way is that the child will do the same thing to other people and get in trouble for it. So, saying, "Honey, this is very sharp. I love you and I don't want you to hurt yourself, so we are going to put this up here. This is a toy we can play with." Then, start playing with the toy with your child. Yes. The child might cry, but you did teach the child 2 important things. 1.) This is not a safe object to be play with. 2.) How to speak to someone with respect, care and concern. Without the 2nd step, there's sure to be trouble ahead. If we teach step 2, you will see your child model what you taught.

10. Outings/Trips

While taking outings it's a good idea to snap a few pictures along the way. When you return home look at the pictures together and discuss what happened. This reflection process is important because it enables the child to be able to talk about experiences. When we write, we reflect on experiences and what we have read. Making a photo album and writing short notes next to each photo can help children learn this process.

For example, if you are going on a plane ride, it's a good idea to play with a toy plane with your child and act out what will happen on the plane. You can also read a book about riding on a plane. When you are on the way to the airport remind the child of the game you played and book you read. Say, "Now, you are going to ride on a real plane". While on the plane you could even bring the little toy plane or book. Take pictures. When you land show the child the pictures (if you can on a digital camera). When you get home make a little book at his desk (explained above under "writing area") or create a photo album. You could also post the pictures to the wall in his room. It's helpful to have pictures up of family members, friends and outings to discuss with the child.

Share Ideas

Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below.