With the first day of school right around the corner, parents are rushing around hurriedly, checking off their list of “must dos” before the start of the new year. Freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebook pages, starched uniforms, and new shoes become symbols of the clean slate of a new school year. For kindergarten parents, everything is new.
If you have a little one starting kindergarten, you may be asking yourself if you’ve done everything necessary to prepare your child for her big first day. You’ve bought flashcards and lined paper for daily preparation at home to help her get ahead, but you still find yourself wondering if that’s enough. Here’s what local kindergarten teachers want your child to know before the bell rings.
- Narrate Your Life
Simply by talking to your child, you’ve been preparing her for kindergarten. Oral language skills and a robust vocabulary will help students communicate their thoughts and needs in class. Jennifer Nguyen, a kindergarten teacher at Mayfair Laboratory School, shares, “Avoid using ‘baby talk.’ It’s important to speak to your child like you would speak to any person.” By using the same language you would with your child as an adult, you expose her to an immense vocabulary, which greatly impacts her speaking skills. Nguyen says, “Just narrate your life. Describe everything you do as you are doing it and simply think out loud.”
- Read a book a day
Children start kindergarten at different levels. Some may be able to read somewhat independently, while others may be more comfortable reading a few simple words. Emily Zeringue, a teacher at BASIS Baton Rouge Charter School, says, “Children cannot learn to read properly without first hearing how words and sentences should sound.” By reading one story a day, you relieve any pressure your child may have about her reading level, while enhancing her ability to recognize and understand a variety of concepts.
- Just the Facts
Counting to 30, matching uppercase to lowercase letters, knowing basic colors and shapes, left vs. right, positional words (above, below, first, last), and writing numbers are essential in helping your child be prepared for school.
- Fine Motor Skills
Ideally, kindergarten teachers would like your child to be able to write her name. Before she can do that, she has to develop fine motor skills. Zeringue emphasizes that pencil grip is of utmost importance in kindergarten. To help develop these fine motor skills, Nguyen suggests doing activities like picking up small objects with tweezers (or any other activities using a pincer grip), practicing with scissors, and lacing activities like sticking a shoelace through a hole. These exercises will help develop your child’s writing skills.
- Writing Practice
The more practice your child has with holding a pencil and with writing, the better she will become. That being said, never pressure your child when she is practicing her letters or numbers, and encourage any writing and drawing. Zeringue notes, “It is important to correct any letters or numbers that are written backwards. As with anything, once the habit is formed, it is difficult to undo. Don’t be alarmed if your child often writes numbers or letters backwards though, as she is learning several new skills, it is easy for her to get confused.”
Parents can easily fall into the trap of panicking if their child hasn’t mastered every academic skill from counting to reading and writing. At the kindergarten level, social and emotional readiness and self-care are far more important than how neatly your child can write her name.
- Social Skills
It is helpful for your child to know her name, her parents’ names, and her birthday. This is not only beneficial to provide her teacher with this, but also may be useful in practicing conversation and teaching your child how to introduce herself.
- Self-care skills
The keyword here is independence. Help your child become more confident with going to the bathroom by herself including unbuckling a belt, wiping herself, washing her hands, etc. Show her how to open her lunch containers and insert a straw into a drink, and teach her to tie her shoes. Nguyen says, “Work on this skill at home as this is not usually a skill covered in the classroom.” If your child is unable to tie her shoes, Velcro shoes will make her teacher very happy. Similar to the varied pace that children develop academic skills, every child is also different when it comes to developing social skills. The important thing is that you practice these skills daily.
The first day of school is hard, sometimes more so for the parent than the child. Remember that everything you’ve done up to this point has prepared her for this day. You’ve held your child’s hand for so long, sometimes it’s hard just letting go. But when you’re watching that little backpack walk away, trust that she is walking into the open arms of her new kindergarten teacher, who wants you to know that everything is going to be okay. ■