“What can I do to help my child get ready for kindergarten?”
This is the number one question teachers hear around this time of year. Kindergarten Round-Up is just around the corner. You knew it was coming, but that packet of paperwork makes it so real. You’ve been preparing for years. You read the bedtime stories. You sang the ABCs. You know they’re ready.
But still…Is there something you forgot? Is there anything else you can do?
First, take a deep breath, mama. You HAVE done enough. Your sweet baby will look so small walking through those big doors, but I promise you — they belong there. They will be safe. They will learn. Everything you’ve taught them, every experience you gave them, have prepared them for this moment. And the teachers waiting for them? They don’t expect perfection. They know every child (and adult) is still growing, still learning. They will welcome those babies right where they are with open arms and big smiles. Your baby is right where they are meant to be.
Still, I know this summer before kindergarten feels a bit momentous. A mix of “one last hurrah” and “time to buckle down.” You want to have fun, but also make sure they are as prepared as they can be. Fellow Knoxville Moms contributor Jenny put together a great resource explaining how simply talking to your child can set them up for the best school readiness success. Everything she cited is true!
But if you’re looking for a more specific list of things you can work on the summer before kindergarten, I’ve collected the top recommendations from kindergarten teachers:
- Talk positively about the school experience. When you talk about going to school, try to keep the conversation focused on the positives. Instead of mentioning how early they will have to get up, focus on all the friends that will be waiting on them. It can be so tempting to tell our kids, “Your teacher won’t let you get away with that,” when they are acting up, but that kind of language can give kids the wrong idea about what their teacher is there for. Instead, keep all school talk focused on the fun stuff they will have. Gym! Recess! Art! You want your child to think kindergarten is going to be Disney World.
- Teach them self-help skills. There are a few things kindergarten teachers are not allowed to do (wiping bottoms, for example) and a few things they will not be able to do frequently due to class size. Some skills you can practice over the summer: wiping after using the bathroom, putting on their own jacket, putting on their own backpack, zipping up their backpack, putting on their own shoes, and buttoning pants.
- Play as much as possible. That’s it. Let them play. Preferably, let them play outside, unstructured, with friends. There is no learning app in the world that will prepare your child for kindergarten better than old fashioned play time. Play with Legos. Play with Play-Doh. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has a library of resources on the importance of play and how it prepares your child to learn. Children also learn a wealth of social skills through free play with other children, especially when they have an adult who can debrief social situations with them after the fact.
- Practice cafeteria skills. Eating in a school cafeteria is a whole experience. It is unlikely your child has ever eaten in a similar environment because, well, I’m not sure anything really compares to an elementary school cafeteria. There are a few ways you can help your child transition seamlessly. Teach them how to open packages, juice boxes, and milk cartons. Buy a few styrofoam trays and practice carrying food for short distances. Cafeterias do not have servers or bus boys. If your child spills something, they will be expected to clean it up. They will take all their trash to a trash can. Behavior expectations will be a heavy focus at the beginning of the year, but you can give your kid a head start by teaching them not to make messes on purpose or trade food.
- Teach them to write their name. The best kept secret in kindergarten land? Most teachers are not too concerned with how many letters your child knows when they start kindergarten. It’s great if they know a few, but no one expects your child to know every letter of the alphabet and the sound it makes. Yes, they will test them on letters the first week, but not because your child should already know them. It’s just so they can measure growth throughout the year. You know what IS super helpful and easy for you to do from home? Teach them to write their own name. Teach them to recognize their name and be able to pick it out of a lineup. With 20+ kids in a class that all need their names on papers, it is *chef’s kiss* when a student can write it themselves.
- If you want to practice letters, keep it fun! Let’s go back to the above conversation about letters. There is a reason this is last on the list. There is a rumor that kindergarten is not what it used to be. It’s a little true. But are kids expected to know how to read when they start kindergarten? Absolutely not! Today’s kindergarten curriculum still introduces letters and sounds one at a time. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if your child already knows some of them before kindergarten. But please, put away the flash cards. Make it a game! Pick a “letter of the day” and play I Spy when you’re driving down the road. This is a great list of fun ways to practice letters at home.
Kindergarten is going to be a blast. Your child is going to grow in ways you couldn’t have imagined. You’re going to replay the last five years and wonder how they went by so fast. But please, when you replay all those moments of your baby growing up, remind yourself that you’ve already done the work of getting them ready for kindergarten.