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Kindergarten Readiness: Preparing Children and Parents for the First Year of School
Kindergarten Readiness: Preparing Children and Parents for the First Year of School
Nancy Myles, Director of the Early Learning Center

"When the bell rings, that means be quiet.

You have to be able to carry your own backpack.

You need to know what a focused body is.

Do what is important.

Follow the rules; keep your toys at home and your shoes on.

You need to put your coat on and zip it all by yourself.

Dress for success (it's really helpful to pick out your clothes the night before).

Be nice to everyone."

These wise words are just several of the tips that our kindergarteners shared with me when I asked them for advice on how to best prepare for kindergarten.

Although seemingly simple and maybe even a little comical, these tips tie to deeper, more meaningful skills and character traits that support the development of the "whole-child" instead of focusing solely on academic growth.

New situations and experiences can be intimidating. Even as adults, we understand that it can be nerve-racking to be considered "new" in an environment or job. When preparing your child for kindergarten, focusing on the following development areas can help them (and you) feel confident that they are ready for their first steps of independence.

Cognitive skills. What often comes to mind when thinking of skills children need for kindergarten is their ability to proficiently recite their ABCs and 123s. However, in addition to introducing the building blocks of counting and reading, it is also important for parents to introduce children to activities that develop cognitive skills such as how to pay attention, how to problem solve, and how to recount memories - specifically in a sequential order (i.e. yesterday we went to the park, today I went to the grocery store with dad and tomorrow I have my first soccer practice).

Parents can create situations at home that will prepare and expose children to this type of learning by playing active memory games, beginner puzzles, and problem solving exercises that address everyday activities or issues. Helping children develop the ability to recognize patterns and make cause-and-effect connections will establish a foundation that enables them to pick up other formative skills quickly.

Non-cognitive skills. As our kindergarteners so eloquently reminded us, the ability to follow rules, focus, and be kind are a few of the fundamental requirements for young children to possess when they start school. In addition to these abilities, other non-cognitive, social skills including empathy, self-control, responsibility, and playing fair support the idea of developing a well-rounded child and not only their physical and intellectual capabilities. A few ways parents can help children develop their emotional intelligence is by demonstrating what it looks and feels like to share and make friends, as well as the result or consequences that follow if one chooses to act unkindly.

Parents can also help children understand what it means to be responsible by giving their child ownership of everyday activities such as helping set the table or cleaning up toys. These practices will help children recognize responsibility and be more inclined and better able to carry their own backpacks, books, etc.

Another best practice for parents to consider is being thoughtful about routines. Establishing a sense of consistency provides children with comfort and an understanding of what is expected of them. Creating and following a routine before kindergarten starts can help ease the transition and prepare children for a new environment or change.

Physical development. There are many elements involved with preparing a young child for kindergarten, but it is important that parents do not overlook the significance of physical readiness, this includes the fine muscle skills required to properly grip a pencil, zip a sweater, and tie shoelaces. A few exercises parents can introduce to develop these skills are the ability to hold and use tweezers to pick up beads or other small objects, as well as playing with Play-Doh or sculpting wax to form objects and gain dexterity with their fingers. Toning fine muscle aptitude will help children be ready for writing exercises and have more independence in the classroom.

Additionally, personal care is another component of physical readiness that is essential for kindergarten. Parents can explore ways to promote these types of skills by practicing proper hand washing, using utensils, and encouraging children to serve themselves during mealtime.

Linguistic development. In addition to the emotional, physical, and academic skills, linguistics and the ability to begin engaging in complex conversations are important skills for parents to introduce.

Parents can support student's expressive language by working with their child to annunciate words properly, as it will directly transfer into writing and spelling skills when children begin sounding out words to write.

At St. Thomas School (STS), we also encourage teachers and parents to ask children open-ended questions and encourage children to ask follow-up questions to improve and develop conversation skills, as well as critical thinking. Although these areas of development can easily be integrated into day-to-day activities, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) also offers a resource called Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS). WaKIDS provides a comprehensive transition planning process to help families prepare their child for a successful start in school.

Parents and educators who focus on an all-inclusive and whole-child approach to early learning and development will best prepare children for success in kindergarten and throughout their lives.

If you are interested in learning more about STS' methods and approach to early learning, feel free to reach out to me or read more on our Early Learning Center webpage.