It's that time of year again. Families of high school seniors start picturing empty bedrooms, middle school students anticipate the high school halls, and preschool families wonder, "is my child ready for kindergarten?"
The definitions of "ready" seem to be all over the map when it comes to kindergarten. So, we decided to ask the experts, the teachers. We sat down with a group of kindergarten teachers from Bloomfield Hills Schools and asked them what they'd like families to know and do.
If you've been intimidated by other kindergarten readiness checklists, you might be surprised by the first, and most important, checklist item. "Talk to your child about kindergarten," one teacher stated, "and reassure them that you'll be back," she added. She said that, while some children come bounding into her classroom on the first day, others hold back, sometimes in tears. Families can help alleviate fears, answer questions, and create a positive first experience by talking to their children ahead of time.
All of the teachers we spoke with agreed that family preparation and participation is critical to successful emotional transitions. "We're going to talk about numbers and letters during the year," said one teacher, who emphasized the need for social preparedness over academic skills. "Coping skills, problem solving, getting along with others – those are all things that families can work on over the summer with their preschool children."
Tips for Emotionally Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten
- "Bring them to the playground when no one is here," shared one teacher. "They'll see it's not scary and feel more familiar with their surroundings when they come here on the first day."
- Help them learn how to be away from you and other familiar adults by leaving them in a positive daytime experience, such as summer camp and lessons. Bloomfield Hills Schools offers a variety of summer experiences for children of all ages. Click here to learn more.
- Learning to be social with strangers can be a struggle for some little ones. Meeting someone new and talking to them can be as easy as a trip to the local library, grocery store, or museum. You can also ask your child if they'd like to help you host a block party or join a playgroup. Social settings are important for children and teach them skills such as sharing and taking turns talking.
- Practice with your child ways of articulating what they need in a verbal way. "If a child taps on their glass, I'm not sure what they're asking me for," said one teacher. In addition to knowing how to ask for things verbally, help teach your child how to politely get someone's attention.
- You can give your child a simple "test" of their attention span by reading an age-appropriate book to them. Can they sit next to you and listen to the entire book? "Ideally, they should be able to sit and listen to a book without touching the child next to them," said one teacher. "That's another important thing," she said, "Learning to keep your hands to yourself."
- "Does your child know how to cope if something goes wrong?" asked one teacher. "If their juice tips over, will they watch it spill or will they react and clean it up? Some children may cry and not know how to cope with the lost juice. It's important that they learn how to react when bad things happen," she said.
Tips for the First Day of Kindergarten
While the first day of kindergarten is sure to be an emotional one for some families and students, it can also be a physically demanding day. You can help your child feel more confident at school by teaching them things like zipping a backpack, putting their shoes on, and using the bathroom alone. "Legally, we are not permitted to go in the restroom with the children, so it's important that they know how to pull down their own pants, use the toilet, wipe, flush, and wash hands. It can be an intimidating experience if they aren't used to doing it alone," said one teacher. "Wipes are available and we go through plenty of them, but it's important that they know how to do the basics. Buttoning and zipping their own pants is certainly an added bonus," she said, as the other teachers nodded in agreement.
The teachers challenged families to watch their child do something that they didn't think they could. You may not think your child can do something on their own, but the summer is a great time to challenge them, and yourself, to see if they can do it. A public restroom may not be the best place to try a solo potty experience for the first time, but opening a bottle of milk or putting a straw in a juice box may be worth a shot next time you're out to eat.
Physical Demands of Kindergarten
- Fine motor skills are important for kindergarten and can be practiced in fun ways over the summer. Buttons, snaps, zippers, and other closures can be sewn onto inexpensive stuffed animals and practiced anywhere, even in the car. Some students don't learn how to tie their shoes until at the end of first grade, but it's helpful to everyone if your child comes to school in shoes they can put on and take off by themselves. To help strengthen fine motor skills, have your child play with playdough, dry beans, uncooked rice, and other sensory items.
- Along the same lines, help your child by packing their lunch in easy-to-open containers and teaching them how to zip and unzip bags. Packaging, whether it's a manufactured yogurt lid or as natural as a banana peel, can be tough for little hands. Encourage your child to open products on their own and practice frequently with their favorite lunch foods.
- Ask your child to pack their own backpack when you go for a trip to the park this summer. Learning to unzip the bag, put items inside, and zip everything closed is an important part of daily school life. Also review with your child which items belong to them and place their name in big letters on important items. In any given school year, there are bound to be quite a few princess folders, action figure pencils, and cartoon lunchboxes. Your child will feel more secure in knowing which items belong to them.
Once a child is emotionally and physically prepared for kindergarten, the academic items can be tackled. The Bloomfield Hills Schools team of teachers emphasized the increased academic rigor of kindergarten. "At the start of the year, we see as much as a two-year academic span in our class," said one teacher. Many of the skills students need are things that can be easily practiced at home in fun game-like activities.
Academic Preparation Tips for Kindergarten
- What's your name? It's important that your child know their first and last name. It's even better if they know how to write it. Letters can, and most likely will, be backward, upside down, and only somewhat legible. "What's important is that they know their name and they're trying to write it," said one of the teachers. You can help your child by playing various name games. Write their name in chalk on the sidewalk and then have them "paint" over each letter with water, until each letter is gone. "Refrigerator letter magnets are wonderful," said one teacher. "So are window markers and bathtub crayons, if you don't mind the mess."
- To help children write properly and legibly, help them hold a pencil the right way by playing grasp and drop games. Children can stand and hold a toothpick or pencil, dropping it into a container below (such as an empty water bottle). This pinching grasp will get them familiar with the way a pencil feels in their hand as they write.
- "Read to your child every day," said one teacher. "And ask them questions about the story," added another. A child who is questioned about the characters in the story, what they predict will happen next, etc. will be better prepared for the teacher to ask questions during class. The teachers also suggested pointing with a finger to the word you're reading as you read it.
- Counting objects one at a time, called one-to-one counting, can make for loads of summer fun. Collect summer flowers on a walk and then count them, one at a time, when you get home. Open an empty egg carton and write a number in the dish of each egg space, from one to twelve. Then, using dimes, buttons, or other small objects, fill each egg space according to the number inside. Since sorting objects is also important, you can sort sea shells in groups of small, medium, and large. You can also ask your child to help you sort the laundry by color, type, or household family member.
- The grocery store is a great place to practice numbers, sorting, letters, color, and order, not to mention patience, problem solving (if they're out of an item you need), and meeting new people. Give your child their own grocery list with a picture, name, and quantity of each item you need. Your child will have great fun checking off each item!
As we wrapped up our discussion on readiness, the current kindergarten students rushed back into the classroom from their specials (music, gym, art, Spanish) to prepare for the end of the school day. They collected their belongings, zipping backpacks, talking to one another, and laughing. Nearly the end of the school year and almost 1st graders, they already seemed to be on to the next big thing. To learn more about kindergarten at Bloomfield Hills Schools, request a tour below or call us at 248.341.6390.