Kindergarten is crucial for young learners, and is the foundation of elementary learning. How do you know if your child is ready for kindergarten? You can help get them there with these five steps.
1. Teach essential skills
“We asked DPS and charter school principals what they want teachers and parents to do to ensure kids are prepared for kindergarten,” says Linda Sapp, reading literacy manager at Matrix Head Start-Vistas Nuevas.
“They listed a few things including socialization – can the child sit and follow directions? They should know their first and last names. They should know the eight basic colors. They should know their shapes. They should be able to count from 1 to 20 and be able to recognize numbers, not just recite them.”
Sapp says parents can help their child with these and other readiness skills through activities of everyday living.
“The grocery store is a great learning opportunity,” she notes. “Have your child find the red apples, then the yellow ones and then the green ones. When walking to school, have them look for shapes in houses and buildings they pass. When cooking, have them count out the number of eggs needed and pour the ingredients into measuring cups.”
2. Introduce them to their school
Sapp is a big advocate for taking children to the school where they will be starting kindergarten before the start of the school year.
“Kindergarten is such a big transition for kids,” she notes. “They’re so small, and for them it’s like looking up at a big dinosaur. They wonder where their friends are and where mommy will be. Let them look at the school and tour it in advance.”
Wilma Taylor-Costen, assistant superintendent of early childhood education at Detroit Public Schools, agrees, noting that during the tour, the child will be able to see his or her classroom, visit the library, the cafeteria and other parts of the building where they will spend the school day.
“This helps the child get familiar with what they will see, where they will spend their time and who they will meet in the fall,” she says. “Introduce them to the principal, the lunch lady, the custodian and others with whom they will interact regularly.”
She also suggests parents drive around the school, so the child can see the entire building and that they point out the door where the child will enter the school. Parents can even set aside a special space in the child’s room or elsewhere in the house where they can start storing their supplies for kindergarten and where later they can keep projects made at school.
“When out shopping, make a point to talk about what purchases will be for kindergarten,” Taylor-Costen suggests. “If buying boots or crayons, mention that they are for kindergarten.”
3. Create a portfolio
Denise Smith, vice president for early learning at Excellent Schools Detroit, offers an additional bit of advice to parents: Share your child’s portfolio with his or her soon-to-be teacher. A collection of a child’s schoolwork, handwriting samples and art projects pulled together in a folder or binder will delight your child’s kindergarten teacher, she says.
“A portfolio provides an individual glimpse into your child’s learning across all developmental domains,” she explains. “It gives your child’s teacher a greater idea of who your child is.”
Smith notes that many preschools compile such a portfolio for students. For those that don’t, Smith recommends parents create one of their own showcasing their child’s work.
“Pull out handwriting samples of your child’s, work done at school that has been sent home and put it into a binder,” she suggests. “Take it with you when you and your child tour the school, so that you can give it to the teacher in advance of the first day of school.”
4. Tap into resources
Smith also suggests parents refer to the “Transitioning to Kindergarten” toolkit put together by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. It provides checklists parents can refer to help ensure their child has mastered certain skills before school begins. Another resource she recommends includes the Michigan Department of Education’s “Parent Guides,” which are tip sheets with answers to questions parents may have about the transition to kindergarten.
Smith encourages parents to use the time leading up to kindergarten to do intentional things that will help their child come fall.
“Sound out letters together,” she recommends. “Work on letter recognition. Make sure you child can count to at least 20, if not higher.”
Linda Sapp tells the parents of preschoolers at her school to take advantage of the school’s resource center, where they can get supplies for learning-related activities and projects that they can do with their child at home during the summer. The school’s book-of-the-month club affords each child a free book and accompanying activity so that by year’s end, each child has his or her own personal library.
“Though we’re closed in the summer, the reading must not stop,” she says. “I tell parents to take their child to the library. Participate in the library’s summer reading program. Look at the events section of Metro Parent for free educational activities to do together.”
5. Rev up their routine
And as the first day of school nears, Sapp advises that parents get their child back into a school-year early bedtime routine.
“Three or four weeks before school starts, get your child in the habit of going to bed early,” she says. “That’s so important.”
In the weeks and days leading up to the start of kindergarten, Taylor-Costen recommends parents also check out certain kindergarten-themed books to read to their child.
“There is no shortage of book titles aimed at preparing children for kindergarten,” she says. “The important thing is that parents reassure their child that they will be fine. Have fun with the whole idea of transition. Make it a family affair. Let it be a normal part of family conversation.”
Taylor-Costen suggests parents of kindergarten-bound children help ease any anxiety about the transition through popular children’s books. Taylor-Costen suggests the following titles:
- Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London
- I Don’t Want To by Sally Grindley
- I Know What’s Next by Betsy Evans
- Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come by Nancy Carlson
- Spot Goes to School by Eric Hill
- Starting School by Janet Ahlberg
- The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing
This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated for 2016.