So with my sweet Owen heading off to the wilds of Kindergarten this year (wah!), I thought it would be worthwhile to share a few things we’re doing over here to get our big man ready for his first year of elementary school.
This isn’t a list of terribly involved, time-consuming activities; rather, these are little things that we try to sneak in now and again to make learning fun and to get him started on the right foot. There seems to be a big discrepancy between what some parents think that kids need to know before they start school; some think that kids have to be reading fluently so they prep, prep, prep and practice, practice, practice while others leave all of the ‘teaching’ up to teachers and don’t even talk numbers or letters with their kiddos.
It’s up to us to find a happy, comfortable place somewhere in between so that we, as parents, feel good walking our child to school or putting him on the bus that first day, and he feels comfortable, and confident, doing the same.
Here are just a few–okay, it looks like a lot altogether, but it’s really just a few!–things that you can do now (yes, right now, like immediately after you read this–) to get your child ready for kindergarten:
The Everyday Name books are just one way we celebrate–and practice!–names around here.
- Practicing name writing: Kids should be able to write their names by the time they get to kindergarten. Really. Kids are 5 or 6 by the time they hit elementary school, and many have been in preschool or daycare for a year or two before that. That’s a lot of time for practicing the few letters that make up a child’s name.
The writing doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be legible. Most likely on day one, kiddos are going to be asked to write their names, and what a confidence boost for a nervous child if he’s able to do it!
- Talking about letters–and identifying them and knowing their sounds: There are tons of ways of playing with the letters of the alphabet, and by kindergarten, children should be able to identify most–if not all–of both uppercase and lowercase letters.
Sure, they’ll learn all about letters throughout the kindergarten year, but it’s important to make sure that children are able to identify of most of the letters so that they can focus on learning the sounds they make–often this is the more tricky part. But we can help them learn letters, and we can do it in really fun, sneaky ways.
Do this by: Doing ABC Hunts; playing clothespin games with letters; putting letters on lids, play alphabingo; playing some alphabet board games; exercising with ABC’s; going on a backyard alphabet hunt; doing an on-the-road (or at the grocery store or anywhere) alphabet hunt.
- Rockin’ some sight words: Many school districts suggest that parents even start some sight word practice with their rising kindergartners before school starts, and I think it’s a really great idea. Most children know that when they go to kindergarten, they’ll learn to read. And learning sight words–the words that are best learned by memorizing because they need to be recognized quickly and automatically (and because many don’t follow phonics rules!)–can be a confidence booster just like learning how to write names can be.
But the days of standing in front of a child flipping flashcards and making them read them for you are over. There are a ton of cool ways that kids can start practicing–and learning–these words that trump the ole ‘drill-and-kill’ methods.
Do this by: Taking out the magnetic letters and using them for building sight words; using sight-word word searches; making wiggly words; writing sticky finger words; playing sight word Go Fish! or Memory; playing WORDO!; or check out a ton of other cool ways to play with sight words.
- Playing with numbers: We will do a lot of number-playing this summer, in card games, in street sign games, and in simple pool-snack-bar addition, but it’s really important for our kids to be exposed to math concepts and have a general number sense before kindergarten.
Counting during walks, lining up Lego guys and counting them as you add them to the bridge you just built, or something as simple as timing how quickly ice-cubes melt in the sunshine all helps build a solid mathematics foundation in our kiddos.
Do this by: Including math in your everyday activities or newspaper reading; counting money and skip counting; playing with numbers and number words; pulling out the ole grid games; reading some math-poetry; playing with number boxes.
- Reading, reading, reading: We really cannot read too much to our kids. We can’t. Reading can–and should–be done throughout the day, in a number of ways and not just reserved for before bedtime when everyone’s beat and you can hardly keep your eyes open.
We–as parents–need to show our kiddos that we don’t only read our friends’ and family members’ Facebook updates; it’s our job to demonstrate to kiddos that we read instructions so we can put together that bookshelf from Ikea, we read the newspaper so we know what’s going on in the world, and we read recipes so we know how to make Nanny’s awesome zucchini bread. And probably most importantly–we need to show our kids that we read for pleasure. We read to relax, we read for enjoyment.
We want them to get psyched for kindergarten and learning to read because then. . . then the world is open to them and they can learn about anything and everything they want!
Do this by: Reading, reading, reading. Reading the newspaper. Reading street signs, reading cereal boxes, reading the words on their Wii games. Making reading fun. Talking about words and celebrating words. Throwing in easy, natural reading strategies during read-alouds.
The Shoelace Box–or Ribbon Rows–no matter what you call it, it works.
- Tying shoes (and zipping and buttoning): Yep. Kids should start learning how to tie shoes, zip zippers, and button buttons. and though most are wearing flip-flops or crocs right about now, they’ll be wearing sneaks soon–and they’ll feel great if they can tie those pups themselves.
It was Owen’s goal last summer–but it only happened recently, and with a lot of practice–that he learned how to tie his shoes on his own. It’s not easy for many kids, and it takes practice. But it may be a great summer rainy-day activity in the next few weeks. . .
Do this by: Making a shoelace box. Though Maddy taught herself on her dolls’ clothes and by wearing dress-ups, Owen used the shoelace box for about four weeks this winter and spring, and he finally got it. His ties aren’t perfect, but he can (almost) do it on his own. When it comes to zippering or buttoning, have your child practice by zippering or buttoning the sweatshirt that you’re wearing so she sees how it works more clearly than when she tries to zipper or button the one wearing the sweatshirt herself. Yours is bigger, too, so that sometimes helps.
- Memorizing their info–full name, phone number, and address: Kids should know their stuff by elementary school. If they don’t know their whole name–first, middle, and last–then start on that pronto! They don’t need to spell the whole thing (that would be nice . . . ) but your child needs to know that he’s Travis J, or Travis Johnson, not to be confused with Travis K, Travis O, or Travis W.
Okay, so the phone number and address are a little more difficult, and admittedly, I’m not sure that Maddy knew ours when she went to kindergarten. But Owen will know his, because I’m now a much older and wiser parent (not really).
Do this by: A good friend of mine taught her girls to memorize their phone number with this song, set to the tune of Frere Jacques (Are you sleeping, are you sleeping? Brother John. . . ):
1-2-3, [Insert your own phone number for these–]
Call any time. [I can’t remember if these are the words she used, but these are the words our family uses.]
Call any time.
The address? The only thing we’ve done is the Me on the Map activity, but aside from that, I don’t have a trick for learning addresses. But I know that we talk more about it than we did with Maddy, and even if Owen doesn’t know our exact number, he at least knows our street name.
- Talking about stranger safety: Ugh. I totally despise this ‘life lesson’ but it has to be taught–over and over and over.
- Eating lunch out of a lunchbox: Many kids do this at preschool before they hit the big K-year, and Owen’s preschool included. But when his new lunchbox arrives, I’ll pack it–just like I will for the first day–and we’ll have a picnic somewhere.
Do this by: Packing his lunch in his brand-new, just-for-kindergarten lunchbox and picnicking somewhere!
- Blingin’ his backpack: I have read that it’s not wise to get backpacks monogrammed with kids’ names because then it’s easier for a stranger to call their name and lure them way. I don’t remember where I read it, and don’t mark my words.
So rather than make a huge, fancy name-plate for new kindergartners, I do think it’s important to personalize their bags a bit.
Do this by: Making something simple and fancilicioius, like the felt flower pins we made for Maddy, or make it a little more subdued. My plan for Owen is to make some shrinky-dink bling like my friend Christy, of Superheroes and Princesses, did waaaay back when her son went to kindergarten.
- Saying ‘Hello’ to his teacher: We’ve done this every year since Maddy started Kindergarten, and the kids love it–and I think the teachers do, too.
It’s just a quick introduction–nothing fancy or involved–between student and teacher before Open House, Back-to-School picnic, whatever.
Do this by: Sending Hello Teacher Notes to the new teacher. We’ll find out Owen’s teacher pretty soon, so once we do, Owen will write his letter which tells the teacher a little bit about him, and he’ll send a blank one to the teacher. She (or he) will complete the letter (some quick one-word answers–I know teachers need a summer break!), and she (or he) will use the stamped envelope we provide to send the response back to us.
- Hanging with friends: It’s so important for kids to have at least one familiar face when they walk into the building, but I am well aware that that is not always possible. I do know though, that at this point in time, so many communities have online message boards that help with the organization of a summertime playdate. So take a second, sit down at the computer, and do a little research!
Do this by: Post a park playdate event on a community message board, something along the lines of: Let’s get the Bayside Elementary School 2011 rising kindergartners together! Plan to meet at [this park] on [this date] at [this time]. Bring snacks! Bring outside toys! Siblings welcome!! Any questions, please contact [your email].
Or post a sign at your community pool or the library or wherever. You can meet at the library, or just meet with some of the parents the first time, or send a note to your MOMS Club or church or even the counselor at the school could possibly help connect you to a person who may be able to help you.
- Giving him jobs: Having kids listen to verbal directions–and then follow them–is super-important for success in school. I have no secrets as to how we get our kids to follow directions (they don’t always, believe me), and my husband and I are perpetual students in this parenting gig–learning every single day.
For us, Gem Jars have worked and Game Time Tickets have worked as incentives for listening and being respectful. But it’s uber important to give kids specific tasks with clear directions so they practice those listening skills. Maybe it’s not always a ‘Get in there and clean your room‘, ‘Hang up those wet towels!!’ or a ‘Please turn off the light‘– maybe if we occasionally throw in a ‘Please make yourself–and me–a huge bowl of ice-cream‘ or a ‘Will you please teach me how to play Mario Kart?‘ they’ll listen more closely. . .
- Giving him space: It’s hard, but free time is important. I’m not talking about setting our kids free to roam the ‘hood with the instructions to return at dinnertime. I’m talking about taking a break from our helicopter tendencies, from our incessant worrying, from our need to fill space and time, from our perpetual ‘where-is-he-and-what-is-he-doing?’
Kindergarten’s a big step. And our kids need to know that we have confidence in their success.
Thanks to a good friend of mine, I recently read an article in the July/ August 2011 The Atlantic, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy. Interesting stuff. Gave me a ton to think about and is totally worth reading.
- Giving him love: I’ll never stop hugging and kissing on my kids. I can’t keep my hands off of their sun-tanned shoulders and bleach-blonde heads. I love the feel of Owen’s calloused, monkey-bar hands; I adore Cora’s crooked, self-cut bangs, and my heart sings when Maddy hugs me with her whole body–her long legs included. Their hoots and hollers crack me up and the sparkle in each of their blue eyes is enough to bring me to tears.
But I have come to realize that love comes in so many different forms–and that a hard part of demonstrating love for my children involves me letting go, even if it’s just a little. I’m working on showing them my love for them by letting them fall and get themselves back up. Letting them run to me with a skinned knee instead of me running to them, waving a band-aid and Neosporin and a face full of worry. Allowing them to explain to their coaches why they were late for swim practice rather than me doing the explaining. Not bringing back-up goggles when they lose their second pair in two days.
Showing my sweets that I trust in them and believe in their ability to bounce back.
It’s not easy–but I’m trying.
And so it goes. . . my second-to-last summer before my second child is off to Kindergarten. Let’s do what we can to enjoy the journey!