If your child is about to start kindergarten, it’s officially crunch time. We’re a couple of weeks from the start of school and it’s time to ensure you’re ready. Hopefully, you’ve been preparing daily for the last couple of years (diligently reading daily, working on letters, etc.). On the off-chance you’re a procrastinator, get cramming. Here are the essentials for you to try and teach your child before day one. Each item is listed in a progressive order of importance. At minimum, make sure to conquer the first item in each area, but the farther down the list you go, the better off your child will be.
- Able to say the first and last name
- Write the first name
- Say the ABCs
- Recognize the letters of the alphabet by sight
- Know the sounds each letter makes (phonetically). If your child doesn’t know any letters or letter sounds at this point in the preparation, you may want to invest in a DVD. While I don’t want to sound like I’m hawking media, my favorite letter video is by Leap Frog, “The Letter Factory.” It’s cute with a catchy tune to learn the letters and letter sounds. Try playing it daily for the next two weeks (in addition to your own teaching).
- Write the letters (first capital, then lower case)
- Blending/Reading. If you’re to this stage, you’re golden. (Work short vowels first and basic sight words, then move on to the “rules” that include long vowels, e.g., silent “e” and “two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking,” etc.)
- Count to 20
- Write the numbers to 20. (Don’t be too stressed if your child gets some of the numbers backwards, that is very common in a 5 year-old).
- Know the basic colors (I’m talking “green,” not “turquoise”)
- Understand that primary colors can be combined to make other colors (e.g., red and yellow make orange).
Once you’ve got an academic plan underway, make sure you’ve left yourself some time for the social plan. Going to kindergarten can be a scary proposition for many 5 year-olds (and the parents too). It helps if your child has been to preschool and already had schooling experiences. It also helps if your kindergartner has older sibs to emulate. Chances are you will have taken the potential kindergartner to the older sibling’s school many times, so the place will be familiar. If your child didn’t go to preschool and doesn’t have older siblings, try this:
- Go to the school. If your kindergartner doesn’t have reason to have been at the school already, take some practice runs. Drive or walk the path you would take. Allow you’re child to play on the kindergarten playground. See where the kindergarten classrooms and bathrooms are. If a place is familiar, it will take the edge off of worrying.
- Help your child make new friends. Get the class list when it is posted. See if you know any of the kids ahead of time. Attend back to school night. It’s a good time to meet a few of the kids (and their parents). Help role play ahead of time with your child how to introduce him/herself (e.g., “Hi, I’m Jane . What’s your name? I like your (shirt) .Would you like to play with me?”). Try out the new skills at back to school night where you can coach your little one. If you can help your child know one or two kids before the first day, it will help dramatically. When my oldest went to kindergarten, we gave him the “two names a day” challenge for the first couple of weeks. Each day when he came home from school, he had to tell me the names of two more kids in his class. It helped my naturally shy child, become much more social.
Last, but not least, you must address safety with your kindergartner. Schools are usually good about this one, but I think it helps to have a prepared kid.
- Pick up from school. Make sure you have clearly addressed how your child is getting home from school (bus, walk, parent pick-up, etc.). Discuss the contingency plan ahead of time with your kindergartner (e.g., if mom picks up, but is late, stay with the teacher or in the office, don’t go with anyone else). At our house, the rule stands that if someone else is pinch-hitting and picking up my kids at school (say a friend’s parent), my kids borrow that mom’s phone first (everyone has a cell phone these days) and call me first. At our house, it’s a firm rule, ‘never stray from the plan unless you talk to a parent first.’
- Learn the parent’s cell phone numbers. While the school will have numbers on file, I just think it’s always safest for a kid to have the number ingrained in them.
- Review private body parts. It’s tragic to have to once again address this, but discuss that no one (grown-ups or kids) should ever look or touch each other’s private body parts. This may be another good opportunity to role play what your child should say when approached. (See also the article on teaching a child the proper names of body parts.)
Going to kindergarten is a huge step for kids and parents. I shouldn’t admit that I got completely teary the day I dropped off my oldest to kindergarten. (I held it together until he walked through the door.) I’ve got another kindergartner this year. While I feel like a seasoned pro, I know I’m kidding myself. I’m a total baby. The key is to put on a happy, confident face for your kindergartner. Kids can sense fear. Sorry to my patients ahead of time, I’m only working a half day on the first day of kindergarten. Mom should be there the first day of school. Wish me luck!
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