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‘R’ Is for Ready

Sending a child off to kindergarten is one of those Big Parenting Moments that we remember forever. But before we outfit our kids with shiny shoes and bright backpacks, we need to be sure they’re ready for the important year to come. You have plenty of time before September to get your pre-schoolers ready for that all-important beginning to their school lives.

This set of skills has zero to do with academics but everything to do with being a functioning member of a classroom community. Think about how hard it is for you to leave the house with your small brood. Now, imagine you’re a kindergarten teacher responsible for more than 20, even 30, students. Before next September, be sure your child can get his coat on and off, hang it up, go to the bathroom independently, wash his hands, blow his nose, put on his shoes and eat fairly neatly. Allow your child to take ownership of his own care as much as possible, even if it means building in more time for mealtimes and departures.

Just as entering the school years is an exercise in learning how to take care of oneself, it’s likewise an exercise in learning how to care for others. Or, at the very least, to be aware of them.

Self-centered kids are developmentally appropriate kids, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try to curb their me-first behavior. When your child allows another child to play with a toy, label that as sharing and let her know it’s something you value. When you see another child crying in the supermarket, start a conversation about what that child may be feeling and why.

Perhaps your child can share ideas about what might make her feel better if she were sad. If a friend is sad, she should be able to recognize that and maybe, with prompting, ask her if she wants a hug or invite her to play.

At this stage, children are pre-reading. They might pick up a book and pretend to read, holding the book the right way, turning the pages, and moving their heads from left to right as they understand how the act of reading works.

As you read together, pause and talk while you read. Allow your child to ask questions about the meaning of words or the details in pictures. And, when your child asks a question, turn it around every now and then and ask “What do you think?” and see what he says. Talk about how events in the story connect to other books you’ve read or to experiences you’ve had together.

Later, while on a walk, revisit a part of the story and retell it, perhaps laughing about something funny that happened. Vary your reading. In addition to stories, check out books of poems, collections of songs or magazines about topics of interest. Use words like “author” and “illustrator” so he understands that there are real people who created the words and images—people that he can learn about and emulate.

Letters and Numbers
Your child should be familiar with the letters in her own name. Eventually, she should grasp that letters represent sounds, which, when strung together, create words that carry different meanings. She should also be able to tell the difference between numbers and letters. She should be able to count to 20 and recognize the numbers from 1 to 5.

Listening and Speaking
Reading together is a great way to build listening skills. Your child needs to be able to listen to the teacher, follow instructions and participate in group discussions. During a family dinner, remind him to wait for his turn to speak. See how long you can keep a conversation going on the same topic. Go around the dinner table and invite each person to share something that happened that day.

If a new word comes up in your reading together, try to incorporate it into the conversation and then say “Look! I just used that new word!” Celebrate the extraordinary rate at which pre-schoolers build vocabulary.

Word Play
In our family, we love playing a game we made up that we call “Spy Rhyme,” a cross between Eye Spy and poetry. One player says, “I spy something that rhymes with bee,” and another player guesses “tree.” Often, the game dissolves into just rhyming, which is fine.

Play with different words using other techniques like alliteration, where the initial sounds of a string of words sound the same (e.g., Susie sells seashells by the seashore). Shave off the first sound or letter on a sign and see what other words you can create. (The “Hobby Lobby” store name offers loads of word play opportunities.) Or play the opposites game, where you say a word like “up” and your child offers its opposite.

As with reading, pre-schoolers mainly engage in pre-writing activities. Using a combination of dictation, drawing and some letters, your child might be able to tell a story, express an opinion or describe a memory. He should be able to print some letters, especially the ones in his name and might try to write other words, spelling them the way they sound rather than the way they’re really written.

Use occasions like birthdays or holidays to allow your child to “write” and mail a card to a family member or friend. If he has a favorite book, maybe he can dictate and draw more adventures with the same characters.

A key early mathematics skill is categorizing and sorting. Sort common objects into categories by shape, function or color. When counting, your child should be able to say numbers in order and pair one object with its correct number name and understand that this number represents the total number of objects counted. She should realize that as the numbers increase, so do the objects represented, and be able to perform simple addition and subtraction by being able to answer “How many are there now?”

Pattern recognition is also helpful to budding mathematicians as they determine what must come next to keep the pattern. Kids should be able to describe where objects are in relation to each other by using words like above or under. And they can label and even create shapes out of clay or sticks or rocks.

None of these academic skills matter much if a child enters school with a negative attitude. If we drill our children so that the fun gets lost, it’s going to backfire big time.

Take cues from your child. Don’t force it. Build all of these skills into the play you already do with blocks and Legos, or the walks you take to the playground.

The most important thing you can do for your child is to sell him on the idea that school is where fun things happen, learning is something you love, and being curious about our world is the best way to enjoy life.

Notice and question your surroundings. Make learning and laughter go together. Celebrate discovery. Play. Laugh. Get silly. Enjoy these moments, because fun is the most important school-readiness skill of all.   

Emma Kress, a teacher at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, has held a variety of educational posts at levels from pre-K to 12th grade. Send comments about this article to editorial@familytimes.biz.

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