Preparing Your Child for Public Kindergarten

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:: The following is written by LifeasMOM contributor, JessieLeigh. Whether your child will be heading off to school in one week or one year, I think you will find JessieLeigh’s suggestions to be super helpful.

There are several things that you, the mom, can do to help prepare your child for entering kindergarten. And you know what? The most important ones have NOTHING to do with ABC’s, letter-writing, or being able to count to 652… in Spanish. Arm your little one with these five basic skills to help give her a good, strong start:

1. Help your child learn to dress/undress himself.

It may be second-nature to help your child on and off with her coat every day. It probably only takes a minute. But multiply that minute times the fifteen to twenty children who will likely be in class, and you can see what a time-waster that can become. Children should be able to handle basic self-care skills on their own.

2. Practice routines.

Having a basic routine at home will make it less difficult for your child to adjust to the routine at school. Most children do well when they know what to expect. Don’t be afraid to “mix things up” occasionally, though… flexibility is an important trait to have too!

3. Create “turn-taking” opportunities throughout your day.

Children with siblings often have some practice with this already, but whatever your family situation, you should play games and set up activities that require turn taking. From board games to sharing your favorite part of the day at dinner, learning to take turns is an easy skill to practice that is critical to success at school.

4. Ensure that your child recognizes her printed name.

She doesn’t need to be able to spell it or write it necessarily (though those are fine skills to have), but she should be able to point it out if it’s printed on a paper. I think some parents get hung up on having a child who “knew all her letters at 15 months!” and, well, that’s great. It’s just not all that useful in and of itself. Your child’s name will be popping up all over the classroom… not only will recognizing her name help her figure out where to hang her coat, it will give her confidence and reassure her that she “belongs.”

5. Encourage effective communication.

It’s likely that, after about five years now, you can read your child’s emotions with great accuracy. Your child’s teacher doesn’t have all of your history. Helping your child learn to clearly express what he’s feeling will help him have happier, more successful days. Provide descriptive words (sad, angry, excited, hurt, shy, etc.) and demonstrate the expressions that go along with that emotion… e.g. “How is Mommy feeling?” while lowering your brows and tightening your lips.

You’re helping him pin down “angry” or “mad”. Your goal is to help him be able to clearly communicate what he may be feeling and also recognize how those around him might be feeling.

There are dozens of other skills that can only help your child as he or she sets off for school, but I think the above are some of the most valuable.

What steps did you take or are you planning to take to prepare your child to head off to public kindergarten?

– JessieLeigh is the mother of a former 24-week micropreemie and two full-term blessings as well. She is a determined advocate for the tiniest of babies, including the unborn, and a firm believer in faith and miracles. She shares about raising such a precious, tiny baby over at Parenting the Tiniest of Miracles. She is also a regular contributor to LifeasMOM.

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  1. My daughter started kindergarten last week. In addition to writing her name, letters, numbers, etc., we talked a lot about being quiet and respectful when the teacher is talking, raising her hand, and being kind to the other kids in her class.

  2. For us the best preparation is called…”two years of preschool.” LOL! But in all seriousness, I really think my oldest child really needed the structure of preschool to help her be prepared for school. She’s a bit of a free spirit, and though I wouldn’t say my husband and I are lax on discipline, she is definitely a tester of wills by nature. Learning how to cooperate with her teachers, play with other kids, and go along with what the group is doing have been invaluable for her. I think most of those other skills are ongoing and every child will learn at his/her own pace. (Especially being able to communicate their feelings…though I talk to my daughter about that all the time she will still have the occasional tantrum due to frustration and/or not being able to really say how she feels.)

  3. This is a FANTASTIC post! Reading through it, I realized what a wonderful foundation my daughter has gotten from her preschool — without it, I’m not sure she’d be able to so easily handle her own dressing and such, not to mention turn-taking & routines… she’s an only child, so there’s less of that at home than there might be in multi-kid families.

    I can’t tell you HOW reassuring it was to read through these, get that gut feeling of how important they are, and how much I’d never consciously thought of them, and then be able to reassure myself that she’s got those basics down. πŸ˜€

    1. @Chelsea Porter, Thank you so much, Chelsea! Only children can certainly pick up these skills too… and they have their own advantages as well. Most only children I’ve known were so used to adult company that they were talented conversationalists and good at showing respect… those are wonderful skills to bring into kindergarten too! πŸ™‚

  4. As a former K5 teacher, I say a hearty Amen! to #1!! And I would add to that, if your child cannot tie shoes on their own, then PLEASE don’t send them to school in shoes that tie!

    1. @Anne,
      I agree with Anne – teach them to tie their shoes. I told my daughter she wouldn’t be allowed to go to kinder until she knew how to tie her shoes. It’s just our house rule…for now. I still have 3 more to go…not sure how they will do! Boys are different! πŸ™‚

    2. @Anne, Ah, yes, the shoe tying… we’ve been really nailing this one down over the summer. It is, indeed, an important skill to have. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. I found a workbook for 5 year olds at the grocery store one day and it had a list of skills for kindergarten. As I read through them I realized that its the skills that Sunday School teachers and other adults need homeschoolers to have- tying shoes, lining up single file, walking in a line, taking turns, waiting to speak, going potty on someone else’s schedule (i.e. before class), etc. I bought the book just to remind me to make sure that my children would do those things.

    1. @Erica, It sounds like you found a good workbook there, Erica. So many I’ve seen emphasize only the academic basics which, while great, aren’t always what we really need to focus on! You’re so right that these are skills that should be worked on in many other areas too. Thanks for commenting!

  6. I have three friends that are kindergarten teachers and those three never actually get to eat their lunch until 3:30 because they spend most of the lunch time assisting kids with opening their milk cartons or lunches… a great skill for those entering kindergarten is being able to open their own milk cartons and thermoses! A teacher that gets fuel during the day is much happier towards the end of the day! Teachers are often at the school by 7 or 715 which means they probably had breakfast around 630…. 9 hours without fuel will make anyone’s energy (and mood) sag.

    1. @Leslie, Great point, Leslie. My mom used to be a preschool teacher and she would always roll her eyes about the parents who sent in a whole orange… as if their child could peel it. There are lots of examples like that! Thanks for the reminder.

  7. Preschool was also beneficial for my kids; however, reading these tips can help parents learn what will be expected of their children upon entering kindergarten.

    In addition to reading his name my son quickly needed to know his full name, birthday and phone number (address by the end of the year). The kids were expected to be able to hang their backpacks, get their supplies out and packed away, handle all bathroom and hand washing needs, and listen and follow directions.

  8. I would add- be able to go potty completely on their own including pulling pants up and down, wiping, washing hands. You’d be surprised how many kids can’t wipe themselves!

    Also if they have lunch at school maybe practice with their lunch box and opening yogurt, drinks, etc.

  9. Mine will begin kindergarten next year. She’s got some of these down; my goals over the next year include lessons in shoe tying and starting a routine next summer of getting breakfast eaten and ready for the day on the schedule that will work with a school start time. (Our district changes start times every year, so I won’t know until then what the start time will be.)

    1. @TopazTook, Gosh, that’s tough that they don’t have a consistent start time from year to year. That would stress my OCD brain, πŸ˜‰ I think your plans are great ones! I think families who establish at least SOME kind of schedule over the summer have easier transitions into the school year. But that’s just my opinion on that one. πŸ™‚

  10. Thanks so much, JessieLeigh, for great suggestions. They really are applicable to all kids — and adults! I’ve seen a few grown ups who don’t know how to wait their turn. LOL

  11. Excellent list! I’d add like another item that someone else commented on…make sure your child is familiar with their backpack, lunchbag and any snack dishes so they can independently open their own snacks/drinks. Clothes that are easy to get on/off is also important – so many parents focus on looking adorable for that first day or week, but some of those outfits are impractical when a child needs to use the bathroom quickly.

    Another important skill is knowing (verbally) their first and last name, not just first name. Seems obvious but its amazing how many kids stumble on the last name part.